Our Founder


Roberta Frank, CNM

I’m a native of Southern California in the coastal communities. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Nursing in 1968 from SDSU, and went on to get my certificate in Midwifery in 1978 from UCSD. I was married over 4 decades to my late husband Bill Frank and have 3 grown children. I became a midwife because the hospital birth of my first child didn’t meet my expectations in regards to the quality of care given to me. I believed then, as I do now, that birth is a joyous miracle and that the care given to mothers and babies should reflect that belief. I have home birth and birth center experience spanning over 3 decades.

One of the greatest moments in my career was being able to attend the birth of my first grandson at Best Start and witness from my daughter’s perspective, the satisfaction of care she received. While medical interventions are sometimes necessary, most of the time birth is a healthy non-medical event. My intent is for all women and their loved ones to have a place to celebrate the miracle of normal birth in the manner they choose, without unnecessary medical interventions. My hope for all persons who find their way to Best Start, is that they receive support, a nurturing environment, and exceptional quality of care. My vision is that birth centers such as Best Start, will eventually become the norm, providing individualized care that honors both the mother and her loved ones based on their personal needs.

Our Midwives


Our midwives are Board Certified Nurse Midwives and Licensed Certified Professional Midwives. Each one will get to know you well during your prenatal visits and will be on call and ready for you for your labor and birth.

Shari Stone-Ulrich, MSN, CNM, Clinical Director

I was born and raised in Missouri and met my husband, Michael while attending nursing school at Mizzou. I have always been interested in wellness and prevention of disease, and have known I wanted to help women during labor and birth. The United States Air Force allowed me to start working in OB as a new graduate, so I commissioned back in 1986. We had 2 beautiful daughters, Caitlin born in 1988 and Kelsey in 1989, in northern California, in the days before epidurals! So I know natural childbirth is very doable. I was awarded a scholarship through the USAF to attend Georgetown University and received my Master’s in Midwifery in 1993. Our son, Nathan was born in 1998 in Illinois. I practiced Certified Nurse-Midwifery until my retirement from the USAF in 2007, having caught more than 1,000 babies in hospital. I always practiced physiologic, natural birth as much as possible, according to families’ wishes. I used to tell pilots that I had the best job in the military; of course they would disagree, but what a blessing to get paid for doing what I love! My family has lived all over the United States, but I always had the dream of working in a Freestanding Birth Center. I was thrilled to be offered a position at Best Start Birth Center in beautiful San Diego, and am very happy to be here! I look forward to meeting and getting to know all our birthing families!

A Note From Our Clinical Director, Midwife Shari Stone-Ulrich

At Best Start, the midwives consider ourselves partners in your care and it is our intent to always provide every client the best care possible. Please contact me with any questions or concerns or just to say hi!

I want to connect with you and make sure you understand all aspects of your care. You can reach me by calling the office or email at: sstone-ulrich@beststartbirthcenter.com. Please note that due to privacy issues, I would like to speak to you over the phone or in person but please email me to set this up.

Erina Angelucci, MSN, CNM

I was born and raised in La Jolla and always knew it was where I would want to settle. A few years before going to midwifery school, I was researching my ancestors and found I have midwives on both sides. As I started looking into midwifery I found a calling and decided to go to Emory to pursue a career in midwifery. While there, I had experience with natural and water births. I am thrilled to be at Best Start Birth Center and to meet all of you! Birth is a life changing and memorable time and I am honored every time I am invited to be a part of it. In addition to being a midwife, I enjoy knitting and spending time discovering San Diego.

Joanna Bronkema, MS, CNM, NP

I am honored to be able to provide evidence-based, holistic healthcare to women and LGBTQI people in their conception, pregnancy, birth, and all stages of reproductive health. I began my career as en environmental biologist, but soon discovered the work that needed to be done to revive the rights of childbearing people. I became a doula and attended births in homes, birth centers and hospitals in California and rural Guatemala, and then went back to school to receive training as Registered Nurse, Public Health Nurse, Certified Nurse Midwife, and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner from the University of California San Francisco. As a CNM, I can offer conventional procedures and prescribe conventional medicines, but I also incorporates the 6 Naturopathic Principles in my care and believe that the best approach is often the least interventive one. I have experience in hospital, birth center, and community/home birth settings and offer both Western allopathic and alternative/complementary and herbal treatments for common health and pregnancy concerns. My birth philosophy is that women are strong and birth is natural and beautiful. My role is to be the guardian of wellness for mother and baby, but also to assist a mom-to-be discover her own strength, knowledge, and internal beauty in labor and birth so that she and her family can embrace an empowering childbirth experience without fear, no matter where it may lead them.

