Natural Beginnings

By Beacon Staff

Midwives have helped mothers give birth naturally for centuries. They’re trained to provide regular care for women and primary care through every stage of a pregnancy, from prenatal to birth into postpartum. Practitioners of midwifery, most often female, offer intimate, guided support. Oftentimes they become a cherished ally.

Kalispell’s Sharise Clostio has been a certified nurse midwife since 1995. She believes wholeheartedly in the benefits of midwifery as a source of holistic, comprehensive care. If a pregnancy is considered low risk, Clostio will work alongside soon-to-be mothers, offering an array of services during the childbearing process. Her goal is to meet the needs of women in the community and make one of life’s amazing experiences as healthy and natural as possible.

Two years ago, Clostio dreamed of a unified location in Northwest Montana where her goal could be made possible and where midwives could pool their resources together. Partnering with Michele Neal and Melissa Brake, she developed a not-for-profit cooperative called Community Birth Center. Two weeks ago residents were introduced to the newly remodeled 6,200-square-foot facility at 1320 Second Ave. E. in Kalispell.

The center currently features a birthing suite with a 300-gallon bathtub for water births, a large open space for yoga and other classes, several rooms with furniture, a kitchen and bathrooms. In other words, it feels like home.

“We want women and their families to always feel comfortable here,” she said.

Last summer, Clostio took over the building, which used to be the Jones Music School, and began renovating it into a home-hospital for midwives. Two other birth suites are in the works and the new facility is in the process of being licensed through the state, Clostio said.

Currently the three midwives offer an array of services at the Birth Center, including well-woman care clinics on Fridays, which began last week, classes on breastfeeding and a regular wellness pregnancy circle, where pregnant women and their families can come together to share support and advice.

“Everyone can get online and read about stuff, but this is really a place for them to come and ask questions and talk about it,” Neal said. “And they make connections and hopefully long-term relationships with other families that are going through pregnancy.”

Nature Baby Outfitters, a locally owned company that makes natural baby products, operates inside the facility, too.

“Having Sharise come up with the great idea for a co-op really brings the midwives together,” Neal said. “It’s fun to come in here and say we’re working together and working toward something as a whole.”

Leah McGraw sits beneath belly art casts while participating in a La Leche League meeting at the Community Birth Center in Kalispell.

Clostio and the other midwives are also training and apprenticing prospective midwives at the new Birth Center. Eventually she hopes to branch out into rural regions where midwife care isn’t currently available.

The midwives don’t provide pain medication during childbearing and instead use natural methods of pain relief, like water births.

Clostio said research has shown lower intervention and medication lead to fewer complications during and after pregnancy.

The national rate of Cesarean section, or C-section, deliveries has continued to climb in recent years and reached an all-time high in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thirty-four percent of all deliveries were by C-section, according to a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2010. In 1970, the rate was 5 percent.

The C-section rate for women working with a midwife and giving birth out-of-hospital is only 2 to 4 percent, Clostio said.

There are other benefits, too, which Neal has seen during her 35 years as a midwife.

“You build great friendships and a long-term friendship with the families we work with,” she said. “But I think for the families, they get stronger as a whole. Usually the dads and kids come to prenatals, so it’s really family oriented that way. Everyone has a really positive experience together.”

For more information about Community Birth Center, visit www.communitybirthcenter.com, or call 260-4455.