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Why is N.C. afraid of midwives?

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Charlotte resident Salina Beasley was sewing black-and-white bedding for her daughter's room when her first contraction hit. It was 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 4. She was home with her 1-year-old son, Salem, and her mother, who'd traveled from Orlando to help manage once the new baby arrived. Her husband, Clark, was due back in a few hours from out of town.

Salina continued sewing. She mentioned to her mother that her granddaughter may be on the way. The expectant mom then called her husband and next her midwife — it was an action that, in Charlotte, has often been done in hushed tones. Salina, however, had no worries.

The Beasley family had relocated to the area from Atlanta a couple of months earlier. And because the stay-at-home mom and singer was already more than 30 weeks pregnant at the time of the move, finding medical care quickly was imperative. She'd delivered Salem naturally in a hospital without the use of drugs, and she wanted to do the same with her daughter; however, she learned upon arriving in Charlotte that to utilize her insurance for labor and delivery, she'd have to travel back to Atlanta.

That was not acceptable. She began exploring other options.

"I knew I didn't have the nerve to have a home birth, but I also knew I didn't want to go through the assembly-line-strapped-to-the-bed experience at the hospital," says Salina. "I wanted the comfort of knowing that medical interventions were close if I needed them, but otherwise, I wanted to be in a place where I felt my birth was being celebrated as a natural process and not treated like an illness."

By the time Salina finished up her sewing, Clark was home. It was time to head out for her checkup. The couple jumped into their gold Honda Odyssey and trekked down I-77 South to Exit 88 — which is located in Fort Mill just a couple of miles inside the South Carolina state line. Within a few minutes, they pulled into the parking lot of the Carolina Community Maternity Center.

The heat outside was sweltering. Salina's contractions were getting stronger. But inside the maternity center, Salina felt like she'd walked into a bed and breakfast. Subtle and inviting, the mahogany-colored furniture, giant birth tubs, decorated birth seats, soothing pastel-hued walls and hardwood floors made her feel at home. Leigh Fransen, her midwife, greeted them warmly. The two women had met only eight weeks earlier, but they were as familiar as old friends.

"I ended up having a very difficult last trimester with a lot of rare pregnancy things popping up," recalled Salina. "Leigh and I spoke almost every day. She was available by cell, Facebook and e-mail. It was totally different from having to call a 1-800 number and getting the automated.

"I don't even remember the name of the doctor who delivered my son," she continued. "They got me in and out. But with Leigh, I was never with her for less than 45 minutes. She took time to get to know me."

As Fransen was checking the baby's heartbeat, Salina had a contraction.

"That was pretty strong," Fransen commented.

"Yeah, and they're getting to be pretty regular. Like eight minutes apart," said Salina.

"OK. Well, you'll know when it's time to come in," said Fransen. "Call me when you get to the point that you can't talk through them."

Back out in the car, Salina and Clark decided that it was time to help nature along. The couple hopped over to Carolina Place Mall to walk. After spending a couple of hours there, they headed home. The contractions were getting stronger, but they were bearable. Her main concern was not to wait as long as she had with Salem to head to the hospital. When delivering him, she'd had to ride in the back seat of their vehicle on her knees because the contractions were too strong to allow her to sit down.

For her daughter's birth, however, she was looking forward to laboring because that type of stress was eliminated and because the maternity center facilities are so nice. So, between contractions she sat and watched Ricki Lake's documentary, The Business of Being Born, which uncovers truths about the maternity care system in America. It boosted her confidence for the hours that lay ahead.

Once it was over, she and Clark tried to get some sleep. At 2:30 a.m., she called Fransen. The midwife answered the phone and told her to meet her at the maternity center in 20 minutes.

Since opening its doors for business last year, the midwives at the Carolina Community Maternity Center have delivered nearly 90 babies: 44 percent of the newborns were to first-time moms; 75 percent of their mothers traveled from North Carolina; and 48 percent of those moms came from Charlotte.

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