For expectant mothers in the Flathead Valley, giving birth at the hospital is the obvious choice. For others, however, a more family oriented experience can be appealing when the stork comes calling.
At Kalispell’s Community Birth Center, mothers meet with midwives, deliver their babies and enjoy post-partum classes and groups for a complete birthing experience.
The center, located south of downtown Kalispell in the old Jones Music School building, was founded by Melissa Brake and Michele Neal, licensed and certified professional midwives, and Sharise Clostio, a certified nurse midwife.
It was the location of the first birth in the Flathead in 2015.
The three founders, with 77 combined years of assisting births, started the center after forming the Montana Midwives Cooperative.
“We’re a not-for-profit corporation using an egalitarian-type system,” Clostio said. “Everyone has a vote. It’s not just executive decisions. Midwives or apprentices in their final phases of training can become members.”
The cooperative bought the building in 2010 and started assisting births in 2012. There have been nearly 70 babies delivered in the facility since then.
All three founders had worked independently but decided to work together as a career move.
“By banding together, it gives us support we might not otherwise have,” Clostio said. “We’re like a hospital for midwives. We do post-partum care, sell vitamins and basically are open to anything dealing with women’s health.”
The birth suites, lavishly decorated and comfortably equipped for all non-emergency birthing needs, allow mothers to give birth with professional help either in bed or in a large tub with warm water.
“It’s a pain relaxation thing,” Brake said. “Mothers experience up to 40 percent less pain. They can relax without the need for pain medication and it can be an easier transition for the baby. It goes from water to water.”
The midwives said anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of the mothers using the birthing suites choose water births. The center averages three births a month. With expansion in mind, the midwives are looking to increase that number.
Currently, they have one fully furnished birthing suite in a Mediterranean theme. Two more will be Asian and Caribbean themed rooms. A backup birthing room and tub are available as is a lab to do blood work.
A large open space is open for prenatal classes or for La Leche League support groups for breastfeeding mothers.
Of the births taking place at the center, about 90 percent are low risk, Clostio said. This means the mother can give birth the vast majority of the time without serious complications that would involve going to the hospital.
“We do phone calls and an initial consultation with the mothers to find out if there are any risk factors,” Neal said.
During pregnancy, the family meets with a midwife every month until 28 weeks in. Then visits are every two weeks, every week and eventually twice a week. All told, an expectant mother will visit the Community Birth Center from 13 to 16 times.
“Dad-assisted births” are encouraged, and after the birth itself, some mothers relax in the warm water with the baby. The midwives monitor the newborn and do a full assessment of the child’s health two hours after birth.
“We make sure everything is going well and the parents are discharged about four to six hours after birth,” Clostio said.
The entire experience, from pre-natal to birth to post-partum care, costs about $4,000, a price the midwives say is about a third of a hospital birth.
“This is bigger than us,” Clostio said. “We’re not into our own glory or our own wealth. The co-op model and Community Birth Center is here solely to help women and families.”
After finishing the massive building project in Kalispell, Neal said it was a goal to expand the co-op to places lacking in midwifery, such as Cut Bank.
But until then, the Community Birth Center looks to expand out-of-hospital births and have families welcome their newest member in a warm, comfortable environment.
Reporter Ryan Murray may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.