Illustration by Firecatcher
When 29-year-old Christina Fordham gave birth to daughter Lily Anna last March, baby Lily was immediately brought to her chest, where she remained for 30 minutes, with husband and father, Nathaniel, close by. This time allowed the trio to “start being a family,” Christina Fordham says.
The promise of that time was ultimately what convinced her to give birth outside the hospital setting after attending a class at the Well-Rounded Maternity Center in Menomonee Falls. “The midwife explained that after a home birth or a birthing center birth, your baby would come straight to your chest and stay there for 30 minutes,” she says. “That really hit me. I always assumed that after birth, the nurses would need to whisk your baby away for tests or shots. I pictured having my daughter on my chest for the first time, and I thought, ‘Whatever it takes, I have to have that experience with her and give her that start.’”
So the Fordhams found a midwife and made the trek to Menomonee Falls from their Milwaukee home to give birth to their daughter.
In October, Well-Rounded opened its second location, this time in a three-story Bay View property at 2455 S. Howell Ave. The move tripled Well-Rounded’s capacity to three birthing rooms instead of just the one in Menomonee Falls. This is also the first freestanding birth center in the city of Milwaukee.
“From the very beginning, I always knew I wanted to have a birthing center in the city,” center founder and director Coral Slavin says. “When I moved here from Maryland, there weren’t any birthing centers, and since I had given birth in a birth center myself, I wanted to bring that option to women here.”
In addition to the two birthing suites at the Bay View location (one with an aquadoula birthing pool and another with a built-in hot tub), the center includes offices for midwives, massage therapists and acupuncturists; a room for classes on childbirth, diapering and yoga; and a Bellies and Babies boutique, which sells baby and maternity clothes as well as accessories. The top floor is an apartment, occupied by a birthing coach (called a doula) and her family, who will open the center to laboring moms and their attendants if they arrive before the midwives do.
But those opting for birthing centers remain in the minority. Out-of-hospital births account for less than 1 percent of total births nationally, though they are trending upward. According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report, out-of-hospital births accounted for 0.87 percent in 2004 and 0.90 in 2006.
Locally, the numbers are growing, too, and Slavin is optimistic the second center will help. The original Well-Rounded center has only hosted about 100 births since opening eight years ago, but business has recently risen to 24-48 births a year. And three midwives have opened Milwaukee practices in the past two years. Still, it’s all a drop in the bucket compared to local hospitals. Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee, for example, averages 3,114 births annually.
Rebecca Staska Jankowski, a Bay View acupuncturist, is one provider who practices in the new center. “Well-Rounded has really been an amazing advocate for women during pregnancy, labor and after birth,” she says. Slavin chose a birth center for her second child and says the experience is “like giving birth at a bed and breakfast.”