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Meet your merchant: Four Nevada County midwives provide a new birth experience for mothers

The midwives of The Mariposa Birth Center in Nevada City are, from left, Allison Blackham (owner), Dania Shelton, Cindy Foxfoot and Leah Paperno. The team has attended more than 2,000 births combined.
Cory Fisher/Cory@theunion.com

The Mariposa Birth Center

830 Zion St., Nevada City



Call for a free informational session or tour.

Open House: A picnic and celebration of midwives, families, potential clients and members of the community is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. on Oct. 5.

For years, every time Allison Blackham drove by a particular house on Zion Street in Nevada City, she’d slow down a little to get a closer look.

A licensed midwife and nurse, Blackham had always felt the spacious, welcoming house with ample parking would make a perfect birthing center, featuring a team of carefully chosen midwives. Her longtime dream had always been to bring a safe alternative to Nevada County women who sought a middle ground between home and hospital birth. It would be a place where women would “have the freedom to move, walk, dance, eat, watch movies, play games, hang out, cuddle, relax, do what you want while you labor, in a beautiful, comfortable, homelike setting.”

She envisioned a holistic place where women would have the option to invite family and friends, and receive continual, hands-on labor support.

Today, Blackham pulls into the driveway of that Zion Street house almost daily and walks through the door with her own key. As owner of the Mariposa Birth Center, her longtime vision has come to fruition with the help of three other midwives, Cindy Foxfoot, Leah Paperno and Dania Shelton, whose combined experience includes having attended more than 2,000 births.


Working as a team, the four midwives now offer women a “comprehensive care package for birth,” ranging from family planning prior to pregnancy, prenatal care and the birth, all the way to six week postpartum care. In addition to birth plans at the center, care programs can also be customized for mothers who are instead planning to give birth at home or at the hospital. Other services included the package are massage therapy, childbirth education classes, Pilates, a birth at the center attended by two licensed midwives, lactation consultants and photographs of the new family.

In addition to being a nurse and licensed midwife, Blackham has been a doula, childbirth educator and birth photographer since 1985. As a nurse, her practice gave her a breadth of knowledge, as she has worked in pediatrics through end-of-life care. She attended Brigham Young University and the National Midwifery Institute, and studied internationally with the midwives of Shiphrah Bahay Paanakan, a free birth center in the Philippines. She is the mother of nine children through birth and adoption.

Foxfoot, who alone has attended more than 750 births, graduated from U.C. Davis and began a midwifery apprenticeship in 1993. She was an intern at the now-closed birth clinic Casa de Naciemiento, in El Paso, Texas, and received her license for the California Medical Board in 2001. She has two daughters.

“The birth center is a new opportunity, a new choice for people — and because we work together, clients will always have well-rested, midwives who aren’t doing back-to-back births,” said Foxfoot. “We also offer our combined experience, where we talk about protocols, standard of care and how to best offer services.”

Shelton, a self-professed “birth geek,” also trained at Casa De Nacimiento prior to obtaining her license and certification. She is actively involved with the California Association of Midwives and the California Association of Licensed Midwives, serving as a regional representative and member of the MediCal Task Force. Her advocacy work involves the push make out-of-hospital midwifery care available to low income families. She has five children.

Paperno also received training at one of the country’s busiest birth centers in El Paso and completed her training at Maternidad La Luz, a community-based, Texas state-licensed birth center and midwifery school. While there, she trained other midwifery students and attended nearly 500 births. Her experience as a new mother has further reinforced her passion “to provide women and families with a model of midwifery care that nourishes their relationship with themselves and their growing families.” She moved to Nevada County three years ago.

“The model of a midwife is one of great sacrifice — almost too much giving of one’s self,” said Paperno. “But I wanted to be able to balance this career with family time. This birth center and our teamwork will make a sustainable business, where we will have longevity, and can stay healthy and balanced — and get paid what we’re worth. This is an empowering experience and expands the reach of midwifery here. Four midwives can handle a pretty high volume of births. Working together enhances the care we give.”

‘empowering experience’

Part of the vision for The Mariposa Birth Center is to also make it a welcoming environment for students. It’s evident that in the coming years there will be a demand for more midwives in Nevada County. According to county records, Blackham said that between 12 and 14 percent of births in Nevada County are “out of home” — the highest percentage in California.

These statistics bode well for babies and families, said Blackham, as mothers under the care of midwives tend to have fewer Cesarean sections and reduced interventions during labor, birth and postpartum. Additionally, a higher percentage of women go on to successfully breastfeed.

“We are essentially offering the same model as home birth delivery care, yet we’re offering people in a rural area — many of whom are far from a hospital (if needed) — a comfortable option,” said Paperno. “We want them to feel held in safe space. Our passion is to make this kind of birth experience as accessible as possible to women. This model of working together has been an empowering experience, and it’s having a ripple effect.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.

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