As some of our readers know, I have had my last two babies in a free-standing birth center. I just received their local newsletter in the mail, and, as always, I was extremely impressed with the great work they are doing for women and babies in our community. While I have a pretty negative relationship with labor and delivery, overall, I love the birth center experience, and I think the choice to birth in a birth center, as opposed to a hospital, it a great decision for many couples. It isn't for everyone--most particularly those that are high risk!--but for many women it is a great option.
My birth center offers several birthing suits, complete with queen size beds, jacuzzi tubs, natural lighting, relaxing music, and kitchen areas. Nurse midwives attend to all births at the center, and if an emergency arises, you are just a few steps away from the local hospital. Last year, the midwives at the birth center delivered 504 babies. Only 8% of those babies were delivered via a c-section (compared to the almost 40% rate at most hospitals!).* Their episiotomy rate was a mere 5%, AND what I find the most impressive statistic, they had a 99% rate of initiating breastfeeding, and a 90% rate of continued breastfeeding at 6 weeks. Talk about baby centered care!
In general, birth centers are strong promoters of the health of women and babies, and they give many families a safe and wonderful option for a natural delivery in a home like setting with emergency medical care just steps away. If you desire to deliver naturally, I think it is really important to feel comfortable and relaxed at your delivery location. For some women this means a home birth, for others a hospital setting, and for me, it means a combination of the two at our local birth center.
I first sought out the birth center after two less than stellar hospital births. Don't get me wrong, I am very grateful for the healthy delivery of my first two children, but my desire to birth my babies naturally, without unnecessary interventions, was very difficult for me in a hospital setting. For starters, I just couldn't relax in the hospital. We lost our first baby at birth back in November 2002, and as soon as I walk into a hospital labor and delivery room, with all those machines and beeps and monitors, I am immediately brought back to my labor with Therese. My stress level increases and I just desperately want to go home. Stress increases pain, and I know I will ask for pain meds as soon as labor really starts to intensify.
Second, hospitals are set up to deal with medical situations--mainly emergencies and illnesses. In an uncomplicated birth, the process is natural. Mentally I find all the "math" of the hospital draining. The constant monitoring, measuring, timing, and statistics are stressful and prolong my labor. Sure it's my fault that I let all the numbers get to me, but I'm very vulnerable when in labor! I don't like to be put on a timetable and told that I'm taking too long!
In addition, I am a wimp. Plain and simple, if pain medication is available, I will ask for it! If I want to go naturally, I need to move myself away from the temptation of easily available pain medication. The birth center is great because when I ask for pain meds, and believe me I do so frequently at the end of each of my labors, they simply tell me that it is unavailable and will necessitate a transfer. This line usually buys enough time to get me through the most difficult part of labor. I really admire all you natural birthing hospital women--please tell me, and B-Mama who is about to go this route, how you do it?!? A doula? A fantastic husband? Delaying your arrival at the hospital until the last minute?
But I digress...my basic point here is that most birth centers are great places, so do check out your local options!
*I realize that hospitals will have higher c-section rates because of the self selection factor in repeat c-sections. The birth center, however, does take repeat clients attempting a v-bac, and so their numbers are higher in this area as well. My overall point is that the natural techniques of the birth center are much more likely to end in a vaginal delivery.