If you don’t want to give birth in a hospital, your options are few in Sonoma County. Here’s why
Sabrina Niemiec, a Forestville mother of two, can’t imagine giving birth to her third child in her preferred position — on her hands and knees — in a hospital delivery room. At home or in a birth center, yes. But not a hospital.
Niemiec, who is due in July, finds the hospital setting too sterile, medical, impersonal, almost as if births are treated like an illness. She doesn’t want to cede her autonomy to doctors and patient monitors.
“I know that my body can do this. I don’t really need anybody to tell me how to do this,” said Niemiec, 34. “I don’t think a hospital setting, because of their liability and their insurance, would permit my ideal of a birth … They’ve got to cover their butts, it’s their routine.”
Niemiec’s daughter Isla was born at the Santa Rosa Birth Center in 2019. Her son Nico was a home-birth delivery in the summer of 2021, when she lived in Sonoma.
For her third this summer, she had hoped to have the Santa Rosa Birth Center as an option. But as of the end of this month, babies will no longer be delivered at the facility on Summerfield Road.
Instead, the birth center’s staff will be doing midwife-led births only at local hospitals.
A second birth center, Thrive Birth Center in northeast Santa Rosa, also intends to cease births at their facility and instead focus on home births. The owners say the cost of running the facilities far exceeds revenue, primarily because of insufficient insurance reimbursements.
News of the birth center closures comes a week after Providence announced its intent to shutter the small, family-centered birthing facility at its Petaluma Valley Hospital. The move to eliminate birth services at local birth centers and the proposal to close the Family Birth Center in Petaluma has sent shock waves through the local birthing community.
The narrowing options means defaulting to delivery at one of three major hospitals in Santa Rosa or the less-than-ideal option of driving outside the county to places like the Napa Birth Center, Bloom Waterbirth Center in Ukiah, Pacifica Family Maternity Center in Berkeley or The San Francisco Birth Center.
In response, a public forum was organized last week by Rosanne Gephart, the former owner of the Santa Rosa Birth Center, to discuss the changes and what they mean to local families and women who are hoping for alternatives to a hospital birth. The forum, held in the offices of the American Red Cross of the North Bay on Aero Drive in Santa Rosa, lasted nearly three hours, including a panel discussion with comments from local birth center owners, midwives, doulas and expecting mothers.
The changes, Gephart said, represent a reduction in birthing options that affect many women, especially low-income women insured by Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program. Santa Rosa Birth Center accepts Medi-Cal.
“When the only birth center that accepts Medi-Cal closes it is a loss for everyone … but hits the poor, disenfranchised, Spanish speaking and women of color the hardest,” Gephart said. “They cannot afford to have a home birth with a trained provider.”
Gephart and other advocates for out-of-hospital birthing say the elimination of local birth center births is part what they call the overmedicalization of birth, which often leads to unnecessary medical interventions.
“Pregnant women and their babies are not a commodity that can be traded, transferred, moved from hospital to hospital like sacks of grain! They want and deserve choice!” Gephart wrote in an email.
Amber Cimino, 35, of Santa Rosa grew up in the “home birth community.” Her mother was a practicing home-birth midwife, and starting at about 10 or 11, Cimino would take care of older children while her mother helped deliver babies.
Several of Cimino’s siblings were home births, and her youngest brother was born in the bath tub at Santa Rosa Birth Center in 2000. What’s more, Cimino’s first job was at the birth center, working the front desk. She later trained at the center to become a doula and assisted in multiple births there; she also spent several years in charge of cleaning the facility after each birth.
“I have spent probably hundreds of hours at that specific location,” she said. “I just have always known that that's where I would have my children,” said Cimino, who is 33 weeks pregnant. “That's where I would have my babies.”
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