AUGUSTA, Ga. – When Katie Chubb was pregnant with her son, Evander, and began looking early in 2019 for natural birth options in Augusta, she didn’t find any. She ended up driving 2½ hours each way to use the Atlanta Birth Center, which offered the water birth she was looking for.
“I met a number of women who were doing the same, driving from Augusta to Atlanta. And I said, ‘Why can’t we do this here?’ ” Chubb said.
She and her husband, Nicholas, are now helping to spearhead the Augusta Birth Center, a not-for-profit clinic they are looking to build in the Laney-Walker neighborhood as a free-standing birth service. The center will offer low-intervention and natural birth methods like the water birth that Augusta hospitals don’t offer, as well as education, support, counseling and other services. The clinic, which will have an obstetrician medical director as well as a nurse practitioner and a doula, is working out a partnership with an as-yet-unnamed Augusta hospital, Chubb said.
“We’ve explained to them our partnership is only going to bring them money in the way of ultrasound referrals” and other referrals, she said.
When it finally opens, and they are shooting for the third quarter of 2022, they expect to be busy.
“We’ve been swamped” with inquiries, Chubb said. “At least every day, I get four to five messages on our Facebook page. Our cap is 40 births a month and I think we are going to very easily hit that, just because of the need.”
More than a birth center
It is not just birth but Chubb, who owns Augusta Personal Training, will also be offering fitness, education, Lamaze and breast-feeding classes and prenatal services as well, things she has found in short supply around Augusta.
“Our goal is to create a better outcome for healthy mother, healthy baby,” Chubb said. “(Those) things that are not being taught right now and people have to resort to Google to learn everything,”
The center will also provide mental health services, counseling and support groups for free or at low cost, with support available for low-income families, she said.
That is also part of the reason the center will be located in the Laney-Walker neighborhood, Chubb said.
“In Augusta, we have a group of people who live in poverty who live in proximity to care who cannot access that care,” she said. “So that’s the gap I am trying to bridge is to allow these people to have access to care. A lot of the times they are coming into the ER and delivering with no prior prenatal care. So we’re trying to stop that, saying, ‘Hey, come to us, we can help you.’ ^”
Infant, maternal mortality also a focus
It could help to address one of their big concerns, the high rate of infant- and maternal mortality in Augusta and in Georgia. Infant mortality has not changed much over the past 10 years in Georgia, averaging 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births and ranging from 7.5 per 1,000 in 2009 to a high of 7.8 per 1,000 in 2015, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
In Augusta, it is even worse, averaging 10.9 deaths per 1,000 births and ranging from 8.1 per 1,000 in 2013 to a high of 13.2 per 1,000 in 2015, public health data showed. After having the worst maternal mortality rate in the country in the late ’90s, the state started a Maternal Mortality Review Committee but also began restricting how often it published data, with the last update from Georgia Public Health using data from 2016.
But according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018 Georgia had the fifth-worst rate for maternal deaths within 42 days of birth and the worst rate within one year after birth. That may have only gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, when pregnant women were at increased risk of hospitalization and death from the SARS CoV2 virus.
Recognizing it had a problem, Georgia’s Medicaid program was recently approved to provide coverage for new mothers from two months after birth to six months. Nicholas Chubb wants to help with their program by acquiring a van with equipment where they can go check on new mothers a day after they go home with their newborns.
Alternatives for mothers
But the Chubbs also want to bring in more innovative ideas, such as a Baby Drop Box, a secure device where mothers who feel they can no longer care for their baby can leave the child in a secure and safe place. It would be a good option “where women who feel that they can no longer care for their baby and want to use the Safe Haven rule and don’t want to be judged can surrender their child,” Chubb said. They are working on an agreement with a local adoption agency to then place those babies with new families.
But first, they will have to amend Georgia law, because that kind of drop box service works well in other states but is not allowed here, Chubb said.
Pulling off this kind of center, providing alternatives that have been largely shunned by previous providers, will take a lot of work and a lot of funding.
“We’re still looking for investors,” Chubb said. “We have some investors but we are still looking for more. The more funding we get, the more we can do for the community.”
But they know there are women in Augusta who are counting on them to pull it off. One lady told Chubb she is delaying her pregnancy until the center can open.
“That melted me a little bit because that says a lot about the trust people are putting in us,” she said.