The short-short version: Miles For Midwives is an annual 5K run/walk that happens every October to raise money for the creation of a new independent birth center, as well as the local ACNM chapter in NYC, so here’s your first official heads-up. Miles for Midwives also coincides with Midwifery Week, and is a great opportunity to raise public awareness about midwifery and all of the benefits it has to offer. So, put it on your calendars and drag out your running shoes. New York City will have a free-standing birth center again, someday. Hopefully someday soon.
The longer version: Let me share a sad story. Once upon a time New York City had its own independent Birth Center: the Elizabeth Seton Childbearing Center (ESCbC). It was located in its own, free-standing building, within close range of St. Vincent’s hospital (the hospital it was affiliated with), and housed exam rooms, a breast-feeding room, educational and community rooms, and gorgeous, home-like birthing rooms complete with big double beds and rocking chairs and plenty of room to walk around. Care was provided by a group of CNMs, a Nurse Practitioner and several RNs, in collaboration with physicians, social workers and lactation consultants, and offered full spectrum women’s health care: well-woman gynecology, prenatal care, natural childbirth and postpartum care, birth education, and a wide array of community-centered activities (mother’s meetings, support groups, prenatal yoga classes etc.)
It was the first of its kind, opening in 1975 and delivering over 7,000 babies safely into the world. Then, in August 2003, ESCbC was notified by its insurance carrier that its insurance would expire on Aug. 31st, 2003, and that the policy would not be renewed. I’m not sure why this happened—perhaps the insurance company second-guessed its policy towards birth centers, perhaps a new lawsuit had forced the company to change its policy…who knows—but in any case, ESCbC was unable find alternative insurance that was adequate, available and affordable. Without insurance, the birth center was forced to close on Sept. 1st, 2003. Sadly, this “insurance crisis” was not a lone incident, but something that midwives, birth centers and obstetricians face every day all over this country.
For all of us in the NYC midwifery and birthing community, this was a deep and palpable loss. The ESCbC was a beautiful testament to the way birth could and should be. I remember when I first heard about ESCbC—it was during my early exploration of midwifery, back in 2000, when I was reading every midwifery-related book I could get my hands on, and I stumbled upon Naomi Wolf’s moving portrait of ESCbC in her book Misconceptions. I remember thinking at the time that that was exactly the sort of place I wanted to work in, someday, and exactly the sort of place I wanted to labor and birth in (these days, I want a homebirth, but barring that, would pick a birth center like ESCbC as my alternative any day of the week). I remember when I first heard it was closing—I was initially outraged, and then, as the reality of its closure began to sink in, mournful. This happened at almost the exact same time that the midwives who practiced at the Allen Pavillion (a small, community hospital in Manhattan associated with Columbia Presbyterian) were all summarily fired, allegedly because the hospital could no longer afford them (however, I heard that there was a bit more to the story than that, and that the decision stemmed more from overt policy-change than actual budget issues). I was just starting my first job as a labor and delivery nurse, eager to move on to midwifery school, but nervous about the state of midwifery in New York, not to mention future job prospects. Autumn 2003 was a bleak time for midwifery in NYC.
However, we now get to the happier part of this story! While the Elizabeth Seton Childbearing Center has not yet reopened, progress is being made towards that end on a daily basis. A fantastic organization, Friends of the Birth Center, has been made for the express purpose of creating and opening another independent, free-standing birth center in Manhattan, and they’re doing amazing work, but of course they still need our support. Miles For Midwives is an annual 5K run/walk that happens every October to raise money for Friends of the Birth Center, as well as the local ACNM chapter in NYC, so here’s your first official heads-up. It also coincides with Midwifery Week, and is a great opportunity to raise public awareness about midwifery and all of the benefits it has to offer. So, put it on your calendars and drag out your running shoes. New York City will have a free-standing birth center again, someday. Hopefully someday soon.