On the day before Lynn Montgomery’s Nov. 3 funeral, a certified nurse midwife at the Birth Center he founded two years ago assisted in the delivery of the 200th baby born at the landmark Missoula facility. The occasion marked a strange mixture of sadness and continued sense of purpose for the Birth Center’s staff.
“While one of the midwives was here with the 200th birth, I was at the hospital with one of Lynn’s patients,” recalls Jeanne Hebl, a certified nurse midwife who helped open the center. “They delivered just 20 minutes apart. It goes to show just how many lives he was a part of.”
Montgomery, an obstetrician-gynecologist and perinatologist, died of a massive heart attack while playing hockey at Glacier Ice Rink Oct. 28. He was 51. His death not only shocked family, colleagues and an expansive list of patients—Montgomery assisted in an average of 250 births per year—but also devastated Missoula’s small, tight-knit natural birthing community. The Birth Center is the only local medical facility that offers mothers the option of a hospital delivery or a safe, natural delivery in one of the center’s private, cottage-style suites.
“What he really did for the community was provide another option at a time when we had very few,” says Dolly Browder, a certified professional midwife who’s practiced for 31 years. “He bucked the system in the same way the home birth community had to fight in the early 1990s. He persevered through some pretty awful things within the medical community to create a wonderful place for Missoula.”
Hebl insists the Birth Center will not falter in the wake of Montgomery’s death. All patients who preferred a physician’s care have been referred to other local doctors. Hebl says a temporary physician should be on staff by the end of the week and the search for a permanent hire is underway. Meanwhile, a sign outside the Reserve Street building reassures passersby the facility is open and “delivering babies.”
“It was because of Lynn that this center was built. It’s his legacy,” says Hebl. “I, along with [Montgomery’s wife] Jolyn, are fighting for its continued survival. I’ve had so many women in the community offer help and say they will do anything they can to keep it going. By hook or crook we’re staying open.”