Event Focuses on Area Birthing Options

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, November 26, 2018

White River Junction — It has been more than four months since Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital shuttered the doors of its birthing center in Lebanon.

In the wake of this closing, and that of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s infertility clinic in May 2017, some Upper Valley families and health care providers have wondered what these changes mean for them. To explore this question and others related to birth, Open Door Integrative Wellness, a wellness center offering a variety of health care services and classes, in White River Junction, will host an “Empowering Birth” discussion on Wednesday.

“There is an assumption still in the community we think that there will be less choice for birthing couples,” Britton Mann, who directs the acupuncture program at Open Door, said. “Whether or not that’s true is up for conversation here.”

Rather than focusing on the July closing of APD’s birthing center and the accompanying merger of obstetrical services with the nearby Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Mann said the discussion will aim to move the conversation forward by focusing on how birthing couples can feel a sense of agency over their deliveries.

“We have patients and clients who are wondering what their birth is going to look like,” Mann said.

The event, which will be moderated by William Nelson, an associate professor at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice, features a panel of doctors, midwives and a doula who help women deliver babies at DHMC in Lebanon and at home.

Spurred by the closing of APD’s birthing center, conversations started by focusing on the place where women deliver their babies, but have since expanded to discussions about ways of making women and families comfortable regardless of the setting, Katie Williams, a Quechee-based doula who is participating in Wednesday’s discussion, said.

“It’s about building relationships,” said Williams.

In the Upper Valley, APD’s is the most recent in a series of closings of birthing centers. In recent years, Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, New London Hospital and Cottage Hospital in Woodsville also have closed their birthing units. Now, Springfield (Vt.) Hospital and Gifford Medical Center in Randolph — both federally qualified medical centers — are the only Upper Valley hospitals other than DHMC that still have birthing units.

These closings are part of a national trend with birthing units, especially in rural areas. And the country hit a 30-year low in the birth rate last year.

Following APD’s February announcement that it would merge obstetrical services with DHMC, Williams said she saw increased attendance at doula outreach events. But people weren’t coming to learn more about the services of a doula, who provides non-medical support to a mother and her partner during and sometimes after delivery.

Instead, they wanted to know how the closing of APD’s birthing center would affect them, Williams said.

For Williams, the experience has helped her to see that a doula’s role can expand beyond birth attendance. A doula also can serve as a neutral party while helping to provide information about birthing options and in building relationships between patients and other providers, she said.

“I think my hope is that there’s a softening between hospital-based providers, community-based providers and home-birth providers — that there (are) relationships built,” Williams said.

For those who are pregnant or wish to become so, Williams said she hopes they come away from the event with a better understanding of how to advocate for themselves and how to trust their providers.

By connecting women and their partners with the right tools, Williams said she hopes they can feel safe and capable.

“I think a lot of good can come from this,” she said.

The free event will take place on Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Open Door, 18 North Main St., in White River Junction. For more information or to RSVP, contact Williams at wellmaidens@gmail.com.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.