When it comes to where families want to have their babies, locals have plenty of choices. In addition to the area’s numerous hospitals, the inclusion of a certified nurse midwife program at Texas Tech and a handful of birthing centers have supported the regional home birth community.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, certified midwife-assisted births accounted for more than 8 percent of all births in the country in 2014. Since 1989, there has been a yearly increase in the number of midwife-attended births.
For Elaine McThompson, the decision to have five home births and a hospital birth attended by a certified nurse midwife was a no-brainer.
“It was just what I needed – emotionally, physically and mentally,” she said. “It was slow. They talked me through the process. It wasn’t just ‘Ok, you’ve got your 10-minute appointment and it’s done.’”
Her decision to seek out a midwife-attended birth for her first child came after she researched national caesarean section rates, which she concluded were exceedingly high. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, C-section rates in the U.S. are upwards of 30 percent. The World Health Organization recommends a rate between 10 and 15 percent.
In 2015, the World Health Organization issued a warning stating that C-sections are “performed without medical need, putting women and their babies at risk of short and long-term health problems.” Because of warnings like these, many mothers-to-be wish to have their babies at home.
Tricia Gimler, director at local midwifery school and birthing center Maternidad La Luz, has been a certified professional midwife (CPM) since 1999. Born at home to a midwife, you could say that her passion for home deliveries started at birth.
“We want to empower women and normalize birth,” she said. “Women have been doing this since the beginning of time, but we’ve somehow gotten stripped of that power.”
She recognized the vital role hospitals play in some women’s births and that not all women are medically capable of delivering their babies at home or at a birthing center.
“I believe not every woman should be out of the hospital for birth, but the majority should,” Gimler said.
Gimler commended the University Medical Center for having a low C-section rate at 15 percent.
“We’re grateful we have such a great hospital we can transfer to, where they give our clients the best opportunity for a vaginal birth and don’t push for C-sections,” she said. “The doctors are amazing and honor birth as a natural process.”
Maternidad La Luz is coming up on its 31st anniversary in March. The center is the area’s only Midwifery Education Accreditation Council-certified school and birth clinic. The school offers a one-year, 18-month and three-year program to become a CPM. Students also fulfill a rigorous regiment of 2,400 clinical hours at the high-volume birth center. There are between 40-50 births at the clinic each month.
Gimler said the majority of Maternidad La Luz’s clients have their babies at the center, but there’s also a demand for home births. The center has recently added a CPM to exclusively develop a home birth program. The students have to attend home births and hospital births to fulfill the North American Registry of Midwives graduation requirements.
She noted an overarching theme within the region with regard to birth.
“Our community is family-oriented and really interested in normal, natural births,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of fear around hospital births. They want natural births without the whole cascade of effects from medical intervention. They’re also afraid of losing their rights and their dignity.”
A large portion of the center’s clients are Mexican nationals. They do not have American health insurance and would face an average cost of more than $9,000 for a vaginal birth with no complications in a hospital. The rates go up significantly if there are complications.
Maternidad La Luz charges between $750 and $950. The cost includes all prenatal appointments, basic lab tests, the birth and five postpartum appointments. Home births are $2,500.
Luna Tierra Birth Center opened its doors last September. Run by five midwives, a birth at the center costs $1,150.
“Our clients get individualized, quality care at a good price, especially for our clients who are paying out of pocket,” said one of the center’s midwives, Lina Garcia. The center offers prenatal education courses and lactation support.
Garcia will graduate from Maternidad La Luz in March. She catches babies there and at Luna Tierra.
Garcia shares Gimler’s criticism over the way many hospitals handle births, particularly when there is no need for intervention.
“Through our history, everything’s become medicalized, and with births, that’s created a monster within itself,” she said. “Women are over-medicated, there are too many C-sections and too much intervention.”
Luna Tierra is striving to become a community center that goes beyond focusing on births. Currently, the center offers workshops and discussions on women’s health and reproductive justice and offers free STI screenings and pregnancy tests.
The group wants to amp up women’s consciousness about their health, bodies and rights, and eventually become a one-stop-shop that uses a holistic approach to help fill women’s health needs.
The Retreat is another local birth center. It has a staff of CPM’s and midwife assistants. The Retreat also offers a home birth option.
For McThompson, who also served as a midwife assistant for five years and attended 11 home births, there was a common desire among her clients.
“Everyone just kind of wanted to be in that quiet space. That’s where your strength comes from, not from beeping monitors,” she said. “It was that primal feeling, and I think as a society, we don’t want to feel primal.”