I felt completely at home the minute I walked upstairs and into the waiting room. The Midwife Center’s office area and waiting room is like no doctors office I’ve ever seen. The center itself is housed in an old home in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, and that’s a good beginning. The rooms have been kept as they were as much as possible, complete with fireplaces, which lend a very comfortable, homey feeling. The waiting room is full of comfy couches and chairs, toys for children, and a lending library, with big front windows letting in lots of natural light.
The office area is enclosed, mostly with glass, so the secretaries are not hidden from view or difficult to get hold of. A large bathroom tucked in one corner has plenty of room for a scale, a changing table, and donated diapers (in case you have children in tow). The exam rooms are similarly furnished, comfortable and homey. Although they do contain the standard exam table with stirrups and medical equipment, they also hold a desk, comfortable seating for the mother, a screen for changing into an exam gown (all of which are fabric and of reasonably modest design, unlike the paper gowns at your typical doctors office).
As a mother of two (soon to be three!) small children, one thing I particularly appreciate about The Midwife Center is that the staff are not at all flustered by the presence of small children in the waiting room or during exams, and the whole atmosphere of the building and the practice is family-oriented and welcoming.
Their welcoming attitude towards children is just a small indicator of the atmosphere of the place-the midwives and staff at The Midwife Center are all friendly, helpful, and kind. They are extraordinarily respectful of individual needs and beliefs and do a great job of relating to all types of people (from strict Orthodox Jews all the way across the spectrum to “alternative” family models).
Although they provide standard prenatal care, it is always done according to the needs and comfort level of the individual, rather than the convenience or policy of the center. Except at the beginning and the end of pregnancy, physical examinations are limited to vital statistics and fundal measurements, with no need to go through the rigamarole and fuss of changing into a gown at each exam.
Most of each visit is spent face-to-face with a midwife, discussing what’s going on in the pregnancy, with the family, with other children, and any concerns the mother might have. All procedures and tests are presented as an option, rather than a requirement, with the ultimate decision left up to the mother and her partner. Although the midwives have privileges at Allegheny General Hospital and have a board of directors and several back-up OB/Gyns, during a typical pregnancy one need never actually see an obstetrician nor enter the hospital, unless there is a medical reason to do so.
At The Midwife Center, pregnancy is treated as a normal, healthy condition and women are treated with the utmost respect and excellent care. While they are perfectly capable of dealing with complications, the midwives understand that complications are the exception, rather than the rule, when it comes to birth.
Along with prenatal and birth care, The Midwife Center provides many useful programs for parents to be as well as others. There are of course the childbirth education classes, along with programs for those wishing to attempt VBAC, support for women with previous traumatic births, “baby wearing” classes, and various other health related classes, including a mother-daughter health and sexuality class. Additionally, the midwives provide routine gynecological health care for women of all stages of life, from adolescence through menopause.
The ground floor of the center is taken up with three birthing rooms and a kitchen. Each birthing room is decorated differently and mothers are allowed to pick which room they would prefer (although it’s first come, first serve when it really comes down to it). Each room contains standard emergency equipment (well-hidden and unobtrusive), a large full-sized bed, a baby cradle, rocking chair/birth stool, and a large private bathroom complete with a jacuzzi.
Birthing at the midwife center guarantees no unnecessary interventions and no “cascade of interventions” that are so common at hospitals because the midwives do not induce or augment labor with Pitocin, and do not perform epidurals at the center. They will transfer a mother to the hospital if there is any indication of fetal or maternal distress, but their actual transfer rate is very low.
As much as possible, the mother’s wishes for assistance or privacy during labor are honored, and partners are strongly encouraged to be the mother’s main support and help during labor, with a little guidance from the midwives if necessary. The mother may choose to have others attending the birth (including children) or to limit attendees to partner and midwives. The kitchen is made available for storing and preparing snacks for the laboring mother and her entourage and preparing her first meal after the birth.
Pittsburgh women who want respectful, gentle care for all their reproductive needs should check out the midwife center before they go anywhere else. Although midwifery is currently viewed as a “fringe” profession, The Midwife Center’s midwives are well-trained, knowledgeable, professional, and just as good as any OB/Gyn for basic woman-care.