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Meet Susan Melnikow of Tree of Life Birth Center

Today we’d like to introduce you to Susan Melnikow.

Susan, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Open a birth center at the age of 64… are you crazy???

While, yes… when you have fully found your passionate calling (which often takes 60 years) and you are tired of participating in a paradigm that no longer fits your belief system! I have been a practicing nurse midwife for 37 years— having “caught” at least 5000 babies— and have had an extensive variety of experiences attending women in their homes in the hill country of Texas, all the way to MLK Hospital in East LA.

Along the way, I practiced in several birth centers and also had the opportunity to participate in opening the maternity unit at Scripps Memorial Hospital- Encinitas. Over the course of time, I really learned about labor, birth, women, babies, and what works and what doesn’t work… and came to realize that healthy mom who is having normal pregnancies really do better to birth outside the hospital! I believe this with all my heart.

I believe that most births are not medical emergencies and that when a woman is able to be in a familiar environment with people who she knows and trusts, her hormones will function the way they were designed to in labor and birth. The vision was to create a center where prenatal and birth care are offered in a quiet and calm atmosphere; and as a woman frequents the center for both prenatal visits, classes and other social events, she relaxes and becomes comfortable in the familiar setting, which then allows her body to function optimally when she arrives in labor.

It became my mission to open a freestanding birth center and to create a model that would serve as a “bridge” between alternative birthing care and mainstream medicine, in the hopes that it would benefit the entire community by creating acceptance and transformation in both worlds.

The fruition of this dream came true in August 2014, when Tree of Life for Healthy Birthing and Parenting opened in Encinitas. Every birth is the most special of sacred events and at Tree of Life, we are able to approach each mother, father and incoming infant with that mindset….

Has it been a smooth road?
This path has been a winding and rocky one, with some steep inclines along the way.

Financing the initial startup phase was the first challenge, and I have much gratitude for my co-founder’s family for their generous support of the project. Then came the endless city, state and federal guidelines that must be met in order to achieve state licensure and national accreditation as a birth center.

This included an old municipal ordinance that the specific lot we were going to utilize had a law dating back over a century precluding any business use that involved “overnight stays,” despite the fact that it is currently zoned for “medical use.” In order to cross this hurdle, I had to gather a year’s worth of statistics from another birth center in order to show the actual hours that families spent within the center…..

Luckily, this satisfied city government that we wouldn’t be breaking that particular law that is still on the books…. Once we opened, the issue of the ongoing need for other midwives and staff who not only share the vision but also have the ability to live the demands of working 24/7 availability to cover the birth center became very apparent…. it is a “labor of love.”

Part of our vision was to be accessible to as many people as desired this care, and so that meant contracting with insurance companies, so that people could utilize the insurance they were already paying for—- it took more than two years for some of the contracts to complete; but we now have them in place.

Another ongoing issue is that of financial stability; small, independent birth centers do not have the deep pockets of large corporations, and in the turmoil of the current healthcare system, funding, stability and continued viability are continuous, constant threats.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Tree of Life for Healthy Birthing and Parenting is a not-for-profit (501c3) birth center that is staffed and operated by the midwives of MotherCraft Midwifery. The center is dedicated to providing a safe and satisfying birth experience for all families who desire a natural, physiologic birth. We offer comprehensive, holistic pregnancy, birth, and postpartum care with an emphasis on childbirth preparation, community building, nutrition education and breastfeeding support.

We strive to foster a woman’s trust in her own ability to birth, as well as her and her partner’s instinctual ability to nurture and parent their child. Additionally, we provide well-woman care for non-pregnant women of all ages including annual exams, Pap Smears, breast exams and contraceptive care.

Our freestanding birth center is licensed by the state of California, as well as nationally accredited through the Commission for Accreditation of Birth Centers. Our cooperative of Certified Nurse-Midwives are all national board certified with the American Midwifery Certification Board, and state licensed; we work under the title of MotherCraft, Inc. We are contracted and “in-network” with Aetna, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Health Net, Medi-Cal, United Health Care and TriCare.

We also offer a variety of classes, workshops and events for parents both during pregnancy and afterward. We have Birthing From Within childbirth preparation classes, a weekly postpartum support group that is facilitated by a Marriage and Family Therapist (open to the community,) Blossom Music Tree music classes for infants to age 4, and Groovearoo babywearing line dancing that creates a wonderful social structure for new Moms and Dads…. All of these offerings contribute to community-building while having fun and meeting others.

One of our features, that sets us apart from other birth centers, is our ability to care for women in the hospital setting, should transfer to the hospital during labor become necessary. Our midwives are all staff members at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas where we work collaboratively with the obstetrical program to provide our families with seamless continuity of care. During hospital transfer, our midwife continues to be the primary care provider and deliver the baby, with any physician consultation that could be necessary.

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