The first step, a vote to approve zoning application

The Joseph Mitchell House , 200-202 W. Walnut Lane, proposed location for the birth center (photo used with permission)

Expecting parents may have more birthing options in Germantown. 

A zoning meeting will be held for a proposed project of a new birth center in Germantown by the West Central Germantown Neighbors (WCGN) on Wednesday at 7:00 PM over Zoom. The Philadelphia Midwife Collective (PMC), a local non-profit organization, will be in charge of the project.  

The meeting will be held to approve a zoning application to change the Joseph Mitchell House’s use from a residential home to small-scale health center. The house is an expansive Stone Gothic Victorian that sits on West Walnut Lane. The house was designated as “historically significant” by the Philadelphia Historical Commission in 1984. Residents who wish to vote must live in or own a business within the WCGN boundaries. 

PMC’s midwife Mac Cutts, Board Chair Stephanie Brown and PMC’s supporters say that the Philadelphia area desperately needs more birthing options besides hospitals and home births. Brown, who is a board certified lactation counselor, makes a point that there are no freestanding birth centers in Philadelphia.

Cutts and Brown describe a birth center as a healthcare facility for childbirth where care is provided in the midwifery and wellness model. A birth center is freestanding, not a hospital, and has a collaborative relationship with doctors and a nearby hospital for transfer of care if necessary. The closest one to Philadelphia is Lifecycle Womancare in Bryn Mawr, PA, which according to Brown, is already serving a large number of clients.

It makes sense that there’s a need for more birthing options. Multiple maternity wards and hospitals with labor and delivery units have shut down in this area in the last ten years, leading to mixed results in prenatal, birthing, and postpartum care, especially for Medicaid patients and more vulnerable patients who are uninsured, undocumented immigrants, and those that speak English as a second language.

“Our needs are unique. We are technically a small scale healthcare facility, except that we need the space to look like a house, the idea is we don’t want people to give birth in a clinical setting,” Brown said.

The house itself is also a testament to how birth has evolved. 

“This house was built in 1856, which means that babies were born in this house inevitably. Because birth 100 years ago didn’t take place in a hospital,” Brown said. Brown and Cutts both think that the birth center would be a way of bringing birth back to a more home-like setting. Brown said the historic house really meets all their needs, when they and Cutts imagined what a birth center in Germantown could look like. Few changes would need to be made, except safety and accessibility issues for licensure according to Brown. 

Charlotte Lee, a recent client of the PMC, had a homebirth in their Germantown house last fall. She supports the idea of a birth center in the neighborhood, and had a very positive experience with her birthing team.

 “I was really drawn to their mission of wanting to support anyone who was a birthing person, anyone who had the desire and ability to become parents and providing support and information and equitable access to those services, so I knew we were aligned in our personal values for humanity,” said Lee.