The midwife, a 'family extension' New birthing center seeks to provide homey atmosphere

March 05, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

When Trish DeWitt gives birth to her second baby on or around her May 4 due date, she'll do it doused in soft lighting, reclining in a queen-size bed -- or bathtub if she prefers -- and no doctors.

She plans to deliver at the Bay Area Midwifery Birth Center, which opens officially today as the county's first independent birthing center. It is in Annapolis in a medical suite that is part of the Anne Arundel Medical Center Medical Park Campus.

"I'm very excited to be able to do the birth center," said DeWitt, 33, a special education teacher who lives in Ellicott City with a 2 1/2 -year-old daughter and her husband, Brian, 34. "The reason that I like midwives so much is that it's more like an extension of your family."

And the birthing center seems like an extension of a bedroom. There are two cozy butter-yellow rooms in a basement suite where mothers will deliver. Each room has a big bed with thick floral comforters and matching pillows. On the walls are French Impressionist prints, and on the nightside tables are floral arrangements.

Cushioned rocking chairs, hardwood floors, and adjustable, recessed lighting complete the rooms, which are done in the "feng shui" tradition, a Chinese theory of room decor and furniture arrangement designed to create a harmonious environment and maximize the flow of energy. "It's like a homier atmosphere. You walk in a house and make yourself at home," said DeWitt.

The birthing center is Judith E. Parsley's, well, baby. Parsley, 50, of Shipley's Choice, used to be a labor and delivery nurse. She became a certified nurse-midwife almost two decades ago and has delivered more than 1,000 babies since then.

Lately, she has delivered infants at St. Agnes Hospital and the Anne Arundel Medical Center's Rebecca M. Clatanoff Pavilion, part of the Medical Park Campus.

When she learned that some suites at the hospital's extension were vacant, she rented one in the basement. She also brought along Janine Sayles, 40, and Susan Shannon, 30 -- both also certified nurse-midwives and former labor and delivery registered nurses trained in midwifery by Parsley at Georgetown University.

The three of them make up the new practice, the first of its kind in Anne Arundel County and the sixth in the state. A similar center is set to open at North Arundel Hospital in May.

"Midwifery care is much more personalized," said Parsley. "We spend time with women, not only prenatally, but we're with them in their labor, too. We become very close with our clients, and they're our friends by the time we get to the end of the pregnancy."

Yesterday, she took visitors on a tour of the new birthing center, which opened unofficially Feb. 10 but has yet to usher a newborn into the world.

Prenatal care provided

"We can't wait to come full circle," said Shannon, of Annapolis, the youngest member of the staff. Eagerly anticipating the first newborn -- most likely DeWitt's -- the staff has provided prenatal and gynecological care to the small number of women who prefer midwifery to doctors.

Parsley estimated that about 5 percent of women seek midwives instead of doctors. Of those women, about half prefer to go to a birthing center, the other half to the hospital.

When the first baby is born at the center, the midwife on call will wear hospital scrubs, gloves and goggles. She will cover the bed with extra sheets, pieces of plastic and absorbent paper.

"We're patient people," said Sayles, who is planning to move from the Washington suburbs to the Annapolis area so that she can respond more quickly to clients when they go into labor.

Asked about the procedure during labor, Parsley hopped onto the mattress in a room and said, "I climb right on the bed with them." She will also massage sore muscles, give laboring mothers encouraging words and help them to find the most comfortable position. That could be squatting, reclining on the bed, sitting upright in a rocking chair, or sitting in the water in the deep tub in the bathroom that has water jets around the base. "The pain relief is phenomenal when you're totally submerged," Parsley said.

Key differences

Key differences between midwifery and obstetrics are that in midwifery, medical procedures are kept to a minimum, and midwives maintain a constant presence during the labor. By contrast, some women who choose obstetric care in hospitals are connected to intravenous units at the beginning of labor, are discouraged from eating or showering, and are cared for by nurses until near the end of labor, when the doctors arrive, several new mothers said.

"I don't think one option is better than the other, but we want women to have freedom of choice," said Parsley. "Some women will choose the hospital, some will choose the birth center."

Having a midwife, which in Old English meant "with woman," is not for everyone. "You have to be very low risk and be willing to assume some of the risks," she said.

Epidurals not offered

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