In honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting The Birth Sanctuary Gainesville, soon-to-be Alabama’s only freestanding birth care center. It is midwifery, owned, led, and operated under the direction of Dr. Stephanie Mitchell.
“You can’t live in two different worlds—as a nation to see pregnant individuals that should gestate fully, forced into the situation, but then only be given the worst care of industrialized nations.”
– Dr. Stephanie Mitchell
Who is Dr. Stephanie Mitchell?
Dr. Stephanie Mitchell is a Certified Professional Midwife with a Bachelor of Science, Master’s of Science in Nursing, and Doctorate in Nursing with a specialty in community-based midwifery. In 2020, she set about building the Birth Sanctuary Gainesville. Her goal was to increase access to individualized, supported and respected care of pregnant individuals in Alabama’s Black belt.
We sat down with Dr. Mitchell to learn more about her reasons for building the Birth Sanctuary Gainesville and get her take on the importance of midwifery in the United States. She remarks that, “uneducated decision-making and misinformation has become the norm. Women were removed from the situation with industrialization. We have accepted the stature of medicalization and are taught that birth is somehow animalistic or unbecoming. Now we see a resurgence of midwifery. We are reclaiming it as a safe option. One that birthing individuals would prefer, is low risk, and valuable to Black women, in particular.”
In her clinical experience, Dr. Mitchell had seen the impact of full-scope midwifery care firsthand in her time caring for women at one of the largest and highest volume hospitals in Boston. What was once what she describes as, “pain, trauma, and unnecessary negative outcomes” could be transformed into “transcendent birth experiences—beautiful, supported, and ending with joy.”
Conceiving a Birth Care Center in Gainesville, Alabama
Moving to Gainesville with her family in 2020, Dr. Mitchell found zero freestanding birthcare centers for her to join. Seeing this as a void in crucial care, Dr. Mitchell set about building the Birth Sanctuary Gainesville herself. Bringing like-minded individuals from the college of nurse midwives and her own experiences from her Doctor of Nursing practice together means providing evidence-based practices of midwifery to a community in desperate need.
While construction is still underway, the Birth Sanctuary Gainesville hopes to open within the year.
The Benefits of Nurse Midwifery
While medicalized pregnancies were once the norm, we’ve now seen a resurgence of midwifery, as awareness of it as a safe and supported option grows.
Historically, the stature of physician care has been revered. But it removed women from the situation of labor, with assisted vaginal deliveries and other medical interventions. Now, as women are seeking more holistic, individualized, and empowered care, the role of the certified nurse midwife is gaining greater recognition.
Dr. Mitchell recounts the process of obtaining her midwifery education as arduous and expensive. The nurse midwifery program got her to where she is today, but the battle continues to be uphill. Providing her community with a birth care center will mean working collaboratively with state registered nurse practitioners and midwives. Together they will ensure safe and healthy births for an underserved region of the United States.
Medical and Industrialized Care in the US
A recent resurgence in the low risk and safe option of midwifery and birth care centers allows individuals to opt out of the medical system—especially Black individuals who are more likely to be mistreated and overlooked by the traditional medical system.
When asked what she would recommend to someone who is pregnant and concerned about their care, Dr. Mitchell said, “start before the problems start. Instead of preparing yourself to fight your entire pregnancy, consider your options as early as possible.”
Dr. Mitchell speaks vehemently about the low standard of care that has been handed down to America. “This industrialized, medicalized process is being passed off as if it’s an okay, normal way to approach birth care—but it’s not.” The care, information and resources that will be made available to individuals at the Birth Sanctuary will allow them to make better, more informed decisions about their birth process. And engage with their reproductive health care as respected and supported individuals.
The Impact of the Birth Sanctuary Gainesville
Places like the Birth Sanctuary increase access to safe alternatives to hospital births. This increases the probability of healthy births and helps to lower the infant mortality rate of marginalized individuals. This was missing in Alabama—a state where abortions are illegal—and Dr. Mitchell is eager to fill this gap with her expertise and the care of likeminded, highly trained, fully licensed, state certified nurse midwives.
The Birth Sanctuary Gainesville was to open in 2022. Establishing non-profit status for 2023 will help to move them forward. However, continued support through individual donations or larger corporate donations is needed to ensure they can open as soon as possible.
The Birth Sanctuary will be a pre- and postpartum care center to serve Gainesville. They will provide crucial care for families. And make it easier and safer for them to access supportive, professional and integrative one-on-one birth care. For this community, midwifery isn’t only life-changing, but in many cases, lifesaving.
A Vision for the Future
Mitchell describes the Birth Sanctuary as a “functioning hub and a sanctuary—a place that preserves normal physiological birth.” A freestanding birth space with a “collective understanding and sanctity”. And a respected member of the Alabama birth community, working collaboratively with local hospitals. In the long-term, they will also provide virtual group prenatal care.
With The Birth Sanctuary Gainesville, Dr. Mitchell can start to correct some of the glaring disparities of a nation where birth is dictated by the State and the current medical system is failing so many.
*Make individual donations to the Birth Sanctuary Gainesville here. If you would like to make a donation of $500 or more, reach out to [email protected]