by Judy Mendel, ACNM Communications Intern
US Health and Human
Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius followed in my footsteps. I was
fortunate to visit the Family Health and Birth
Center (FHBC) in Washington, DC, just two days prior to the launch of the Strong Start initiative,
aimed at increasing healthy deliveries and reducing preterm births. FHBC is one
of the nonprofits comprising the Developing
Families Center (DFC) in Northeast DC. FHBC recently offered to share with
ACNM a bank of high-resolution photos, and a
colleague and I were on a mission to get them. This was a field trip I eagerly
volunteered to take. While the batch of 400+ images uploaded to our portable
hard drive, we had the privilege of going on a private tour of the
facilities. As a newcomer to the
practice of midwifery, this was a great learning experience that made me feel
incredibly proud of ACNM’s work and the midwives we support.
The mission of DFC is to meet the primary health care,
social service, and child development needs of underserved individuals and
childrearing families through a variety of services including women’s and
children’s health care, child care services, family resource and support
services, confidential counseling, and adult education. Many women, and especially
the population that DFC serves, have to trek to a variety of inaccessible
locations and deal with a slew of obstacles and barriers to get good
gynecologic, prenatal, and pediatric care. DFC provides quality services and a
wonderfully warm environment and is “a one-stop-shop for women’s health needs
through the lifespan,” according to Cynthia Flynn, CNM, FHBC’s general director.
DFC’s waiting area is a colorful space with a TV and toys to
entertain. We were greeted by friendly staff at the main reception area and
brought back to the FHBC records desk. We peeked down the hallway to the six
exam rooms and shared staff office area. As Cynthia explained during our tour,
there are three birth rooms where women deliver in any position they like. Each
room has a private bathroom with Jacuzzis for relaxation and/or water births.
There are large beds, rocking chairs, and overstuffed couches, all which create
a comfortable and home-like environment. Pastels and warm hues wrap the walls.
I walked in and felt like I was in a gentle embrace, a far cry from a stark
white hospital room. The birth rooms were incredibly clean, yet did not feel
institutional. As a 20-something female, the thought of a room with confusing
machines, beeping monitors, unfamiliar faces, and uncomfortable gurneys is not
appealing as a place conducive to giving birth.
Interesting pieces of artwork in the form of belly castings
hung on the corridor walls facing the birth rooms. Delicately molded and
hand-painted, these masterpieces were crafted by women in various prenatal
education group sessions. A small doorway leads out to a small community
garden, which is used to help families experience the simplicity of growing
organic produce. What made my smile even wider was that all are welcome in the
garden; there are no fences or partitions, a unique finding for land so
valuable in this part of DC. And in true cooperative display, children in FHBC’s
day care program learn how to tend to the land. Gardens often symbolize new
life, and perhaps this one, more so than others, also represents the collective
effort needed to plan for and sustain that growth. To me, it’s a microcosm of
DFC as a whole. We were shown the midwives’ work room, the laboratory, and a
library in the form of a few tall bookshelves. With the objective of
incentivizing childhood immunizations, a child receives a book with each vaccination.
Up to 15 books can be received if a parent adheres to the recommended child
vaccination schedule. What a great motivator!
We concluded our tour and went back to fetch our fabulous
bank of images. As we were leaving I could not help but feel inspired by and
proud of the work the center does, and especially the midwives working there
who make it all possible by promoting the health and well-being of those most
Image courtesy of the Family Health and Birth Center: A child helps tend to the garden at the Developing Families Center.