Beatrix Cronin is due to have her second child any day now. But she’s not prepping for a hospital visit.
Instead, on a recent Wednesday, she was looking for a lake to swim in, an exercise that helps pregnant women strengthen their pelvic floor for labor. And when her body tells her she’s going into labor, it won’t be a hospital that her husband, Robert, is putting into the GPS.
Rather Beatrix Cronin will be heading to the Holly No. 7 Birth and Family Health Center on Hammond Street, where midwife Chris Yentes will help her through her labor and delivery. This will be the sixth birth at the center since Yentes opened its doors in December with the goal of providing a place for healthy women with low-risk pregnancies to give birth naturally without medical intervention.
“I want to hold the door open for normal physiological birth,” Yentes said. “We want people to fully understand what is going on and why it is going on, and then they get to make their decision, and we get to respect their decisions. This is their baby, their family, and we really honor that.”
The relaxed and natural birthing ethos that Yentes has developed the birth center around was enough to bring the Cronins all the way from the Bahamas to have their second child, a boy. Having their first child Harrison, now two and a half, at their island home they knew they wanted their second child to come into the world in the homiest environment possible. Harrison was born during the winter, when the Bahamas is flush with retired doctors and nurse practitioners who could assist if anything went wrong, Robert Cronin said. But with their second child due in the summer, when the island is relatively void of visitors, the Cronins knew they needed to seek a place on the mainland to give birth.
“In looking around the U.S., we wanted to find a place that was kind of compatible with our thoughts on [childbirth]. We didn’t want to be in a hospital, we didn’t want to have a lot of legalities about the baby being taken away from mom and examined and poked and prodded and vaccinated and all that stuff,” Robert Cronin said. “[The birth center] has been very relaxing, very natural. It’s a whole different experience coming to a place like this and being able to hang out and have a nice conversation.”
Through online research and suggestions from connections they had in Maine, they found Yentes. Having been in Maine since the end of May, Yentes has worked with Beatrix Cronin through her prenatal care, and after assisting her in birth, she will continue with post-partum check-ups on mom and baby until the Cronins head back to the Bahamas in September.
While the Holly No. 7 Birth and Family Health Center has only been open for seven months, Yentes has been a practicing midwife for 25 years, assisting in over 550 births. By opening a birth center, she’s providing a space for women who want to have births outside of a medical setting, but do not want to give birth at their homes.
The center is in the old Holly No. 7 fire station, and has been redone with beautiful exposed brick walls, soothing earth tones and nature-inspired art, offering women and their families a peaceful place to bring their child into the world. The bottom floor of the center features a waiting room and the prenatal visit and consultation room. Upstairs are two spacious birthing rooms, each with a bed, rocking chair, bathroom and a large birthing pool.
The Bangor center is the only birth center in Maine that is a member of the American Association of Birth Centers, which means that the Holly No. 7 Birth and Family Health Center has complied to the association’s standards of care. The way that birth centers view pregnancy and birth is inherently different from the way pregnancy and labor handled in a hospital setting ― starting at prenatal care.
While Yentes and other midwives still monitor things like heart rate and check on the position of the baby during prenatal care, they place a large focus of their care on dietary instruction and herbal remedies to help women keep their pregnancies low-risk. Yentes said throughout the process, she wants to keep an open dialogue and focus on what the mother wants and needs for her pregnancy and birth, meaning that prenatal visits are an hourlong or more rather than just 15 minutes.
“We talk about labor, we talk about pain. We have much more of a conversation about all of those aspects. We talk about how they feel about their body changing, and we try to be really respectful,” Yentes said.
A sense of freedom of choice is fostered at the birth center. After giving birth in a hospital herself, Yentes felt that while she was the one giving birth, she was not in control. During that birth she was hooked up to an external and internal monitor, induced and given an episiotomy only to be told after she had given birth that she had a normal birth.
“I didn’t want any of that, and I didn’t think it was necessary,” Yentes said. “So then I had my next baby at home with a midwife […] and was like, ‘Oh, this is what I want to do.’”
High-risk women who need medical intervention during pregnancy are not able to give birth at the center. But low risk women, who have a healthy pregnancy, are given the freedom at the birth center to walk around, to eat and to try different positions during labor and birth to ensure that they are comfortable and relaxed. In hospitals, about 92 percent of women give birth on their backs according to the American Association of Birth Centers, but this is often not the most comfortable or effective method of childbirth for women, Yentes said.
“We offer a lot of flexibility here. They can get up and move around. They can sit in a rocking chair, they can lie in bed, they can take a shower,” Yentes said. “It gets them to be able to relax. The key to labor is to relax. The more you relax, the less things hurth and the more effective your uterus can be and the more effective the dilation process is. Our goal is to provide a sense of safety for the woman. Safeguarding her as she’s doing this very vulnerable thing of opening her body up to have a human pass through it, and getting her as comfortable as possible.”
While Yentes wants to offer as much freedom as possible to mothers, when a birth goes beyond what she has the means to help, she will transfer a mother to the hospital, which is why the birth center’s close proximity to Eastern Maine Medical Center is beneficial. Of the births she has assisted, about 15 percent of her clients needed to be transferred either during labor or postpartum, if a mother or baby needs assistance after birth. Only five percent of her clients have been transferred to the hospital during labor.
After birth, it is up to the mother how long she chooses to stay at the center, it can be a few hours or overnight. Yentes will also provide the mothers and their babies with their postpartum care, doing home appointments at 24 to 36 hours after birth and one week after birth. The three and six week postpartum visits are conducted back at the birth center.
The birth experience Yentes offers women, either at home or at the birth center, is meant to be free from the scary stereotypes that surround pregnancy and labor. While she respects the medical field, Yentes believes that a healthy low-risk pregnancy has no reason for medical intervention.
With six more births scheduled to occur at the center through November, Yentes is eager to provide a supportive space for women and their families to give birth.
“We love you, we care about you and we are here with you and we are here to witness this amazing thing that you are doing and that your body is doing, that you can do, that your body was designed especially to do,” Yentes said. “We have a lot of skills, and our biggest thing is to sit on our hands and let the woman do what her body can do.”