Northland's first midwife-assisted birth center to open in DuluthMorning Star Women’s Health and Birth Center is the first health-care facility in northern Minnesota to offer midwife-assisted births.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
After giving birth to her first two children at home, Tonya Parks was eager to return to homestyle birth for her fifth child.
Complications with babies 3 and 4 and the fact that the Parks family now lives in Brookston — a long drive from the hospital — made birth at home seem unwise, she said.
She was pleasantly surprised to discover a middle ground, thanks to an Essentia Health doctor.
“I said a little bit of my history of the other four births and my hopes for what my birth this time could be,” said Parks, age 38 and 17 weeks' pregnant. “And she said to me, ‘Sounds like you need to check out that birth center they’re starting in Duluth.’ ”
She did, and on Tuesday, Parks and daughter Naomi, 8, were sitting in one of the spacious waiting rooms of the Morning Star Women’s Health and Birth Center, the first health-care facility offering midwife-assisted births in northern Minnesota.
If the waiting room seemed more like the sitting room of a turn-of-the-century mansion, it’s because that’s what it is.
Morning Star owner Paula Bernini Feigal crafted the center, with three birthing suites, prenatal exam rooms, family waiting room, staff lounge and offices for complementary businesses, from a mansion at 1730 E. Superior St. The 6,000-square-foot house was built in 1909 by Joseph Sellwood, who made a fortune in iron ore, and was owned most recently by the Human Development Center.
Bernini Feigal led a crew this summer in giving the mansion a rebirth of its own, re-creating large bedrooms as birthing suites, subdividing part of the main floor into exam rooms, stripping carpet and refinishing wood floors.
It’s a process Bernini Feigal is familiar with. The Iron Range native created the first Morning Star Women’s Health and Birth Center in Menomonie, Wis., in 2003 and a second in St. Louis Park, Minn., in 2009. The latter was the first such birth center in the Twin Cities.
Her purpose is to provide the sort of middle ground Parks was looking for.
“It fits our cultural context of birthing,” Bernini Feigal said. “By and large, most people have it in mind that you need to go somewhere to give birth.”
Bernini Feigal’s business emerged from her own experience.
When she was pregnant 23 years ago, she found a caregiver whose philosophy seemed to be in line with hers, she said.
“That was that, basically, yes, women can give birth, and it’s your show, and yes you can eat and drink in labor and moving around is a good thing,” Bernini Feigal related. “And, yes, breastfeeding your baby is the best way to nourish your baby.”
Her actual experience was far from that ideal.
“I didn’t realize that it was primarily the hospital staff that participates in your labor and you don’t see your doctor very often during labor,” she said. “I felt that something was really missing.”
She was telling her story to someone who said it sounded like what she needed was a midwife. When Bernini Feigal looked into that, she didn’t go halfway. She visited a friend who ran a birth center in Dallas. “And she exposed me to a model of care that I knew was the model of care I would have wanted,” she said.
That led Bernini Feigal on an odyssey that included a two-year residency, taking the exam to become a certified professional midwife and earning a degree in biology.
Bernini Feigal, who lives with her husband in Menomonie, started there because she wanted to be close to home — but not too close. When she expanded, she had Duluth in mind. But the business model dictated a different choice: 18 percent of the Menomonie births were to Twin Cities moms.
The center in Menomonie has two or three births a month, compared to between 15 and 18 in St. Louis Park, Bernini Feigal said. She doesn’t know what to expect in Duluth, but she is basing her plans on six births per month. Her staff includes two midwives with a third to be hired, an office manager and two clinical assistants.
Morning Star seems more like a bed and breakfast than a hospital. The beds are adorned with multiple pillows. Each room is equipped with a birth tub and an en suite bathroom.
Although carpenters were still working Tuesday and the grand opening isn’t until Sunday, Morning Star in Duluth already has 13 clients, Bernini Feigal said. The first birth there already would have taken place, she said, except that the baby came early. The next is expected in five weeks.
Only low-risk pregnancies are accepted, she said. If complications occur during birth, the mom will be taken to St. Luke’s hospital or Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center. In Menomonie and St. Louis Park, that occurs about 10 percent of the time.
The price for everything, including newborn care through 28 days, is between $8,000 and $10,000, Bernini Feigal said.