Birth center's closure upends Jacksonville mom's birth plan

Meredith Atkins planned to have her fifth daughter at UF Health North

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Meredith Atkins thought she had her pregnancy all figured out. After all, she's on her fifth child. All four of her daughters were born in a normal hospital setting without an epidural, so she wanted a natural birth without any risks.

“I was terrified of a free-standing birth center, I’m terrified of home birth, so I've only gone to the hospital because that's the only option,” Atkins told News4Jax on Tuesday.

That’s what made UF Health North’s Birth Center such an appealing option. It checked all of Atkins’ boxes – allowing her to have a natural birth along with the peace of mind that comes with the hospital being only feet away.

Everything was going according to plan until this weekend when Atkins found out the birthing center would be closing at the end of July. With her daughter due in late August, she missed the hospital’s cutoff date by about a month.

In a statement, a spokesperson for UF Health said in part that the health system would work with patients to help them develop plans for births that are expected to happen after July 31.

"UF Health Jacksonville is in the process of expanding its obstetrics and gynecology services at our north campus to accommodate more patients. As a result we are refocusing our program and closing the UF Health Birth Center in the Medical Office Building. The Birth Center will remain open until July 31 to provide care to existing patients, including deliveries. We will continue to offer care at UF Health Women's Specialists - North for those whose expected delivery date is after July 31. We know our patients value choices and we are committed to working collaboratively with them to create a flexible birth plan that reflects their preferences whenever possible and preserves many of the features traditionally associated with our Birth Center. For example, our experienced midwives will continue to be involved with their care at UF Health North, and services such as hydrotherapy also are available in our warm and spacious labor and delivery suites."

“They are accommodating us,” Atkins said. “They will not be able to give a water birth, there will still be lighting, your feet will still be in stirrups, you will still have IV fluids whether you need them or not.”

Now Atkins has a difficult choice. She could either stick to her original plan of delivering her baby girl at UF Health North, which is almost an hour away from home. She could also choose another hospital. Or she could do an at-home birth.

At this point, she’s not 100 percent sure what she’s going to do.

"The birth center gave me the safety net of the hospital,” said Atkins, “with the care plan and the birthing choices that I desire for my family.”

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