Open for deliveries
The practice of midwifery is commonplace in Europe, and it is becoming more popular in the United States.
A business in the Mid-coast region that is offering this growing service is The Birth Center at Northern Sun, located in Topsham, and its practitioners are Sarah Ackerly and Josie Skavdahl, certified professional midwives and naturopathic doctors.
“The Birth Center provides a home-like and beautiful setting for families to come and birth,” said Ackerly, the owner of the business. “It is a safe and roomy environment where clients have the space, physically and emotionally, to allow for their birth experience to unfold.”
The Times Record recently conducted a question-andanswer session with both doctors to learn about, among other things, the practice of naturopathic medicine, why families may want to choose using a midwife instead of a hospital setting, and how the birthing experience is often a family affair. Q. First of all, Sarah and Josie, could you please provide for us your educational and professional backgrounds?
Sarah attended the University of Colorado in Boulder and received her doctorate in naturopathic medicine from National College of Natural Medicine.
Josie attended the University of Montana and Bastyr University, where she completed her undergraduate degree and a doctorate in naturopathic medicine.
Sarah completed a two-year residency in naturopathic family practice in Portland, Ore., before moving to Maine in 1995 to practice. Josie completed a year-long residency in naturopathic family practice and midwifery at Northern Sun in 2010 and has continued on in private practice.
Q. What is naturopathic medicine? I get the impression there are very few schools that offer this type of program of study. Is that so?
What prompted both of you to steer your careers toward midwifery?
A. Naturopathic medicine is based on the belief that the body has an innate healing ability. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) teach their patients to use diet, exercise, lifestyle changes and cutting-edge natural therapies to enhance their bodies’ ability to prevent and treat disease.
NDs view the patient as a complex, interrelated system (a whole person), not as a clogged artery or a tumor. We combine the science of modern chemistry with the wisdom of older healing traditions to treat both acute and chronic conditions and help restore health.
There are seven federally accredited schools in North America which train naturopathic doctors in a four-year naturopathic medical school.
Sarah was influenced by her time in Appalachia at the Frontier Nursing Service in Hyden, Ky., and the ways women were empowered by midwives. Being able to be both a part of the mystery of life as well as to work like an oldtime family practice doctor, getting to know my patients and their families, made the combination of midwifery and naturopathic medicine a perfect fit.
Midwifery and naturopathic practice embrace the inherent value in the relationship between client, family and practitioner.
Q. What services do you provide at The Birth Center at Northern Sun? Can mothers still have their baby at home?
A. The Birth Center provides a homelike and beautiful setting for families to come and birth. It is a safe and roomy environment where clients have the space, physically and emotionally, to allow for their birth experience to unfold.
The family room allows guests to be present and involved, while the bedroom provides privacy to the mother in labor. The kitchen allows families to make their own food during their stay. The gardens surrounding the Birth Center provide freedom to walk, rest and relax during labor.
There is also a built-in Jacuzzi birth tub in the birth suite for both laboring and birthing in water. In fact, the tub was used at the Ballard House in Portland where hundreds of babies have been born.
We provide complete midwifery care, prenatally to postpartum, and integrate naturopathic medicine into the care women and babies receive at the Birth Center. We have all the same supplies, quality assurance systems and equipment as a primary care facility.
We provide 24-hour on-call service, onsite laboratory testing, childbirth education, lactation consultation, a lending library and provide contraception counseling, including fertility awareness.
For babies, we provide newborn metabolic and hearing screening and ongoing care for well baby checkups, including free books from the Raising Readers Program.
And yes, we still provide care for families to birth their babies at home.
Q. Why would someone choose to utilize a midwife instead of a doctor/ hospital? Are more people seeking your services?
A. The midwifery model of care includes the medical needs of a pregnant woman, but also includes and acknowledges the importance of the emotional and spiritual health of an individual. It recognizes that pregnancy and birth are normal life events, rather than a medical event.
Central to our practice is a highly designed plan for individualized prenatal care, education, and support throughout a woman’s pregnancy and postpartum experience. We make sure breastfeeding gets well established and rates are highest in births attended by midwives.
Birth at a birth center allows a woman to labor without time restrictions or routine interventions more commonly experienced in a hospital setting, such as IVs and continuous fetal monitoring. The freedom to move about as well as the comfortable atmosphere and being attended by supportive people the mother knows are key factors, which allow for labor to proceed normally.
