Karen Garloch, Charlotte Observer
For 16 years, Damaris Pittman has been a licensed midwife in South Carolina, where she has helped several hundred women deliver babies, mostly in their homes.
Because she lives in Charlotte, Pittman would also like to work in North Carolina. But she can't because midwives who aren't nurses and who don't work under the supervision of doctors are illegal in this state.
She and other midwives, as well as women who want their babies delivered by midwives, have tried unsuccessfully to change N.C. law.
But in the meantime, she's trying something new.
Pittman and three other midwives in South Carolina have opened that state's sixth nonhospital birth center.
This one, the nonprofit Carolina Community Maternity Center, is in Fort Mill, about a mile across the N.C.-S.C. border and close enough to attract parents from North Carolina's largest metropolitan area.
Last week, Pittman delivered the center's first baby, Layla Jane Bush, whose parents, Tabitha and Kevin Bush, live in Charlotte.
Layla was born at 4:47 a.m. last Thursday, only 12 hours after the center got its license from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Tabitha Bush welcomed her third daughter in a deep, warm birth pool, her first water birth. She said it made her contractions less intense. Layla's big sisters joined their parents and new sister soon after.
“Until now the only choice in the Charlotte area was to go to the hospital or to stay home without the help of a licensed midwife,” said Leigh Fransen, executive director of the new venture. “Now the women of our area have the option to use a licensed midwife and to have their baby in a beautiful homelike facility.”
The 2,500-square-foot birth center, in leased space, has two birth suites that are like bedrooms, furnished with donated queen-sized beds and dressers. Each suite has a bathroom.
The four midwives hope to have a total of 20 clients a month, before long. Pittman has five right now, who will deliver their babies in the next few months. All but one are from Charlotte. “We get calls every day,” she said.
In addition to Pittman and Fransen, the other midwives at the center are Christine Strothers and Lisa Johnson, who will be getting their licenses in November.
Fransen, who grew up in Charlotte and practiced midwifery in Florida, said she and her husband chose to move back to the area to start the birth center.
Lay midwives presided over home births in North Carolina without issue until 1983, when legislators outlawed the practice. State law now permits only certified nurse midwives who work under the supervision of physicians and mostly in hospitals. There is no licensing board for midwives.
That doesn't mean home births have stopped in North Carolina, but midwives who attend them are practicing illegally and sometimes get arrested. Licensed midwives in South Carolina, who must have completed an approved course in midwifery, serve an apprenticeship and pass a national exam. They can accept insurance reimbursement.
“A lot of people are not comfortable using an unlicensed provider,” Fransen said. “We're providing an option. Women want options.”
Karen Garloch: 704-358-5078.
Carolina Community Maternity Center, 2848 Pleasant Road, Suite 101, Fort Mill, S.C.