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Planning Board recommends midwifery reuse for Coit House

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The historic home of one of Buffalo’s founders, George Coit, at 414 Virginia St. in 2016. (Mark Mulville/News file photo)

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Buffalo's oldest house may soon become the birthplace of some the region's newest residents.

The Buffalo Planning Board Monday unanimously approved a recommendation that the Common Council approve an adaptive use permit for 412 Virginia St. – the Coit House.

The woman petitioning for the permit, Maura Winkler, a certified midwife, plans to use the property to accommodate births for women with low-risk pregnancies, as well as other midwifery services.

Winkler, who operates Fika Wellness & Midwifery at 367 Delaware Ave., said only a small number of babies will be born inside the 200-year-old residence each month.

"We do, total, about 8 to 10 births a month," Winkler said, noting the estimate includes her patients who opt to have their babies delivered at a hospital or inside their own homes.

"So we anticipate there will be a few people a month that will give birth at this location, and we don't anticipate having more than one or two patients at a time in the house for their regularly scheduled appointments, and very little staff, as well. So, really, there will be no more people than the family that currently lives there," Winkler said at the Planning Board meeting, at which she was accompanied by her attorney, Andrew J. Pace.

Winkler did not present any plans to the board Monday because she does not plan to make any changes to the exterior of the house, located in the Allentown Historic Preservation District.

The Coit House is zoned for residential use and is currently occupied by a family.

"We don't intend to live there. I intend to use it only as an office property," said Winkler, who lives in the Elmwood Village area.

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If lawmakers approve the adaptive use permit, Winkler said she will be running the only midwifery of its kind in the Buffalo area – even though there are clinics and hospitals in the area that offer midwife services.

Winkler anticipates that only a few women a month will opt to give birth at the Coit House.

"We're not really sure how many of our clients will choose to give birth at the Coit House, because we plan to still offer both home and hospital births," Winkler said.

"There are midwives that practice in many locations all over the United States. Even though, when most people think of midwives, they often jump to home births or out-of-hospital births, actually 98 percent of midwives practice in the hospital," Winkler said.

A Buffalo native, Winkler moved to Chicago to pursue a medical degree, but decided that the medical model of care for pregnant women did not match her personal values, according to a biography on the Fika website. She left medical school and set out to become a certified nurse midwife at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Winkler said midwives were common in Chicago, even at hospitals, where there was at least one group of midwives and often multiple groups of midwives.

"It's just, in Buffalo, there are not so many of them quite yet, but we're hoping to increase access to that option," Winkler said.

She moved into her location on Delaware Avenue on Nov. 1, 2017, after having started her practice around Aug. 1, 2017.

"I have not been in business very long. I've been very pleased with how receptive Buffalo has been to midwifery care. I mean, women have very clearly demonstrated that they are wanting midwifery care and out-of-hospital births," Winkler said.

Aside from examinations and consultations, Winkler said her plan is to use the Coit House for births.

"There are no renovations planned whatsoever. We really do low-intervention births that we are used to going into people's homes and accommodating whatever their setup is," she said.

"That's the way births have been done since forever. It only moved into the hospital, largely, about the 1940s and the 1950s," Winkler said.

"So our plan is to really operate this strictly as a birth home, which means it will retain a very homelike feeling and we believe that that's important for our clients. That's what they're looking for. They're looking for a homelike setting that doesn't feel like a medical facility," she added.

Winkler said a benefit of being granted an adaptive use permit for the Coit House is that the permission she would be given to do midwifery would not extend to the next owner.

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