It’s no secret that South Whidbey’s demographic is older than it was in decades past. Young families are moving away and older retirees are moving in.
The recent decision to close Langley Middle School is evidence of that.
However, birth centers at WhidbeyHealth and the Greenbank Birth Center say they have seen a “modest” but steady uptick in births that goes against that conception. Some pre-school program leaders are also reporting that they’re pretty busy these days — many have a six-month waiting list for new students.
All that has led some to wonder if Whidbey isn’t so old after all, that it’s seeing the beginning of a baby boom and not just new baby boomers.
“I’d say the last three years have been busier for us than usual, which surprised me because I always read Island County is one of the oldest counties in the country,” Cynthia Jaffe, midwife at Greenbank Birth Center said. “An average years for us is about 70 babies a year, and two years ago we had something like 115 women come for care, not all of them delivered, but most. Last year was also quite busy.”
Jaffe oversaw 87 births in 2016 and 110 the year before. While there isn’t a exponentially growing trend of newborns at the birth center, as the birth rate fluctuates, Jaffe says she does notice the birth center is busier than ever before. She’s been a midwife at the Greenbank Birth Center for more than 25 years, and says her business gives a pretty good idea of Whidbey’s general birth rate.
She estimates her birth center delivers one third of Whidbey’s newborns.
Jaffe is not alone in reporting a modest increase in births.
Trish Nilsen, nurse manager at the WhidbeyHealth Family Birth Center, says her crew has also seen a trend that goes against the idea that Whidbey is graying. However, she has some suggestions for why that may be.
“We’re definitely seeing a modest increase over the last few years,” Nilsen said. “Perhaps we’re seeing more because of the navy and the bump of deployments to the base just north of us. They’re able to opt out to go to a non-naval hospital to have a baby, so our bump is at least partly down to that.”
So far, 2017 is on course to be a record breaking year with 220 births, she said. That rivals 2014 when the hospital saw 204 births. The past two years — 2016 and 2015 — have been slower by comparison with 181 and 186 respectively. There were 179 births in 2013 and 154 in 2012.
Nilsen said those numbers partly fluctuate, not only due to an influx of military personnel, but because of different resources at WhidbeyHealth, for example when a midwife arrives or departs.
She also points out that WhidbeyHealth’s new birthplace center might have garnered interest in pregnancy care at the hospital, but says the bottom line is that she is seeing more newborns. Despite all the reasons why there might be a modest increase in births, she says the island is experiencing “a bit of un-graying of our community.”
South Whidbey Children’s Center Executive Director Kris Barker is seeing a similar trend at her children’s center.
“We’ve had a huge change in demand over the past few years,” Barker said. “We’ve been full with our waiting list for well over a year now. I’ve been telling people about our situation for a long time, but I don’t know if anybody has been listening.”
According to Clinton resident Jake Stewart, who has two daughters aged one and three, the waiting list at South Whidbey Children’s Center isn’t unusual for pre-school programs on the South End. He says his family went to three different places and had to wait in line for all of them.
It took his daughters about six months to get into Barker’s children’s center, but not everybody is so lucky.
“There are people who are paying just to hold onto spots and wait in line,” Stewart said. “It probably won’t get any better, because everyone we know seems to be pregnant.”