For years, mothers-to-be who lived in the villages of the North Slope Borough were brought to Barrow weeks before they delivered to wait for their baby's arrival in close proximity to the hospital. They typically stayed at a hotel, at considerable cost to grant-funded programs that cover such expenses, and without access to a kitchen.
It was a situation that was conducive to healthy eating or a comfortable environment for a woman in her final stage of pregnancy, said Angela Cox, vice president of administration for the Arctic Slope Native Association. In recent years, Barrow hotels were full for much of the summer with tourists and industry workers, making it extremely difficult to find housing for long-term patients.
A solution arrived last fall when a home came available for rent that the association saw as a possible place to house expectant mothers. At 1,600 square feet, all it needed was some renovations and it could comfortably house around a dozen mothers-to-be. With the help of funds from the North Slope Borough and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, entities that fund medical travel for patients in the North Slope, the association entered into a five-year lease with the option to buy the home at the end of the five years, Cox said.
Located near the airport, the home is quiet and comfortable with new furniture and comfortable beds. Each room has a crib and changing table, and a large fully equipped kitchen provides plenty of opportunity for mothers to cook a healthy meal.
But the home doesn't just offer a space for expectant mothers to wait. That's where Abra Stolte-Patkotak comes in. When the prematernal home was announced, Stolte-Patkotak said she heard of it and it sounded like a perfect fit. Trained as a birth doula, and passionate about healthy childbirth and babies, she serves not only as the host of the facility but also has started classes for both expectant mothers and those with children. Stolte-Patkotak said she hopes to expand her classes, focusing on issues like the healthy aspects of breastfeeding, nutrition and caring for your new baby.
"I really hope it becomes a resource for the whole community," she said. "It's a good space for mothers to come and get together and share the motherhood journey."
So far, she's offering a Saturday afternoon class for expectant mothers and a Monday Mommy Meeting, which is growing in popularity. So far, the feedback she has gotten from mothers who stay at the home has been largely positive, she said, with many commenting that they were reluctant to leave the comfortable space. The number of people staying in the home varies widely — some nights each room has had an occupant, and other nights it is empty. Cox said she estimates the home is currently serving around 25 women per moth since it opened in June.
She said she also hopes the program aspect of the prematernal home continues to expand. "There's so much more that we can dothat will benefit the people staying there," she said, adding that agencies already involved in early childhood health and development in Barrow have expressed an interest in collaboration. Cox said the prematernal home provides a valuable resource to families in the North Slope's villages as well as being a money-saver for the association and its grant funders. Stolte-Patkotak said the experience of getting to know new mothers and their babies has been a rewarding one. "It's a really great resource," she said.
"Mothers are grateful that they don't have to stay in a hotel, it's peaceful, it's quiet."
Carey Restino is editor of The Arctic Sounder, where this report first appeared. Used with permission.