When Martin Gregory Gallagher was born Jan. 29, the arrival of the 10-pound 1-ounce baby boy marked a milestone not just for the infant’s parents but for Manassas and Prince William County.

Martin, born at Manassas Midwifery and Women’s Health Center, was the first baby delivered at a non-hospital birth center in the city or county. The center — which opened last month, replacing an earlier location not equipped for births — provides an option for women who want to give birth outside a hospital but not in their homes.

“Labor proceeds most physiologically effectively in a setting where you are relaxed, and, truly, hospitals are just not those settings,” said Kathleen McClelland, a nurse midwife in the practice.

Although the center’s midwives acknowledge that the prospect of a natural birth outside a hospital is off-putting or frightening to many mothers-to-be, they say that the maternity care they offer is more comfortable and cost-effective than traditional obstetric medicine.

The delivery room at Manassas Midwifery has an oxygen tank in the corner and some medical equipment in a drawer, in case of an emergency. But with its queen-size bed, fluffy comforter and dark wood dresser and night table, it resembles a bedroom rather than a hospital room. A woman in labor can move around the room, squat on its wooden birth stool or immerse herself in the adjacent bathtub, which McClelland calls “the midwife’s epidural.”

Nurse midwife Kathleen McClelland, left, new mom Katleen Gallagher, center founder Sheila Mathis and baby Martin Gallagher. (Courtesy of Manassas Midwifery and Women's Health Center)

A desire for medication to manage pain is one reason women are sometimes transferred during labor from a birth center to a hospital, McClelland said.

Founded in 2009, Manassas Midwifery employs 13 people who offer a variety of services for women, including pap smears, breast exams, prenatal exams and childbirth classes. Many of its patients give birth in hospitals.

Sheila Mathis, a former hospital nurse, founded the center because she thought the Manassas area lacked maternity-care options for low-income women. She encountered many obstetricians who did not accept Medicaid, and mothers who received no medical care until they walked into the emergency room to deliver their babies.

The center has about 80 patients, more than 70 percent of whom are Medicaid recipients, she said. Public and private health plans cover Manassas Midwifery’s services.

A week after Martin’s birth, his mother, Katleen Gallagher, 37, discussed her decision to give birth to her fifth child at the center. “If you work full time from home and you raise four children at the same time and you have to deal with the husband and the dog and the household, you tend not to worry about things,” she said.

Gallagher, who delivered her first child in a birth center in Alexandria and the next three at home, said the prospect of natural childbirth didn’t faze her. “How many years do we live, and how many seconds of those years is it that we are alive? Consider that it takes one minute of pain. Seriously, the worst pain is a minute, maybe less. I don’t know, I’ll take that one minute.”

Gallagher and Martin went home about three hours after Martin was born. Mathis visited them at home the next day to check on the mother’s and baby’s health.

“To me, doing it the natural way is the right way to go,” Gallagher said. “It’s easier on you and easier on the baby.”