BLOOMINGTON — A poignant thing happened as downstate Illinois' first licensed, free-standing birthing center reached its goals for its first year.

A family was created.

"I feel like they (patient families) are a part of my family," said Amie Hernandez, certified nurse midwife and director of midwifery at the Birth Center of Bloomington-Normal, 6 Westport Court, Bloomington. "I like being a part of their lives."

Hernandez spoke at the Birth Center on Tuesday shortly before the 80th birth happened at the center since its first delivery on Oct. 26, 2016.

Considering all services at the Birth Center — which began providing prenatal care in July 2016 — more than 200 patients have been served, said Office Coordinator Jessica Poppe said.

"Our numbers are pretty much on track with what we expected," Poppe said.

Danielle Giles, whose daughter, Arwen, was the first baby born at the Birth Center on Oct. 26, 2016, said the numbers prove Central Illinois women wanted natural childbirth.

"They are professional and they treat you like family," said Giles, who lived in Champaign when Arwen was born but now lives in Indiana. Giles keeps in contact with Hernandez and she, her husband and Arwen were among 70 people who recently packed the Birth Center for a first "birthday party."

The Birth Center received its state license for deliveries in October 2016, two years after the state's first center opened in Berwyn. They remain the state's only two licensed, free-standing birth centers.

The goal of Dr. Joe Santiago and Dr. Dele Ogunleye — Bloomington-Normal obstetrician/gynecologists who are co-owners of the Birth Center — is to attract Central Illinois women who want to give birth in a less clinical, less costly setting.

Birthing centers are for women at low risk of birthing complications. When complications arise, the center has an agreement with nearby OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center to accept the patient.

Of the 80 labor and delivery patients so far, 10 have required transfer and none had adverse outcomes, Poppe said. That 12 percent transfer rate is consistent with licensed birth centers nationwide, she said.

Most of the 10 patients were in-labor transfers, largely for women whose water had ruptured but they needed medicine to induce labor and for women experiencing long labor who decided they wanted an epidural for pain relief.

Four women needed Cesarean-sections but that 5 percent C-section rate is lower than the national average of 32 percent, Poppe said.

Renell Composto, manager of patient care for St. Joseph's Birthing Center, which had 723 births in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, said "Outcomes for patients who we have received from the Birth Center have been outstanding."

"I think it (the Birth Center) has served women with low-risk pregnancies well," Composto said. "It gives them an option."

"We continue to be supportive of the Birth Center and the niche it provides for low-risk women who wish to give birth outside of a hospital setting," said Lori Harper, director of nursing practice and obstetrics for Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, where 1,611 babies were born during 2016.

"The state (of Illinois) was ready for this," Santiago said of the Birth Center. Poppe noted that two-thirds of patients have been from outside Bloomington-Normal, some from 90 minutes away.

Other services at the Birth Center include well-women gynecological care, prenatal visits, prenatal yoga, childbirth education classes, newborn exams, post-partum care and car seat safety checks. The center employs three certified nurse midwives and two office coordinators.

"We believe in the Birth Center and what they're providing families," Giles said. "We are proud to be a part of their history."

"It feels like family," Santiago said. "I wasn't prepared for that. I have been re-inspired."

"It has been an honor and a joy to support women to take ownership of their birth experience and to observe the empowerment that results," said certified nurse midwife Angie Detwiler. "Anything that increases health care options for women is a positive thing for the community."

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Editor

Health Editor for The Pantagraph.

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