THORNTON, Colo. — Seasons Midwifery & Birth Center in Thornton has been open since 2019 and has served hundreds of people each year who seek out non-traditional methods for labor and delivery.
Narissa Wilburn has three children, with her youngest born at Seasons this week. Wilburn sought out the care after she felt her needs weren't met in a traditional hospital setting and at a different birth center in the metro area.
"It was not what I envisioned or what I wanted for my birth, and I wanted to experience something different than that," said Wilburn, describing her previous two births.
As an indigenous woman, she wanted to make sure her next birth would honor her roots, family and culture.
"They really wanted to cater to what my cultural wants were. They asked about them. They were super respectful of them. At the hospital, it seemed to be something that got in the way and something that they didn’t want to have to think about," said Wilburn.
At Seasons, staff honored her family's request that no one immediately speak after their daughter was born. The baby's father then spoke their Native language, which is meant to be the first words heard in their tribe when they welcome a new child. That was just one of the many culturally relevant birthing practices that staff honored throughout the process.
"I felt very special. I felt very safe being able to do the things that I was taught to help bring my child into the world," said Wilburn. "It made me feel like a person because they weren’t trying to push on me how it should be. They were listening to me about how it has been for my people."
As a woman of color, Wilburn has always been concerned about the mortality rates and outcomes from hospital systems. According to the CDC, women of color mortality rates are three times higher than their white counterparts.
"They understand the mortality rate too of women of color, and I could see that care that they have come through how they worked with us and how they dealt with us, and that was important to me to be seen like that," said Wilburn.
Wilburn was able to deliver before Seasons' closure on Nov. 4. The shutdown stems from a new ownership group that deemed Seasons didn't make enough profit to continue operating.
The decision is forcing families who expected to deliver at Seasons to find alternative options. With only six other midwifery centers in the state, it doesn't leave many choices to families, particularly those who may not have the ability to travel or may have Medicaid or other insurances that may not be accepted by all the centers. Home birth is frequently not covered by most insurance plans, which means that some will have to go back to the traditional hospital route.
Christina Soliz is currently 32 weeks pregnant and her expected delivery date is after Seasons plans to close.
"It was the end of September, and they called to tell me the news. I couldn't hear the rest of the person who was talking to me because I was just crying so hard," said Soliz, who had turned to Seasons after she felt a hospital provider had body shamed her due to her weight.
Soliz recently tried to transfer her care to another midwifery center but was told her pre-pregnancy BMI was too high. She was turned away as a patient with them.
While Soliz found comfort from staff at Seasons, she also turned to them in the hopes of better outcomes as a woman of color as well.
"I think that's what played into my fear of hospitals was knowing those statistics, knowing that you're less likely to be listened to in a hospital," said Soliz.
Right now, Soliz and her partner are exploring next steps to find medical care for her delivery. While her options remain limited, she will explore every other option available apart from the original hospital provider she saw at the start of her pregnancy.
"I don't think I'm gonna go back to them. I think I know now that my mental health and anxiety, like controlling that is way more important than putting myself and my baby girl through that. So I have a doula and we're looking at other midwife options. We're exploring the possibility of a home birth with a midwife as well," said Soliz.
While expecting families will have to find a new solution, the leadership team at Seasons is working on their own solutions in the background. The community has asked for the center to remain open, and non-profit Elephant Circle is trying to make that a reality in the upcoming months.
Indra Lusero founded Elephant Circle as a birth justice organization based in Colorado. The non-profit provides care such as providing doula services to working on policy and legal issues.
"People were heartbroken and angry, devastated," said Lusero. "How can something so right be just taken away in the blink of an eye? It's kind of astounding, so it was all variations of that feeling, like this can't be right. We've got to do something."
Lusero and their team are working to transform Seasons into a community hub and birth center, where people can receive a wide range of services beyond labor and delivery. They envision a space where people can receive mental health services, find support in lactation groups and provide additional services that families may need.
The timeline still remains uncertain, but they are hoping to gradually take on clients at some point after the new year. Right now, Elephant Circle is in the process of creating a task force to talk with the community directly and develop a logistical plan for what Seasons will become.
The timeline for reopening under a non-profit structure still remains uncertain, as does how many families the team may be able to serve.
"We've got a lot to do. I do hope early in 2023, and it's going to be a matter of how quickly it can scale back up to the volume that Seasons was seeing. So even if it gets started early in the new year, it's probably not going to be able to serve as many people right away, but we're going to do our best."
The non-profit is fundraising to reopen the birth center. If you would like to donate, you can click here. The midwives at Seasons have created an alternative link for fundraising, if you would like to purchase merchandise with profits going to the reopening.
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