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Facing a hospital closure on Chicago’s South Side next year in the middle of a pandemic, two midwives are hoping to fill part of the void for mothers-to-be.
They want to open a freestanding birth center, where women could deliver their children in a full-size bed at a place that feels like their home — not inside a hospital. Birth centers are small facilities, with usually just a few beds.
The initiative is ambitious. It took at least 20 years of advocacy to make freestanding birth centers legal in Illinois in 2008, but there are still bureaucratic and financial barriers to opening them here. So far there are just two centers open in the entire state, and none are in Chicago.
But two midwives behind the latest effort — Jeanine Valrie Logan and Karie Stewart – say it’s necessary for women to have another option, especially given the expected closure of Mercy Hospital in Bronzeville in 2021. Mercy is just one of a few options for pregnant women on the South Side.
Nina-Marie Rueda delivered her first child at a hospital. During her second pregnancy, she knew she wanted a more intimate setting.
She chose a standalone birthing center.
She just hoped her labor wouldn’t be during rush hour. At the time, in 2015, she worked in North Lawndale and would have to travel to Berwyn to give birth.
“It was a 25-minute drive without traffic,” said Rueda, a doula who now lives in Little Village. She gave birth to her second and third children at the birthing center.
Considered a low-cost and safe alternative to traditional hospital labor and delivery wards, standalone birthing centers offer prenatal care and services for low-risk births. But there are none in Chicago, despite the need for more labor and delivery options on the city’s South and West sides.
A 2007 Illinois law authorized up to 10 birthing centers in the state. More than a decade later, just two exist. The Birth Center at PCC Community Wellness Center in Berwyn, where Rueda delivered her second and third children, opened in 2014. Overall, PCC had 1,080 deliveries last year; in fiscal year 2020, the Birth Center had 57 births. The other, the Birth Center of Bloomington-Normal, which opened in 2016, had 105 births in 2019. The group that operates the Bloomington-Normal center is hoping to open another in Burr Ridge this year, as well as a proposed location in North Center, which would be the Chicago’s first.