Como partera hispano-hablante, ayudo a los futuros padres a descubrir su propia fuerza y el conocimiento interno que ellos pueden experimentar lo que es el poder de dar a luz no importando a donde los dirija. Yo busco proveer el cuidado hacía la mujer y la diversidad de orientaciones sexuales y géneros, basado en la evidencia y en una manera holística durante la concepción, embarazo, nacimiento, y todas las etapas de la salud reproductiva. Empecé mi carera como bióloga ambiental, pero cuando descubrí el trabajo que tenía que hacer para revivir los derechos de natalidad, me convertí en doula y atendía partos en casas, centros de nacimiento, y hospitales en California y en Guatemala. Después, regresé a la universidad a recibir mi entrenamiento como enfermera registrada, enfermera de la salud pública, enfermera profesional/practicante de la salud de la mujer y enfermera-partera certificada en la Universidad de California en San Francisco. Ahora como enfermara especialista, ofrezco procedimientos y medicinas convencionales, pero creo que el tratamiento mejor usualmente es el tratamiento mas natural. Uso principios naturopáticos para guiar mi interacción con mis clientes. Mi filosofía es que la mujer es fuerte y el partos es una experiencia única que se puede disfrutar sin miedo. Se puede tener sus citas conmigo en español.

Ann Groonwald, MSN CNM

I am honored to be part of the Best Start community and look forward to meeting each of you!  My philosophy is to empower clients and families through education, support, and shared decision-making.  I strive to provide gentle, compassionate, holistic care to all clients.

My journey to midwifery began in my teens when I was inspired by a group of midwives I had the pleasure of working with.  In 2001, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Minnesota State University, Mankato.  I spent 14 years as a labor and delivery nurse before completing my Masters of Science in Midwifery from Frontier Nursing University.  Also during that time, my family grew to include my husband, 3 children and 2 dogs.  In my spare time I enjoy time with my family, traveling, hiking, crocheting, and quilting.  


Rosanne Gephart, CNM, NP, IBCLC

I have over 4 decades of experience working with mothers and babies in hospitals, birth centers, and homes. I directed one of the first centers in the USA to be designated “Baby Friendly” by the World Health Organization. I serve in leadership and teaching positions in numerous state and national organizations that serve to promote the excellent care of midwives, birth centers and lactation professionals. I currently work as a midwife, lactation consultant and business consultant for numerous centers and have founded and direct, Better Beginnings a non-profit, dedicated to helping families get off to a good start www.betterbeginningsforbabies.org

Nancy Baird, LM, CPM

I am a California Licensed Midwife and Certified Professional Midwife. I earned my degree in Midwifery and worked as a community midwife in London, England before moving back to San Diego. I have had the opportunity to work in home births, birthing centers and hospitals. I believe in a holistic approach to midwifery care. My approach to midwifery is to provide evidence-based, woman-centered care that empowers women and their families to make informed decisions about their pregnancies and births. It is an honor to serve the families that choose Best Start.

Birth Assistants


Best Start Birth Center midwives are proud to work with a team of birth assistants who are licensed midwives, certified professional midwives, midwife assistants, and registered nurses. A birth assistant will attend your labor and birth and assure everything goes smoothly postpartum until you go home.

Sarah Burns, LM, CPM

After witnessing a homebirth in 2007, I knew that I wanted to support women and their families during pregnancy and birth. I completed my DONA training and began my doula career shortly after. I’ve been a doula since March 2008, and my love for serving women and familes has continued to grow. I graduated from Nizhoni Institute of Midwifery with high honors in 2016, and I am now a Certified Professional Midwife licensed to practice midwifery in California. It is such a privilege to care for families during this transformative time. I truly enjoy helping woman have safe and satisfying birth experiences.

Brittany Threadgill, LM, CPM

Since childhood, I’ve had the desire to learn about and care for pregnant women. My journey to realize that dream began with my enrollment at Nizhoni Institute of Midwifery in 2011. The following year, I began supporting families as a birth doula and offering placenta encapsulation services. I graduated from Nizhoni in 2014 and in early 2017 gained my Certificatified Professional Midwife designation.
I am honored to share my knowledge with the families I serve but, most of all, I believe that a non-judgmental listening ear can be the key to helping a person find the power in themselves. I couldn’t be happier to be a resource to the families of San Diego County and would love the chance to meet your family.

