When my husband, Rob, and I drive around New Milford, we have a backseat driver of sorts.

While our 3½-year-old son, Nathaniel, doesn't tell us where to drive, he does tell us where he has been.

More often than not, when we drive by New Milford Hospital, Nathaniel lights up with pride and exclaims, "Mommy, Daddy -- that's where I was born."

Smiling and eagerly looking out the car window, he stares out at the large brick building anchored on the corner of Elm Street and Route 202, where he, his sister, Eleanor, 16 months, and many thousands of others over the past six decades, drew their first breath.

Before that, the hospital had offered birthing services for more than 30 years at its previous sites.

Frequently, Nathaniel will then go on to tell us the story we've told him about his birth, right up to the moment he "came out of Mommy's tummy."

Moments like these evoke in me a deep sense of motherly pride.

But last week, my heart broke a little and I felt nostalgic when Western Connecticut Health Network, the umbrella organization that manages New Milford and Danbury hospitals, announced it will close the Family Birthing Center at New Milford Hospital by the end of this year, relocating deliveries to Danbury Hospital.

For years, New Milford Hospital has been a place for individuals and families to face all stages of life -- from the birth of their children to the death of loved ones.

Come 2013, no longer will it be a place to celebrate the miracle of childbirth.

There have been rumblings about the possible closing of the center for some time, going back years and gaining momentum when the hospitals merged in 2010.

Like many others, I expected it would eventually come to this, but deep down I was praying for a miracle, hoping some way the center could be saved so families could continue to welcome their children there and utilize the myriad services in a local hospital.

Network officials said the decision was made primarily because the birthing center lost $2.7 million in 2011 and the number of births has dropped significantly each year for the past several years and appear to be running at an even lower rate so far this year.

I understand the business end of things. It comes down to money, and $2.7 million is a lot of money.

But this decision stirs up a lot of emotion for me, as it does for many others, and it affects more than just residents throughout the Greater New Milford area.

The closing will affect the livelihoods of the birthing center staff, which for years has provided loving care to families throughout the region; of obstetricians, who now have obstetrics privileges at New Milford Hospital; and pediatricians, who visit newborns at the hospital.

I'm a New Milford native, and I'm disappointed the hospital I've used my entire life is losing such a vital resource -- a safe, warm, nurturing environment in which to give birth -- that for many of us is in our hometown.

While Danbury Hospital is only a 15- to 20-minute car ride away and has certainly been a valuable neighboring resource prior to the hospitals' merger -- and will continue to be such -- it is not as local for me as New Milford Hospital.

This decision begs the question: If the network is closing the center, what other hospital services may eventually be moved to Danbury in the future? What is the future of New Milford's hospital?

As for the birthing center services, network officials said pre- and post-natal offerings will continue to be available in New Milford. I hope they remain available locally after the center closes.

My heart goes out to the birthing center nurses who will have to look for, or already have found, jobs elsewhere, and to the families whose due date falls just after the end of the year, as they will now have to deliver elsewhere.

My heart also goes out to our local obstetricians. My doctor's office issued a letter last week notifying patients how the closure impacts their practice and asking for patient feedback.

The practice can move its obstetric privileges to either Danbury Hospital or Charlotte Hungerford in Torrington, two very different hospitals.

Depending on where a patient's doctor decides to move his or her obstetric privileges, patients will now be faced with the decision to stay with their obstetrician or change doctors so they may deliver at the hospital of their choice.

I feel for all doctors who made the choice to work -- and often reside in -- this town in part because of the birthing services available at New Milford Hospital.

I feel for community groups, like the library, Girl Scouts, the Woman's Club and others, who make donations -- financial and material -- to the center. Will their community outreach shift to Danbury Hospital, go elsewhere, or stop altogether?

I'm sure more details will unfold in the coming weeks and months.

In the meantime, I, like many others in the Greater New Milford area, am disappointed.

But I also know that I must now look ahead.

There is no doubt, if I were to have another baby, I would miss the birthing experience I am familiar with, having given birth twice at New Milford Hospital, and I would be a little wary of a new experience elsewhere.

My experiences in New Milford were beautiful, and the care my children and I received was outstanding.

But when it comes right down to it, if I were to have another baby, what I would pray for most is to have a healthy child, wherever that may be, at Danbury Hospital or elsewhere.

And I would hope that someday, if I were to drive by that hospital, like Nathaniel, the child would proudly say, "Mommy, Daddy -- I was born there."

Deborah Rose is a writer and photographer for The Greater New Milford Spectrum. She can be reached at drose@newmilford.com or at 860-355-7324.