If Jeanne Hebl gets her way, women in Missoula will once again have another option when it comes to where they birth their babies.
Hebl, a local certified nurse midwife, expects to open a freestanding birth center near the corner of 39th and Reserve streets by the end of October. She recently secured a lease on a house and has been working to transform the space over the last few weeks. Hebl plans for the new facility to allow birthing women and their families access to a full kitchen, birthing tubs and two large birthing rooms that offer a private, home-like feel.
"The demand is out there," Hebl says. "Women want another choice."
Hebl's birth center comes less than a year after the birth center she helped start was forced to close. Lynn Montgomery, an obstetrician-gynecologist and perinatologist, built the Birth Center on Reserve Street in 2006 after seeing a need in the Missoula community for an alternative to the maternity ward at Community Medical Center. At its peak, the center saw nearly 75 patients per day and employed 16 staff members. In just over two years, more than 200 women performed natural, un-medicated births at the center.
But Montgomery died suddenly in October 2008, suffering a massive heart attack while playing hockey at Glacier Ice Rink. In January of this year, Community Medical Center leased the building that housed the Birth Center and bought all of its assets. Community does not offer birth-related services in the building, leaving women in Missoula, once again, with two choices when it comes to where to birth: home or the hospital.
Hebl says her facility will offer something in between. The American Association of Birth Centers (AABC) claims that, while hospital births are still the predominant option for delivery in the United States, home-like facilities account for a lower cesarean section rate, shorter stays and equal care compared to low-risk, in-hospital births. A birth center also costs less—approximately $5,000, says Hebl, compared to $10,000 for a hospital birth.
"Some people are not quite ready to birth at home either because of their space or they have misgivings, so they go to the hospital," she says. "But you mention a birth center and they're in."
Hebl began looking to open another birth center in the months following Montgomery's death, but had trouble finding a physician, like Montgomery, who would be willing to partner with her. Finding no takers, Hebl decided to do it herself. She's spent the better part of the year attending home births and looking for the right spot to open her business.
As a certified nurse midwife, Hebl is a licensed practitioner and says she can legally open a birth center without a physician. She will not, however, have hospital privileges if a patient needs to be transferred to the hospital.
"The only reason I needed a physician was to provide continuity of care and to be an advocate for patients in the hospital," Hebl says.
She explains that she can accompany her patients and serve as a doula, or labor support coach, for a hospital birth. She will also continue to support home births.
Hebl says Montgomery's Birth Center had a 10 percent hospital transfer rate and a 2 percent cesarean rate. She's proud of these statistics because, she says, they show that the Birth Center was cautious and successful at the same time.
Casey Massey delivered her first child at the Birth Center two years ago with the help of Hebl, and when Massey found out she was pregnant with her second child earlier this year she called her midwife right away. Massey didn't know where she'd birth her baby after the center's closure, and was convinced she'd have to birth at the hospital.
"It's not so much about where I wanted to have the baby but who I wanted to have the baby with," says Massey. "I want Jeanne and everything that comes with Jeanne."
Massey decided on a home birth because Hebl's new location was still in the planning stages. But she says that's only because of her experience at the Birth Center.
"I'm comfortable with a home birth, but I wouldn't have that confidence without the experience I had at a birth center with Jeanne," Massey said. "I'm so glad she's opening a new birth center."
Women who have birthed with Hebl are not the only ones supportive of broadening birthing choices in Missoula.
Dolly Browder, a longtime certified professional midwife in Missoula and national advocate for midwifery care, calls Hebl's new facility a great option for expecting parents.
"It was a really sad day when Dr. Montgomery died and his place was taken over and not preserved," says Browder. "It was a sad day for parents and families in Montana not to have another option for birth.
"It's really important what she's doing," Browder continues. "Birth centers need to exist because parents need to have a choice about birth."
For Hebl, it's always been about choice. She wanted to become a midwife ever since her cousin was whisked away in a hospital and forced to labor alone.
"When I saw my cousin disappear behind the closed doors of a hospital when she was in labor and no one could go with her, I thought this isn't right," says Hebl. "That's when I knew I wanted to be a midwife. I wanted to be [renowned midwife] Ina Mae Gaskin and help provide healthcare for women, by women. That's what we want to do here."