Marli Ivers, LM, CPM, SpBAP

Becoming a midwife has been a 10 year dream for me. As a young teenager I started to learn about maternity care in the United States and in contrast, also witnessed my first home birth. I felt so strongly that birth givers should have options, autonomy, and respect that I decided to become a midwife! After graduating from high school, I lived in the Philippines for five months at a birthing home and attended over 70 births there as a doula, birth assistant, and primary student midwife. I then pursued my bachelor of science in community health education because I felt that it was the best fit with the kind of midwife I wanted to be. In 2014 I moved across the country to San Diego in order to attend the Nizhoni Institute of Midwifery and to complete a three and a half year internship with a local San Diego midwife. I am also a Spinning Babies Aware Practitioner from working with body balancing and Spinning Babies for the past three and half years. I have seen these tools make an incredible difference and I am thrilled to offer them to our Best Start clients. I believe that birth is powerful and sacred. I believe that birth givers should be supported, listened to, and celebrated no matter where their birthing journey takes them. I am excited to provide my support, insight, and guidance to every Best Start family!  

Dr. Elizabeth Winter, LM, CPM

Naturopathic Doctor

I am a naturopathic doctor and licensed midwife holding a Masters in Midwifery who received my training at Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. As a result of my dual licenses, my practice interests include women’s health, preconception counseling, evaluation and management of infertility, postpartum care, and pediatrics. I believe wholeheartedly in the Midwifery Model of Care as a the best model for improving outcomes for mothers, babies and families as well as the one with the highest patient satisfaction. It is an honor to get to practice within this model and serve families through this transformative time. In addition to assisting at Best Start, I also have a private practice in Banker’s Hill. I am proud and grateful to have recently given birth to my son at home under the loving watch of midwives.

Aja Encinas, LM, CPM

I am a San Diego native who had always dreamed of becoming a midwife as a little girl. I was born at home, in my parent’s bed, surrounded by my family. I was enchanted by the stories and photos of my birth where my mother Sally delivered me by reaching down and pulling me out and up on to her chest. I have always had an innate knowing that women and babies should have the opportunity to experience this sacred passage in this way. 

In 2000 I opened my own massage therapy practice and have been doing bodywork for almost 20 years. After doing birthwork for over 10 years as a doula and having my daughter Ireland in 2011, I decided to become a Licensed Midwife. I am now a Licensed Midwife in the state of California and a Certified Professional Midwife. I maintain my private massage practice focusing on prenatal and women’s bodywork at my shop Mt. Helix Massage as a Certified Massage Therapist and Holistic Health Practitioner and Spinning Babies Aware practitioner. I am married my husband Zo who is incredibly supportive of my journey alongside women and babies. In my spare time, I enjoy singing professionally as a jazz vocalist.


Emily Deckenback LM CPM

I started out as a scientist. As a child, I took after my grandfather, a chemical engineer, and it was assumed I would go to college and excel in chemistry, biology, and physics. What was unexpected was the deeply nurturing and spiritual side of me that developed as surely as my love of scientific rigor. While I initially planned to become an OB/GYN, I soon discovered that the medical model of delivering babies felt more like an assembly line than a miracle. I turned to midwifery and never looked back.

In the spring of 2010, I applied to midwifery school at the Nizhoni Institute of Midwifery. I graduated with Honors in November 2013. I trained as a birth and postpartum doula and began attending births in 2011, traveling all over the country and even volunteering for three weeks in Haiti in order to gain a depth of clinical experience that would allow me to practice with the highest possible standards. I owned a homebirth practice in San Mateo County for three years before relocating to San Diego in 2019 for my husband’s work. I live in Mira Mesa with my husband and two children. I love spending time with my family and friends, especially if I can be out in the sunshine with my fingers in the dirt, but I love to return to the comfort of my couch and a juicy novel at the end of the day.


