Island communities welcome new midwives | Women in Business profile

The small red building on Nichols Street that has housed a vast array of businesses is now home to a midwifery: the Greenbank Birth Center.

“We have been seeing San Juan County women for a long time,” said Diane Miller, a licensed and certified professional midwife.

The center originally opened in 1991 on Whidbey Island, had an office briefly on Orcas and has maintained a space in Anacortes for the past 25 years. Now, the midwives come to Friday Harbor every other Wednesday.

The response has been overwhelming since its opening at the beginning of September, according to Miller. Women have come from all the islands to visit the new location. Should that trend continue, Miller and licensed midwife Cynthia Jaffe may consider expanding the hours to once a week.

“Island women are strong, resilient and highly independent. They often opt for a natural birth, therefore midwifery is a good fit,” Miller said.

Having not only lived on Shaw Island but also given birth to four of her children during that time, Miller knows first hand the unique situation of island mothers. She noted that the Whidbey location often resonates with San Juan County mothers due to its rural nature. Greenbank’s headquarters is located on a secluded 5-acre property.

Jaffe does recommend going to Whidbey as the birth date approaches and staying as long as necessary. The midwives realize that isn’t always an option, however, due to finances and the general unexpected nature of pregnancies.

“Things don’t always go according to plan,” Jaffe said, “but ideally, that is what we would like to have happen.”

Some of the benefits of a midwife are that they provide more control over the birthing situation and allow mothers to make more of their own choices.

“Some things are not totally up to them,” Miller said, adding that what Greenbank does is provide information and education so parents can understand the array of options and make informed decisions.

Hospitals, she noted, often treat every pregnancy as a high risk. She said they don’t usually give families the flexibility they require, and hospital doctors often aren’t as personal as the small private midwifery.

“We are there with the mothers throughout the whole pregnancy,” Miller said. “We really get to know the women and their families personally.”

One popular option at Greenbank is a waterbirth, wherein the baby is born while the mother is resting in warm water.

“Warm water is relaxing and often acts as a pain reliever,” Jaffe explained. “We often jokingly call it the midwife epidural.”

Once a mother has tried a water birth, she usually opts for it during her next pregnancy, she said.

Regardless of the decisions made by the expecting mom, Miller said she carries a soft spot in her heart for islanders and hopes they choose to come to Greenbank.

“I really understand the moms living out there and their unique needs,” Miller said. “I love taking care of them. They are so special to me.”

Greenbank offers a no-cost meet-and-greet for mothers and families wishing to explore their alternatives. For more information about Greenbank Birthing Center, visit

Island communities welcome new midwives | Women in Business profile