Amy Polk dies at 42, advocate for Takoma Park birth center

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 3, 2010; B04

Mairi Breen Rothman had to compose herself when asked what she would remember most about her friend, Amy Polk, who was killed in a car accident last week, and the two years Polk spent trying to open a birth center in Takoma Park.

"I never heard her say anything negative," said Breen Rothman, a certified nurse-midwife. "If there was a difficult task in front of us, she would just say, 'What is the next thing we could do?' "

Polk, 42, was struck and killed while crossing First and M streets SE on Thursday, D.C. police said. She was married and the mother of two sons, ages 4 and 7.

Friends, including Breen Rothman, are asking themselves how best to advance Polk's vision.

Some of Polk's friends involved in the Birth Options Alliance, a nonprofit group that provides prenatal and postnatal support to mothers, met at Breen Rothman's home in Takoma Park on Saturday to discuss ways to ensure that Seasons of Life Women's Health and Birth Center, Polk's brainchild, becomes a reality.

"She was just quite a powerhouse," Breen Rothman said. "It is so inconceivable that she's gone. It is quite a loss to the whole community and the birth-center movement."

Breen Rothman said she did not know when Polk became involved in Birth Options Alliance, which started as Takoma Park Birthing Circle, a mothers' group, and grew into a listserve of 600 people. It has become a nonprofit that does birth-advocacy work.

In the last two years, Breen Rothman said, Polk had formed a board of directors for the birth center and met with the president of Washington Adventist Hospital about making a part of its facility a free-standing birth center run by certified midwives.

Alba Aleman, the owner of Citizant and Polk's employer, said in addition to the birth-center project, Polk also worked to increase the number of young women who entered the transportation engineering field.

"She really did a lot to further and advance the [advancement] of women," Aleman said.

Jean Borgella, Polk's co-worker, said he was still absorbing the news of Polk's death.

"It was like a punch in the gut," Borgella said about when his team was told of Polk's death. "All I could think about was these two beautiful boys. . . . And how their anchor is gone."

Borgella said Polk successfully juggled the demands of motherhood, career and determination to bring the birth center to Takoma Park.

"She was just an extraordinary human being," Borgella said. "She loved what she did. And I think there are few people who you can say that about. But that's what she exuded."

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