Water birth draws people to the Birth Center. Water births ease the intensity of labor and contribute to our high rates of unmedicated births.
More families are choosing out-of-hospital births as a proactive response to the increased concern over rising cesarean section rates, which are now more than 30 percent nationally. C-section rates at birth centers are 6 percent nationally, which is more in alignment with the World Health Organization’s goal of less than 15 percent.
Q. If complications arise, do you have hospital privileges? How is your relationship with hospitals, i.e., have officials been welcoming or do they feel like you are taking business away from them?
A. Hospital privileges mean that we provide services at a hospital. We do not have hospital privileges, (but) we do facilitate the transfer of care and always accompany families into the hospital and continue to provide support.
We have met with the doctors and residents at Maine Medical Center and they are supportive of the Birth Center. As part of our accreditation process, we have a formal arrangement with Maine Medical Center for consultation should the need arise and for them to provide backup should we need to go in.
There will always be a need to have hospital care available for birth, in the event of a complication or for high-risk births. Maine has the amazing opportunity to collaborate with and have obstetricians available to do what they do best, which is care for high-risk pregnancies. Maine also has the added benefit for the option of free-standing birth centers, which are specifically designed for the care of the majority of women who are at low risk.
Q. Are there insurance policies that cover your services?
A. Yes, there are a number of insurance companies that do cover our services. We encourage families to contact their insurance provider to confirm coverage for the Birth Center.
Nationally, statistics show the cost of free-standing birth centers to be 40 percent less costly than a hospital birth. Many families find the cost of having their babies at the Birth Center is less than the hospital fees after they have paid their deductible.
Q. Is the birth experience a family affair at your practice? Do you stay in touch with the families?
A. Yes, very much so. We consider them “our” families after being involved in such an important time and such an important experience in their lives. We have found that having siblings involved during the pregnancy and birth helps the whole family to bond as well.
Many families continue to receive care at Northern Sun and continue to be in touch over the years.
All members of the birthing family, including siblings, partners and grandparents, are primary to the transition birth always brings — whether it is your first or your last.
Q. How many births have you attended?
A. Lots. Training to become a certified professional midwife required Sarah and Josie to attend 100 births each, and Sarah has attended hundreds more since moving to Maine in 1995.
Q. Please give us a brief history of midwifery. Compare its presence in the United States to that in Europe.
A. In the U.S., midwives, like physicians, practiced without specific education or regulations until the early part of the 20th century. Although detailed statistics were lacking, the evidence available showed that midwives’ patients were less likely than physicians’ patients to die of childbed fever or puerperal infection, the most significant cause of maternal morbidity and mortality at the time.
One American midwife and healer named Martha Ballard, who practiced in Maine between 1785 and 1812, kept a diary of her life and work. She never lost a single patient in all those years of helping mothers and babies, an amazing statement to the kind of care midwives provide, especially at that time.
According to new United Nations data, the U.S. ranks 50th in the world for maternal mortality, yet we spend twice as much as other developed countries for our maternity care.
Midwives delivered only 7 percent of American babies in 2003, but home births have increased 20 percent from 2004-08.
In Europe, midwives attend the majority of births, whether at home or in a hospital. The six countries with the lowest perinatal mortality rates all use midwives for 70 percent of their births.
Q. What is your contact information, such as mailing address, telephone number, email address, and your office hours? Do you have a website?
A. The new Birth Center is located at 53 Main St. in Topsham and is open for deliveries. The Birth Center is open daily. Tours of the Birth Center at Northern Sun will be held every second and fourth Wednesday of the month from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Appointments can also be made by calling the office at (207) 798-3993.
For more information, visit us on Facebook or go to our website at www.northernsunfamilyhealthcare.com.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?
A. The Birth Center also provides collaborative care on-site for women and their families with an acupuncturist, Cheri Suzuki; counseling services with Brenna Coughlin, LCSW; massage therapy with Cathy Cryvoff, LMT; and childbirth education and doula services with Tiffany Lee, CBE.
The Birth Center at Northern Sun
¦ 53 Main St., Topsham.
¦ Open daily.
¦ Tours of The Birth Center at
Northern Sun are held every second
and fourth Wednesday of the month
from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
¦ Appointments can be made by
calling (207) 798-3993.
¦ For more information, visit
Facebook or go to the Birth Center’s
website at www.northernsunfamilyhealthcare.com.