A Lafayette midwife stepped up to the plate when home births increased in the pandemic
Shatamia Webb always knew she wanted to deliver babies.
When she was studying biology at McNeese State she made sure to take all the prerequisites for medical school, but by the time she graduated with her bachelor's degree she realized she didn't want four more years of school plus residency.
A few years later, Webb was working at a lab in her hometown of Lafayette when she learned of another path to her dream of delivering babies — midwifery.
Webb studied to become a midwife at South Louisiana Community College, graduating in 2014 before the college ended the program.
Over the next few years, she completed clinical hours locally with another midwife, taking part in the 55 births required before certification. She passed the national board test and was licensed by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners in 2017.
Today she estimates she has delivered about 150 babies.
"My very first catch I was shaking," Webb said. "I wasn't expecting it (so fast)."
Being a mom and a midwife
The 36-year-old practices what she preaches. She gave birth to her two sons, ages 7 and 11 months, at home.
"I didn't think I'd have a baby at home until I got in school and learned how the statistics are stacked against us," Webb said. "My biggest fear was if I went into a hospital that I wouldn't walk out."
The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among countries in the developed world, and Louisiana's rate is among the highest in the U.S.
And Black women, like Webb, are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since beginning her journey of becoming a midwife in 2012 Webb has heard similar sentiments among the reasons her clients want to give birth outside the hospital.
Some are looking for a different experience, less pressure, more freedom to move around and the ability to eat and drink during labor. They want a more personal atmosphere, something less clinical, she explained.
And then there's the pandemic.
Home births increased 19% in the first year of the pandemic — 45,646 home births in 2020 from 38,506 in 2019, according to a National Vital Statistics Report by the CDC.
Pandemic prompts rise in home births
Deliveries at home rose to their highest level since 1990 as families worried about contracting COVID-19, dealing with hospital visitation restrictions, and infants being separated from mothers suspected of having the virus, according to the CDC report.
Webb, who goes by Tammy, has traveled across the state to help moms deliver in their own homes, and it was a lot of wear and tear on her car and herself.
"After COVID, I got crazy busy and needed a more sustainable way of doing things," she said.
So she opened her own birthing center, letting the clients come to her at one central location. Over about three months she converted a home on West University Avenue in Lafayette into Baby Catcher Birth Center.
She and assistant Rachel Lemoine, a nurse and midwife herself, have delivered three babies there since opening the center in August.
Making moms feel at home
The house still looks like a home with rooms painted in calming grays, blues and greens. Hallways and the living room (lobby) include baby photos featuring previous clients.
There's a couch for patients to wait for pre-natal appointments and gaze at a full-wall mural of a baseball diamond and a newborn in a catcher's mitt. The mural reads "welcome to the team" and already features baseballs with names and dates of babies delivered at the center.
Each bedroom of the birth center contains a large bed and extra large bathtub to give moms options on the big day. Decorative signs on the wall complete the look and read "yes you can" and "oh baby" and "after this we're getting pizza."
There's an oxygen tank in the closet, and dresser drawers are filled with sterilized instruments and other supplies that might be needed over the course of a birth, but they are tucked away, maintaining the personal feel of being at home.
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The question she gets from clients most often is: "What if something goes wrong?" She points out that the center is just minutes away from Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center and that she and Lemoine are trained for this.
"We follow rules and regulations," Webb said. "I can't just wing it. We continue to monitor the baby throughout and have meds, IV fluids, sutures, everything just in case."
She also can pull from her personal experience of home births, her own two or the many she's seen as a midwife.
"I try not to sugar coat it," Webb said. "Birth is hard. It's raw. But it's doable."
Contact children's issues reporter Leigh Guidry at Lguidry@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.