Since before the settling of the territory of New Mexico, women have had midwives to assist them at their births. Up until WWII, most women in Taos County birthed at home with one of the many community midwives. The doctors in Taos offered backup when needed. During the war, however, the sole doctor in town asked the midwives to please bring the women into the hospital since he could no longer travel far and wide to attend births. After the war, and in the decades that followed, more and more women chose hospital births because of the perceived trend in thinking that hospitals were safer, and because the older midwives were no longer practicing.
The Northern New Mexico Birth Center has a long and noble history that begins with the vision and power of two women, Elizabeth Gilmore and Tish Denning. To meet the growing demand for midwife attended births, they started a homebirth practice in Taos in 1978 that, in 1981, evolved to include a birth center as well. The original name of the Center was the Northern New Mexico Midwifery Center.
Our history includes the work of many midwives who served in our clinic, dozens of midwifery advocates who served on our Board of Directors, many hardworking office professionals and countless community supporters who have helped us raise funds in order to keep going. In addition, as we offer an apprenticeship program, there are midwives all around the United States and world who look back to the Center as the place where they trained to become licensed (LM) and to obtain their Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) status.
In 1997, the Midwifery Center expanded to become the Womenʼs Health and Birth Center, a collaborative practice which included care provided by three licensed midwives as well as OB/GYNs Rudy Fedrizzi and Heidi Rinehart. Our goal in hiring OB/GYNs was for women in our community to have the option to choose the place of birth where they felt safest, whether it be home, birth center, or hospital. In addition, we wanted to assure seamless care for mothers who might transfer from home or birth center births to the hospital. In 2000 we hired two more OB/GYNs, Shanti Mohling and Scott Resnick.
Between 1997 and 2003, the C-section rate in Taos County was reduced from approximately 30% to 15% as a direct result of this model, the first of its kind in the country. A woman who has a C-section is twice as likely to die from complications than a woman who gives birth normally, so this change meant a drastic reduction in risk for northern New Mexican moms. The Safe Motherhood Initiative-USA, a project of the World Health Organization, presented the Center with a National Model Award in 2001 for “innovative and excellence in service to mothers and babies in Taos County,” one of only five such awards presented nationally that year. In 2002, the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services named our Center the first Mother Friendly Birth Service in the nation, recognizing “stellar achievement and commitment to excellence… in creating a wellness model of maternity services.”
In 2001 ELizabeth Gilmore retired as midwife, but has continued to serve on our Board. Joan Norris became co-director with Rudy Fedrizzi. They worked well together, representing midwifery and OB/GYN interests. Their revision of the Personnel Policies established a retirement contribution program for the employees, a health care policy, vacation time and sick leave. In 2003, due to the financial burdens of the Center, our OB/GYNs departed to start their own practices. Shanti Mohling stayed in Taos, started the Womenʼs Health Institute, and provides excellent back up services with her partner Tim Moore for our moms who require consultations or care in the hospital.
We continue today as a group of three midwives, Joan Norris, Kiersten Figurski and Madrona Bourdeau, with the same high standards the Birth Center has always offered of around the clock personalized care. We are so grateful for the strong commitment of our staff and Board, our students and the incredible community of northern New Mexico.