When Brittany Goodpaster gives birth in June, she’ll have a very different experience from the one she imagined.
Goodpaster had hoped to deliver her baby at the Luminis Anne Arundel Medical Center birthing center in Annapolis, where midwives assist women with natural births. The center, which opened in 1997, was designed to look like a bedroom rather than a hospital room. A bathtub, bed, play space for kids, large exercise ball and other amenities were available to the women who had their babies there.
Earlier this week, Luminis closed the birthing center after 26 years of operation due to the low number of births there in the past several years. The midwives will now help deliver babies in the hospital, said Luminis spokesperson Justin McLeod.
The birthing center delivered 31 babies last year, McLeod said. That’s compared with the roughly 5,500 babies delivered at the hospital each year.
The decline in births “is due to a number of factors, most notably, an increase in mothers with co-existing medical conditions making the acute care environment safest for these high-risk deliveries, as well as a local and nationwide staffing shortage,” McLeod said in an email.
According to Maryland Department of Health databases, Luminis had the only birthing center remaining in Maryland following a flurry of closures of other centers over the past 20 years. Baltimore Birth Center closed in 2004, Maternity Center in Bethesda closed in 2007, and Special Beginnings Birth and Women’s Center in Arnold closed in 2020.
Halfway through her first pregnancy, Goodpaster, a 31-year-old Annapolis resident, will need to come up with a new birth plan. The birthing center was ideal as Goodpaster wanted a home birth, but her husband wasn’t comfortable being away from medical professionals, so they compromised on the center.
“I just want less intervention,” Goodpaster said. “I know that I’m going to want to get up and move around and not have people poking and prodding me and telling me where to be and how to be and all of that.”
Goodpaster was also hoping to recline on the bed, labor in a tub, have her baby and leave the same night, the typical policy of the birthing center. However, those who give birth in the hospital are generally required to stay for at least 24 hours, even if they and their baby are healthy, she said.
“It’s just a bummer,” Goodpaster said. “I don’t even want to start researching stuff because I think I’ll just get overwhelmed.”
She was excited by the concept of having a baby safely but without the chaos of hospital culture.
“The hospital seems a lot more rushed, more hands involved and less of a relaxing environment,” Goodpaster said. “I was hoping to show up and feel at home, not necessarily in this medical facility with IVs hanging out of me and constant monitoring and all of that.”
Women who labored and delivered at the birthing center, formerly known as Bay Area Midwifery Center, say it’s a major loss for the community.
Patti Zoppi, 29, had two babies there in 2019 and 2021. The former Crofton resident had her previous two children at home and in a hospital and had issues with both. The birthing center near the hospital was the perfect middle ground.
“We loved it,” Zoppi said. “It was quiet. We had both of the babies in the evening. It was a really lovely experience.”
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Zoppi, who is a doula, a birthing assistant without medical training, explained that, among other benefits, the birthing center offers a more relaxed environment, which can make labor easier for women. It’s also typically cheaper than a hospital birth as the mom is not required to stay overnight at the hospital, and usually doesn’t make use of medical equipment or professionals.
Because of the lack of medical professionals in the room, the birthing center allows women to feel more in control of their care and experience, said Kate Bauer, executive director of the American Association of Birth Centers.
“How we give birth is important. It’s important not only for the person giving birth but also for the family,” Bauer said. “A positive birth experience where you’re respected, where you are treated with dignity, where your culture is given space can have a profound impact and it can empower people to be advocates for their own health care [and] for their families’ health care.”
The closure of the birthing center will enable Luminis to make improvements to existing birthing suites and expand access to group prenatal care and doulas, McLeod said.
“Bringing all deliveries to the hospital will allow us to focus resources and staffing where it will be most impactful and ensure the safest care,” he said.
For Goodpaster, she feels caught in the middle. Now she has to choose between a home birth or a hospital birth.
“There’s no other options really,” she said.