The early Christmas present was delivered — literally — five days before the holiday. Around 8 p.m. Dec. 20, 8-pound-4-ounce Ester Papa made history as the 100th birth at the 2-year-old Breath of Life Women's Health Services and Birth Center on East Bay Drive. "It was delightful, just textbook," said certified nurse-midwife Chris Hilderbrandt. Ester came into the world the way few babies do these days — through an all-natural water birth.
Translating for his wife, Aneda, who speaks Albanian, father Dritor Papa said Aneda found the birthing process "less painful and more comfortable" than when she delivered their oldest child, a 2-year-old boy named Ernest.
"She had a hard time when she delivered our son in (a hospital in) Albania," said Papa, 30. "But with Ester, it was good. This was better."
The Papas currently live in Tampa while Dritor, an Albanian Army captain, is stationed at MacDill Air Force Base for a yearlong assignment. Friends had recommended a natural birthing center, which brought them to Breath of Life.
The center, opened in 2007, is an outreach of New Life Solutions, a faith-based, nonprofit that provides pregnancy and youth education services through its Pregnancy Center of Pinellas County.
The facility, staffed exclusively by women, is the only natural birth center in Central Florida that employs certified nurse-midwives, said administrator Glenda Pearson.
"The certified nurse-midwife is actually a nurse practitioner with a master's in midwifery. It's a higher level of training and they can be the primary care provider for the pregnant mom," she said.
Many of the center's patients choose water births, where the baby is delivered in a birthing tub. Others deliver in a squatting position or lying on their side in a bed. Those positions mimic the way women have birthed babies since the dawn of time, Pearson said.
"It's very empowering. A lot of women say 'If I can do this, I can do anything,' " Pearson said.
Joie Imler, of Clearwater, who was touring the facility, had a similar take.
"They did it in the 1800s," said Imler, 21. "I think I can handle it."
The center's three birthing suites (with "The Garden Room," "The Beach Room" and "Nature's Watch" themes) look like upscale hotel rooms with oversized bathrooms. Each has a large Jaccuzzi-like tub with support railings, a 20-inch flat-screen television, a stereo system with a CD player and iPod docking station and a private patio. Patients can bring aromatherapy candles or use the tub's lights and bubbles.
"It's meant to be as homey as possible," Pearson said. "It's a very peaceful, calm atmosphere."
Moms can have as many people as they want in the birthing suite. A "family room" equipped with a small kitchen, a couch, comfy chairs and a TV holds overflow family members.
The center is all about providing unlimited support and choices, Pearson said.
Rachel Holm, 23, of Clearwater, used the center to deliver both of her children, 1-year-old Virginia and newborn Miller, born Dec. 12.
"It was amazing," she said.
"Everything we had heard and read about Breath of Life, it exceeded our expectations," said Holm's husband, 24-year-old Dan Holm.
As the Holms headed down the hall to an exam room for their follow-up visit, they passed the frames containing photos of babies born at the center.
Ninety-nine so far.
And an open spot for little Ester Papa.
Rita Farlow can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4157.