The small red building on Nichols Street that has housed a vast array of businesses is now home to a midwifery: the Greenbank Birth Center.
“We have been seeing San Juan County women for a long time,” said co-owner Diane Miller, a licensed and certified professional midwife.
The center, originally opened by licensed midwife Cynthia Jaffe in 1991 on Whidbey Island, had an office briefly on Orcas and has maintained a space in Anacortes for the past 25 years. Now, the midwives come to Friday Harbor every other Wednesday.
Jaffe explained on the Greenbank website how she got into midwifery:
“My love affair with midwifery and birth began when I was pregnant with my first child. I had a good friend who was also pregnant and someone sent her this crazy book she was eager to share with me. It was ‘Spiritual Midwifery’ … [and it] said, not only can birth be spiritually moving and fulfilling, it can be fun! I cried when I read it. … While I cannot say it was fun, phrases from the book came back to me when I needed them and helped me so much. The birth of my son in 1984 changed my life. I felt empowered by his birth.”
Since opening nearly 30 years ago, Jaffe said in the bio, she has helped deliver over 1,800 babies.
The response has been overwhelming since its opening at the beginning of September, according to Miller. Women have come from all the islands to visit the new location. Should that trend continue, Miller and Jaffe may consider expanding the hours to once a week.
“Island women are strong, resilient and highly independent. They often opt for a natural birth, therefore midwifery is a good fit,” Miller said.
Having not only previously lived on Shaw Island but also given birth to four of her children during that time, Miller knows first-hand the unique situation of island mothers. She noted that the Whidbey location often resonates with San Juan County mothers due to its rural nature. Greenbank’s headquarters is located on a secluded 5-acre property.
Jaffe recommends traveling to Whidbey as the birth date approaches and staying as long as necessary. The midwives realize that isn’t always an option, however, due to finances and the uncertainty of when a mother will go into labor.
“Things don’t always go according to plan,” Jaffe said, “but ideally, that is what we would like to have happen.”
Some of the benefits of a midwife are that they provide more control over the birthing situation and allow mothers to make more of their own choices.
“Some things are not totally up to them,” Miller said, adding that what Greenbank provides information and education so parents can understand the array of options and make informed decisions.
Hospitals, she noted, often treat every pregnancy as a high risk. She said they don’t usually give families the flexibility they require, and hospital doctors often aren’t as personal as the small private midwifery.
“We are there with the mothers throughout the whole pregnancy,” Miller said. “We really get to know the women and their families personally.”
One popular option at Greenbank is water birth, wherein the baby is born while the mother is resting in warm water.
“Warm water is relaxing and often acts as a pain reliever,” Jaffe explained. “We often jokingly call it the midwife epidural.”
Once a mother has tried a water birth, she usually opts for it during her next pregnancy, she said.
Regardless of the decisions made by the expecting mom, Miller said she carries a soft spot in her heart for islanders and hopes they choose to come to Greenbank.
“I really understand the moms living out there and their unique needs,” Miller said. “I love taking care of them. They are so special to me.”