When Susan Renoe was expecting her first child, she knew that she wanted to have an out-of-hospital birth. So she looked into the phone book and found the Whole Health Family Birth Center, the predecessor to Columbia Community Birth Center.
“After I did a tour of the facilities, I was hooked,” Renoe said.
The center houses two birthing rooms, each equipped with basic amenities to meet the needs of mothers in labor. In addition, each room comes with piped-in music and a deep-soaking bathtub used for water births.
“It was a wonderful experience, and I couldn’t have asked for a better
birth,” Renoe said. “Being a first-time mom was scary, but they provided great prenatal care. The doctors and nurses were wonderful and very knowledgeable.”
Renoe had her second child at the center six months ago and again had a water birth. In a water birth, the mother has her labor in the bathtub and the baby is born directly into the water.
“It was an amazing experience. I cannot imagine not giving birth in water,” Renoe said. “The warm water helps you to relax, and for the child it is a peaceful way to enter the world.”
Previously known as the Whole Health Family Birth Center, the Columbia Community Birth Center is transitioning from a full-service family private practice to a not-for-profit organization focusing on out-of-hospital births.
A board of directors made up of members from the community, all who’ve had experiences with out-of-hospital births, was set up to replace the previous structure, which was headed by one person. When the center decided to go not-for-profit, Renoe volunteered to be president of the board of directors because she wanted to make sure that this alternative would be available to women. Ivy White, administrative director, cited another reason for the change in structure. “This would outlast a single person’s interest to own and run a birth center,” she said.
The decision to become not-for-profit was made after physician Laurel Walter, the previous owner, moved her practice to Hermann. The Columbia Community Birth Center aims to provide a safe and legal alternative for women who want a home, water or out-of-hospital birth and to also give them the opportunity to be under a midwifery model of care.
“We want to make home birth accessible to any woman who would like to have it. We would love for anyone to be able to choose this kind of birth,” said Dee Dee Folkerts, childbirth educator and doula at the center.
The center remains the only free-standing birth center in Columbia, and it’s the only free-standing not-for-profit birth center in Missouri. The births are overseen by physicians Elizabeth Allemann and Rebecca Kelly.
Allemann, the center’s medical director, said longevity and stability are the goals for the center. “We want to continue to be here for another 30 to 40 years,” she said.
“The biggest difference between a birth center and a hospital is the role of the women’s preference. Here they are totally central,” Allemann said.
Megan Fox, a financial specialist with the center who had a home birth three-and-a-half months ago, said the experience gave her the flexibility she was looking for.
“I could be myself, walk around, eat and drink,” she said.
“I didn’t have medical intervention, and my partner was with me the whole time,” Rebekah Sherman, who gave birth to a baby boy at the center 10 days ago, echoed similar sentiments.
“Only what I wanted was going to happen,” she said. “The place was cozy and plush, and there were all these options for mothers that make them feel very comfortable.”
Sherman was at a retreat in Branson when her water broke unexpectedly. Working with both her midwife and her brother-in-law, she was able to find the center and decided to have a water birth there.
The center is reaching out to the community and is taking steps to make itself known. It is mailing former clients to let them know of the changes and gathering feedback about their birthing experiences to improve services.
The center plans to air public service announcements on the radio sometime next month, and it is in the initial stage of forming partnerships with local businesses or agencies.
Such partnerships would let the center tap into the customer base of related businesses and vice versa.
The center also hopes to sponsor public discussions on topics such as the politics of birth and birthing options.
“We aim to be a center that is a good social resource for people,” White said. “Currently we have a community potluck every month, where families can come together and share a meal, and it is a wonderful way to introduce like-minded families to each other.”
Since its was established in 2002, the center has served about 4,000 patients, White said. The center has 30 clients who are either pregnant or receiving post-birthing care.
“We hope to reach the target of 100 births per year with the new focus on out-of-hospital births only,” White said.
Fees for clients remain the same as when it first opened, and the goal is to keep the fees reasonable while providing scholarships for needy clients. The center’s fee is $6,000 for full home-birth maternity services that begin from the point of enrollment and end when the baby is 6 to 8 weeks old. It offers a discounted price of $4,000 if clients pay in cash in advance.
In addition to maternity services, the center offers a variety of prenatal and infant classes available to clients and interested families. These include parent-assisted music classes for prenatal and young infants, prenatal belly-dancing for mothers, child-birth preparation classes, meditation groups and support and discussion groups for mothers and mothers-to-be.