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Des Moines BirthPlace records

Identifier: IWA0195

  • Staff Only
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Scope and Contents

The Des Moines BirthPlace records date from 1979 to 2000 and measure 4.5 linear feet. The records are arranged in seven series: Administrative files, Legal documents, Financial records, National birth centers, Photographs, Patient evaluations, and Artifacts.

The Administrative files series (1980-2000) is the most substantial of the collection and includes information related to the Des Moines BirthPlace (DMBP)’s functions as a nonprofit organization and medical facility. Numerous materials provide insight into DMBP’s founding, development, and growth as administrators and staff worked to build a business plan, define their philosophy and goals, build procedures and protocols for the clinic and its services, and evaluate their progress. This series includes issues of The Cord, DMBP’s quarterly newsletter, which at one time had 450 subscribers in fifteen different states. The newsletters included news and events; staff biographies; information about available services, classes, and support groups; and a list of all children born at DMBP since the previous issue. The advertising material includes graphic illustrations of the kinds of labor and delivery experiences supported at an alternative birthing center like DMBP. Material on the closure of DMBP in 1992 reflects on the history of DMBP’s founding and includes testaments to the importance of its services to the community, as well as information about subsequent career developments for former DMBP nurse midwives and staff. This series also includes demographic and medical data culled from patient records. The three delivery record books are restricted: researchers wishing to view this material must first sign the “Researcher Agreement: Conditions of Access to the Des Moines BirthPlace records” form.

The Legal documents series (1979-1992) includes DMBP’s articles of incorporation; agreements with outside physicians who served as medical back-up for emergencies; and materials related to the clinic’s licensure as a medical facility. This series also includes evidence of DMBP’s efforts to gain political support for legislation that would serve the interests of free-standing, alternative birthing centers. DMBP staff and administrators played a central role in changing Iowa law so that free-standing birth centers and surgery centers could become licensed facilities. Material in this series also speaks to DMBP’s ongoing struggle to secure hospital privileges for its nurse midwives at Iowa hospitals.

The Financial records series (1982-1992) contains grant applications, funding proposals, and related correspondence with local, regional, and national institutions and foundations, including a successful application for a major grant from the Northwest Area Foundation. The fundraising materials show DMBP’s efforts to gain support from local businesses and organizations in order to raise funds for opening the center and then moving toward the goal of self-sustainability.

The National birth centers (1980-1993) series situates DMBP in the larger context of a growing network of birth centers across the country. This series includes a copy of the 1989 report, “National Birth Center Study, 1985-1987,” published in the New England Journal of Medicine. DMBP was one of eighty-four birthing centers that contributed data to this study conducted by the National Association of Childbearing Centers (NACC); the study found that birth centers offered a safe alternative to hospital confinement and led to relatively few cesarean sections. Also included is material related to NACC membership, annual meetings, and reports on issues such as quality assurance and accreditation. A membership directory contains detailed information about all birth centers that were registered members of NACC in the early 1980s (approximately eighty). This series contains research and reports on free standing birth centers and the practice of midwifery, newsletters, publications, correspondence, and material about other birth centers, suggesting the ways these centers shared information and looked to one another as models when starting new facilities and programs.

The Patient evaluations series (1984-1990) includes patient evaluations of services and care received at DMBP. This material is restricted: researchers wishing to view these records must first sign the “Researcher Agreement: Conditions of Access to the Des Moines BirthPlace records” form. See staff for details.

The Photographs series (1984-1991) primarily consists of albums and loose photographs of the children born at the birthing center and their families. Many, but not all, are identified. This series also includes forty-two slides (in Slides box 12) that were part of a slideshow prepared to introduce the public to DMBP and its services. A brief outline of the slideshow and description of the slides can be found in the last folder of photographs.

The Artifacts series consists of a hand-painted wooden sign depicting a house beneath the words “Des Moines BirthPlace.” The sign hung above the reception desk at the Des Moines BirthPlace.


  • Creation: 1979-2000


Conditions Governing Access

The records are open for research with the exception of the Patient evaluations series and three folders in the Administrative series, which are restricted (Patient care: client list and applications, 1987-1993 and undated; Patient care: delivery records, 1984-1987; and Patient care: delivery record book, 1988-1992). Researchers wishing to view the Patient evaluation forms, client list, or delivery record books in Box 7 must first sign the "Researcher Agreement: Conditions of Access to the Des Moines BirthPlace records" form. [Staff: kept in donor file; blank forms also in Box 7.]

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

The Des Moines BirthPlace, an out-of-hospital birth center specializing in nurse-midwifery services, was established by Womancare, Inc., in 1984 and became Iowa's first licensed birth center. Womancare, Inc. and the Des Moines BirthPlace were founded and supported over time by several women who believed in the importance of providing alternative birthing options in Iowa. Some of the major contributors included Kathryn Burke, Dana Ericson, Karen Herwig, Marty Jensen, Sandy Kavanaugh, Carey Ann Ryan, Jean Douglas Smith, Rita Weinberg, and Denise Wheeler. During the eight years of its existence, 274 babies were born at the center. The center offered routine gynecological exams, pregnancy counseling, prenatal care, childbirth classes, labor and delivery facilities and postpartum care. It provided a place where women could give birth in a homelike setting. A certified nurse midwife (CNM) and a registered nurse attended each birth with a physician providing twenty-four-hour medical backup should a complication arise. The medical community’s support of the BirthPlace was tempered by concern for patients’ safety at a freestanding center, outside a hospital. The center closed in 1992 when it was unable to maintain medical backup for its nurse midwives.

When the Des Moines BirthPlace opened in 1984 it became part of a nationwide network of birth centers. In 1975 the Maternity Center Association (MCA) opened the first childbearing center in the nation in New York City. By 1979 the need for a communication network to provide information about establishing and operating birth centers became apparent. Two years later, in May 1981, the John A. Hartford Foundation awarded a grant to MCA to develop a cooperative network, the Cooperative Birth Center Network (CBCN), "to assist and support the development and accessibility of safe, cost-efficient birth alternatives, with particular attention to the out-of-hospital birth center." The second phase in developing a national support system for freestanding birth centers was inaugurated in May 1983 with the establishment of the National Association of Childbearing Centers (NACC). Like its predecessors, NACC collected data, offered workshops, provided assistance to operating centers, and disseminated information on standards, licensure, reimbursement, and other matters.


4.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The first licensed out-of-hospital birth center in Iowa, specializing in nurse-midwifery.

Method of Acquisition

The records (donor no. 276) were donated by Dana Ericson in 1995 and succeeding years.

Natalie S. Brody, 1996 and succeeding years; Jillian Philips, 2014; Heather Cooper, 2020
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Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)