A Tale of Two Births

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When I was pregnant with my first, I decided I wanted to deliver naturally at a birthing center. Not because I was necessarily against drugs during labor, but rather because I felt like the bright, invasive lights and humming of machinery during my first birth experience was less than tranquil. Right away, friends and family expressed their concerns with delivering at a natural birth center instead of a traditional hospital. When my husband and I toured the facility, we were immediately put at ease and felt that delivering in a birth tub in a dimly lit room with candles and soft music would be the peaceful, transcendental experience that I longed to create for my son’s arrival into this world. In hindsight, I wish I had more resources to help me make a more informed decision, rather than an emotional one.

pregnant woman writing birthsOur birth center experience

Once we decided on the birth center, we took Hypno -birth classes and saw all the on-staff midwives on a rotation during my pregnancy. I would not have one midwife solely assigned to me that would deliver my baby, but rather I developed a unique rapport with each. There are benefits and drawbacks to this of course. I had my favorites, as well as those I did not prefer. I found myself hoping, “Please don’t let me go into labor if this midwife is on call.” When I went into labor, I was relieved when one of my favorite midwives was on call and would deliver my little boy.

Labor, and the birthing experience in general, is treated very differently at a birth center. Almost causally. I could eat and drink to my heart’s content. I wasn’t hooked up to machines and could move freely, and my midwife even left for an hour to attend an employee meeting mid-labor, assuring me I would be fine and had a handle on things. I’m sure the goal here is to empower the mother, but at times it felt a bit like I was being neglected at best. At worst, I felt almost like an inconvenience.

About halfway through my labor, I hit a standstill in my progress, and I started losing steam. I asked to get into the birthing tub but was told it could further stall my labor. I do want to point out that this was something I was never told. Waterbirth was one of the greatest motivators in delivering at a birth center, and to think that I would be denied entry was frustrating! I also asked for several natural pain therapies as my back labor was becoming unbearable, but I was denied those as well, for reasons that I never discovered.

Ultimately, after agonizing hours with no pain relief I had to be transferred to the hospital in the final hour. I almost didn’t make the cut-off for an epidural but ended up having one, thank goodness. I was also told that they could dim the lights if that is what I preferred. In the end, all of the things I had hoped for during a natural birth ended up being available at the hospital, minus the birthing tub. Some hospitals do offer birthing tubs or have birthing suites for natural birth. Unfortunately, the birth center fell far below my expectations. I think it’s a beautiful experience if you’re someone that can adjust your expectations without anxiety or do well feeling empowered with little medical intervention.

Giving birth in a hospital

For my second, my daughter, whom I just recently delivered, I opted for the traditional OB/hospital delivery. It’s pretty apparent after seeing little to no medical intervention at a birthing center that obstetrics really is all about being a business. Almost immediately I felt like my doctor was looking for something to make me high risk. I was told I had high blood pressure, had to wear a Holter monitor, and was referred to a cardiologist where I had to undergo several tests.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with me.

When I approached my due date, my OB asked me “Would you like to deliver a few days early?” meaning a scheduled induction. Induction would be considered taboo at a birthing center. Such polar opposite mentalities. I decided to first try the natural induction methods: using my breast pump, walking, spicy foods, sex, and bouncing on a birthing ball before finally succumbing to a membrane sweep.

I went into labor the day before I was scheduled to be induced, and it felt odd to be tethered to a hospital bed after moving so freely during my first labor. I brought my own labor gown, with snaps down the back, which I highly recommend. It made me feel more comfortable. I opted for one with snaps because this time I knew I wanted an epidural from the start. I enjoyed laying in the bed blissfully unaware of my contractions, eating a popsicle, and watching cooking shows while my husband napped next to me. At times I felt a bit guilty for being so content with all of the comforts surrounding my labor, but when my OB told me that my baby’s heart rate was dipping after my contractions, I was so thankful to be in a medical facility with means to get her out quickly if the situation became dire.

Surprisingly, even at 9 pounds, 3 ounces, she came into this world, in a dimly lit room, naturally (vaginally) and quickly. I remember them using the term “shoulder dysplasia“ and I knew at that moment that if I had been at the birth center, it could have been a terrible situation if she got stuck. Due to her size, they also wanted to monitor her blood sugar and keep us an extra day, something they would not have done at the birth center. At a birthing center, they send you home just four hours after delivery.

Birthing centers and hospitals are worlds apart.

They each have their pros and cons. I understand wanting both experiences, and honestly, there were things I liked and disliked about both. I think the key is to have all the necessary information you can, to speak to other mothers, and to be honest with yourself about what you’re comfortable with as you bring a child into this world. Everything is so unknown and out of our control during pregnancy, but the one thing we can control is the amount of information we gather to make the best decision for ourselves and our families.

picture of baby girl births

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