Josephine Patricio Petrich LM CPM

I, Josephine Patricio Petrich, am a born and raised San Diegan!  I have always been fascinated by women’s reproductive health and childbirth. While in college with hopes of entering obstetrics I became pregnant. Through the birth of my first daughter, I came to the realization that my own personal beliefs about childbirth did not align with the obstetrical model. Shortly thereafter, I begun attending births. The first birth I attended, ten years ago, was a close childhood friend, she was a Best Start Mama, and her mother was a Birth Assistant here at Best Start. Watching her mom support her with a Midwifery way was mind blowing for me. After that first birth I knew Midwifery was my path. I remember asking her, “How can I do what you do?” My second daughter was born here at Best Start and a year later I was accepted to the Nizhoni Institute of Midwifery. In 2013 I began a two year apprenticeship in Andrea Meyer’s, homebirth practice. I graduated from the Nizhoni Institute of Midwifery after the birth of my third daughter, in 2015.  I had the privilege of finishing my clinical training as an Intern Midwife at Acorn Community Birth Center. The day after the birth of my fourth daughter, I received my Midwifery License from the California State Medical Board. Currently I work at Acorn Community Birth Center in Fallbrook, Best Start Birth Center and dabble in my own humble homebirth midwifery practice. It is an honor to come full circle and serve families here at Best Start.  I absolutely love women, birth, midwifery and motherhood. There is no greater honor than to be able to serve you and your family during this sacred time, Thank you.

Tatiana Koontz, LM, CPM

I love being a midwife, it’s a deep part of who I am. Serving families as a midwife is my dream job, my calling, and there is nothing I’d rather spend my days (and nights) doing. I’ve devoted the last 13 years of my life to birth and postpartum work. I’ve been privileged to walk with hundreds of families on parts of their special journeys. I’m fluent in Spanish and I have a special passion for supporting families during the postpartum period. I started at Best Start as a student midwife and am honored to continue supporting families through their journeys of growing, birthing, and bringing home their new babies! I provide holistic midwifery care to Best Start clients and families in my private home birth practice.



Best Start Birth Center is proud to offer a team of medical assistants, childbirth educators, referrals to social workers, and other support services.

Trisha Olow CD, CCE, CLE

I graduated from San Diego State University in 1989 with a degree in Biology. Loving animals, I had a zoo career for many years. My husband and I gave birth to our first child, Zoe in a birth center in Orlando, Florida in 2001. I became a full-time mama. Being fascinated by pregnancy and the birthing experience, I became a DONA Certified Doula in 2002, then a Certified Childbirth Educator in 2003. When I became pregnant with our son, Evan in 2004, I knew Best Start Birth Center was the best choice for me.  I support the San Diego birthing community by teaching childbirth preparation classes for Best Start Birth Center and also privately for families in their own homes. I have had the privilege to work as a birth and postpartum doula and have helped hundreds of families.  I’ve also been offering placenta encapsulation and belly-binding since 2012.  Having a safe, peaceful and supported birth experience can have lasting positive effects on a family. My hope is that through my teaching and doula work, I can help women find their strength and improve the birth experience one birth at a time.  I am very grateful to be a part of the Best Start team!

Aimee Frisk, ICCE, CMT

After experiencing a very rough postpartum experience with my first baby, I realized that I needed to find a way to help expectant Mothers appreciate how strong, beautiful and purposeful their bodies are when they give birth and then care for their babies. After a great deal of research and training, I became an Internationally Certified Childbirth Educator and feel so incredibly honored to teach here at Best Start. Through education and encouragement, I believe that we can empower new families with the freedom to make decisions about their birth experience based on the knowledge of the numerous alternatives available in family-centered maternity and newborn care.

I hold a Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education and I am also a Certified Massage Therapist. I love spending time with my family, practicing yoga, reading and playing at the beach.

Maria Teresa Kelley, LCSW

I have over fifteen years of experience providing direct practice to children, youth and families, including the last fourteen years at Children’s Hospital Outpatient Psychiatry. Therapy is provided in English and Spanish. I have knowledge of evidence-based practices utilized in clinical interventions. Treatment modalities include cognitive and behavioral therapy and play therapy. I also incorporate the use of art and narratives as part of treatment. I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) licensed by the State of California to practice therapy. My education includes a Master of Social Work and a Bachelor of Art degree. I have made presentations and given demonstrations to psychiatrists and other mental health professionals in San Diego City and County and Tijuana, Mexico. The topics included Community Healing from Trauma, Clinical Practice, and Art Applications for Clinicians. The initial session includes an assessment and review of presenting problem. Together a treatment plan is created to address the unique needs of each individual. I provide a creative and healthy atmosphere where individuals can relax and explore what life presents. I am honored to work in collaboration with youth, family and individuals that seek to overcome barriers to create a better quality of life.