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Special Delivery /Mothers Have It Their Way at The Birth Place

by Nathan Oravec

“When people think of midwives, they probably think of some old granny somewhere delivering babies,” says Gail Chapin, owner and operator of The Birth Place in Greencastle.

“Certified Nurse Midwives,” she explains, “are nurses who have gone through midwifery training and earned a Masters degree. This is usually followed by a training period in which they work in a residency program.”

“They’re trained in natural and normal births,” she adds. “They are experts in normal births.”

Chapin has been a Certified Nurse Midwife for nearly 15 years. In 1996, she opened her own birth center, The Birth Place, to provide personal service to mothers, helping to make both pregnancy and birth easy, comfortable, and wonderful experiences.

According to Chapin, her two children, Miles, 6, and Liana, 4, both born at home, prompted the center’s existence in a way. “When I first started off, I was doing all hospital births,” she says. Following the birth of her children, though, the idea of taking them along to work became an important one.

Further impetus, she adds, came from her Mennonite patients, who were looking for an alternative to hospital visits. “When you have six or seven children,” says Chapin, the bills can start to pile up.

“We wanted to make birth affordable.”

The Birth Place was first opened in Hagerstown on Memorial Boulevard in October of ’96. Following the birth of her daughter, Chapin and her husband, Ben, had thought of having a third child, and Chapin wanted an office closer to the family’s home in Greencastle, PA, eliminating a drive. With their lease on the verge of expiring in Hagerstown, they soon found a locale on Molly Pitcher Highway, much closer to home. Having been rented for 11 years prior, the building itself required a great deal of renovation, but with the help of friends and family, the business’ new home began to take shape. “My husband pretty much gutted the building - and basically built the new place for me. We had so much help from the community, and lucky for me, I knew a lot of tradesmen. My patients also really pulled together to help get it done.”

While the couple’s third child, Chapin says, never came; two years ago, The Birth Place, 14478 Molly Pitcher Highway in Greencastle, was reborn.

Designed for birth, the center was conceived with a Bed & Breakfast feel in mind, offering two private birthing suites; a beautiful, spa-like bathroom with a shower and air-jet tub for relaxing; a kitchen and a family room. In addition, all accouterments - including birthing balls, bars and stools - are also accounted for. Medical equipment, such as fetal monitors and IVs, while not routinely utilized, are available if necessary. In fact, Chapin stresses that The Birth Place offers all standard obstetrics tests and procedures that a hospital would, but the main variance is that, here, mothers are given the choice as to what they want administered. “Hospitals are big institutions. They are run by regulations,” she says. “Here, we can look more at the person and see what her individual needs are.”

“The Birth Place is smaller, more home-like. There are no strangers here. A mother will see the same midwife throughout their entire pregnancy. They will know the nurse. They’ll be greeted in labor by people that they know.”

Patients of the Birth Place come in for an initial prenatal care visit. “They can get comfortable here, so that when they go to have the baby - they are familiar with us.”

Another difference, she notes, is that in hospitals, a nurse will often stay with the mother up until time of delivery, when the doctor takes over. “Here, I’m with them the whole time. When they go into labor, they call me, and I stay with them before, during and after the baby is born.”

“We have such a smaller volume of patients - it’s a much more personal experience. We definitely have a strong relationship with the mother and family by the time the baby comes. We get as excited as they do. After all, we’ve been watching them grow for the past nine months.”

The Birth Place does place limits on the number of new patients it accepts. “It wouldn’t be fair to me, my family or the mothers to take on too many patients.” Strict criteria are also followed concerning mothers; high-risk patients not being accepted.

Safety, says Chapin, is always a big question where midwifery is concerned. “Study after study shows - not only is it safe, but the outcomes are better.” Statistics for the center, she says, show much lower cesarean and episiotomies than area hospitals, and nearly seventy percent of mothers leave the center without stitches. “It’s nice to start out life as a mother without a sore bottom.”

Chapin and The Birth Place have agreements with backup doctors and certified physicians, and backup facilities are also available, with Washington County Hospital only 15 minutes away, should any surgical procedures become necessary.

“Our transfer rate is about eight percent,” she explains, noting that, in most of these cases, the decision to go to the hospital is made before delivery occurs. Chapin’s van is set up to accommodate mothers-to-be, in addition to having an agreement with two local ambulance companies.

In most states, she explains, lay-midwifery - the non-certified variety - is an illegal practice, but it does occur. Lay-midwives, she says, can run the spectrum of having training as a nurse to none at all. Typically, lay-midwives don’t have backup doctors at all. “Ethically, I could never do what I do without a backup doctor and hospital.”

There are two sayings at The Birth Place. The first - once framed and hanging in the center’s bathroom - is “Queen for the Day.”

“When a woman is here, having her baby - she is queen for the day.” There are few restrictions at The Birth Center. Mothers can have as many or as few visitors as they please; births can be filmed or photographed; “you can have this baby anyway you want.”

The second saying stems from a Japanese term, wabi, meaning “Simplicity. Frugality. Humility.”

This, says Chapin, has become the Birth Place’s mission statement.

Frugality, she says, because the center strives to not waste a patient’s money.

Simplicity, because “birth is about as simple as it gets.”

“Birth is a very natural thing most of the time, a very familial and spiritual experience. It’s not brain surgery. It’s when we try to complicate it that we start getting into trouble. When you look at birth as a medical procedure - a woman has to prove she can do it. Here, you have to prove to me you can’t.”

Humility, because it is something, she says, that a midwife cannot exist without. “Often people will ask a mother, ‘Who delivered your baby?’ And I always think, ‘Well, she did.’”

“I have to remember to stay humble. We’re not the important ones. I’m just a set of hands. I’m not running the show - she’s having this baby.”

“And it really is a privilege to witness a miracle.”

For more information on The Birth Place, 14478 Molly Pitcher Highway, Greencastle, PA 17225, call 717-593-9173.

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