The day I officially found out I was pregnant I had already known for at least a day. Just a mothers sense I guess, but I bought the pee stick anyway and was thrilled to see those two pink lines appear. Before that moment I hadn’t done much research on birthing options in my area. By a thin thread I heard about a local birthing center and decided to check it out. My husband and I went in for a group tour and fell in love with the place. The professionalism, the holistic approach, the people, the facility itself, and the overall vibe; It could not have been more perfect. Once we found out that using the center would actually be cheaper than going to a hospital we were all in.
The experience of using a birth center is so much different from going to an OB and hospital. I have a 10 year old son who was born in a hospital and it is not a fond memory. It was not the most terrible story ever told, but the atmosphere was cold and lonely and the support from the hospital staff was practically non-existent. It was nearly the opposite at the birthing center. The center itself always felt welcoming and we got to know the entire staff from visit to visit so that every time we went in for an appointment, we were greeted by friends. During my pregnancy this time around I was expecting lots of doctors visits, many uncomfortable exams, cup fulls of pee, long waits in the doctor office lobby, and an overall poking and prodding. It was a nice surprise to find out that the birth center preferred to use a more holistic and hands off approach.There weren’t nearly as many appointments and the peeing in a cup and vaginal exams were at a minimum.
At first, the limited appointments and tests felt like a lack of attention and it was a bit concerning to me because… What if something was wrong? What if my baby was sick? What if she wasn’t developing properly? What if something was wrong with me? However, after the first trimester was over, I realized that the “lack of attention” I was feeling was not actually a lack. It was the perfect amount of attention because nothing was wrong with me or my baby. She was perfectly healthy and so was I and there were absolutely no red flags that suggested otherwise. This meant no additional attention was needed. The excess attention I had gotten at the OB my first pregnancy had shaped my view of it. I felt as though pregnancy was more of a medical condition that needed constant monitoring. I realized through my birth journey at the birthing center that pregnancy is actually more natural than medical. The female body is an amazing thing and was designed to accomplish the process of birth. (Dude bodies have their own miraculous entities too, but, in my opinion, nothing trumps the miracle of birth)
In general, the unknown is worrisome and can cause an anxious fear which is what, I think, many people that don’t support birthing centers suffer from. After having successfully used one, I totally understand that anxiety but I am so glad I stuck it out til the end. Although the minimalist approach to the care was unusual and a little scary at first, it really allowed me to appreciate what my body was able to accomplish on its own. It also allowed me to get in tune with myself and find my center which ensured me that everything was as it should be. I felt that if something were wrong, I would know because I could hear my instincts and intuition. Through it all I uncovered a dormant understanding that pregnancy and birth are such cool processes, not always fun, and a bit terrifying at its climax, but amazing nonetheless.
Before we could deliver at the center, my husband and I were required to take a few different classes about birth, breastfeeding, and newborn care. The requirement might seem kind of weird but I loved all the classes and didn’t mind at all that they were required. Actually, I think it was a great way to help new families develop a real understanding for how incredible the whole thing is. My husband and I learned so much and met a lot of great people during these classes. Our confidence level was increased and it gave us a sense of preparedness that can be hard to feel when you’re about to have a baby.
When it came time for the big event, we were more than ready. Our baby girl was overdue by 5 days that felt like forever. The whole event had a slow start because there was no dramatic episode of my water breaking or intense contractions. We spent most of the day bumming around our apartment watching Netflix and cuddling. I had been leaking some fluids for a few hours and decided to call the midwife. She had us come in to the center and confirmed my water had indeed broken. From that point on, things escalated quickly. Our midwife was well versed in a variety of methods for encouraging labor to progress and the birth ended up only being about 3 hours long.
I’m not going to say that my having my daughter was easy. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. When I had my son, I was given pain meds and an epidural so although I remember the contractions hurting like hell, the birth itself was rather quick and painless. All I remember feeling was pressure and the super weird gush of life as he made his big debut. Since the birth center was focused on natural pain relief, there were no pain meds and no epidurals. That single factor was probably my biggest hang up when we were choosing where to have our baby. The thought of no drugs both terrified me and gave me a sense of challenge. If I had not had the support from the midwives, I would have caved in and demanded to be sedated. Even during the labor I had thoughts of throwing in the towel and going next door to the hospital. Going through with it anyway, without sedation, allowed me to experience something indescribable. Something like an out of this world experience. Something that truly gave me a respect for all women throughout time who have participated in vesseling new life into the world. I entered another realm of reality where even though I was surrounded by movement and noise — even making most of the noise — things were quiet and slow moving. I gave everything I had to getting this kid into the world and had never been more depleted in my life. Looking back on it and understanding that women have been doing that for centuries, blows my mind.
Being at the birth center was so comforting after my previous experience with a hospital. Our midwife was so focused on my needs and encouraged us to move about our suite to find what was most comfortable and relieving. We had a resort-like birthing suite at our disposable with many options for natural pain relief. My favorite was probably the walk in shower. There were also different chairs, stools, squatting bars, exercise balls, and a deep soaking tub that I was able to deliver in. Not many hospitals will allow a mother to actually give birth in these and having a water birth was something I always wanted to do. I liked the thought that my baby could be born into a less harsh environment with a few moments to acclimate before emerging into the cold air.
The staff at the birth center were not only accommodating and supportive about my needs during labor, but they were also just as gung-ho about the baby’s needs after birth. The midwives were so encouraging about bonding time that they immediately handed me my baby girl for skin to skin cuddles as soon as she was born. Then, once I was moved to the bed (still cuddling my newborn baby!), my husband and I cuddled with her for at least an hour before the midwives came back to get her stats. Any vitals that were checked within that first hour were checked with her on my chest because that first hour of life is a critical time for boding. The approach of the center was extremely focused on ensuring an individualized birth experience and the most favorable start for a new life. It is difficult to explain in words how great it was to be taken care of by people that were so focused on providing the best overall experience possible.
Using a birth center ended up being exactly what I wanted. Most of the time I have an idea of how an event or experience will unfold and, almost always, it ends up being nearly the opposite of my vision. But not this time. The warmth and love was something I had always imagined feeling but unsure if it existed in this type of setting. There are not enough words to express the gratitude I have towards the entire thing. I could not have asked for a better birth experience and would recommend a credible birth center to anyone considering a natural birth.