Giving Birth at a Birth Center
I am fortunate to have given birth at a freestanding birth center.
I say “fortunate” for two reasons. First, at the time when I was deciding who would provide my prenatal care and where I would give birth, I didn’t know all the questions I should have been asking. (If you’re not sure yourself, see the Guide to a Healthy Birth).
Only later, when my husband and I took our childbirth class and then watched The Business of Being Born, did I learn how right the midwife model of care was for me. I was relieved to have my decision—made in partial ignorance—confirmed again and again!
The second reason I am fortunate to have given birth at a freestanding birth center is that it is not a widely available option. The American Association of Birth Centers (AABC) currently lists just over a hundred birth centers in only thirty-one states and the District of Columbia. Lucky me: we happen to live just a ten-minute cab ride away from one.
Where the Process of Giving Birth Is Trusted
The AABC defines a birth center as “a homelike facility existing within a healthcare system with a program of care designed in the wellness model of pregnancy and birth.”
A homelike facility
No beeping machines, no strangers walking in and out of the labor and delivery room. At a birth center, you’re more likely to find instead: A bed large enough for the laboring mother and her partner. An invitation for the laboring mother to have as many—or as few—family and friends with her as she wishes. A kitchen, and as much food and fluid as the laboring mother needs for sustenance. Space for the mother to move through her labor—and oh, the glorious, glorious tub!
Existing within a healthcare system
If a homelike facility is what you are looking for, why not stay at home?
For me, it never occurred to me to stay at home—it’s taken a lot of work for me to make a home in which I feel comfortable, and I wasn’t there yet at the time of my son’s birth. Other women (especially here in crowded, crowded New York!) might not have the privacy they need at home. And a big reason why women might choose an out-of-hospital birth at a birth center is because of its integration with the healthcare system.
In some states, unfortunately, legal care from a midwife for an at-home birth is simply inaccessible or not covered by insurance. Care at a birth center, on the other hand, is typically covered by most major insurance plans. And, should it become necessary, transfer to a hospital is seamless—in some cases, in fact, the hospital is just across the street.
With a program of care designed in the wellness model of pregnancy and birth
As Dionna puts it so beautifully in her post on the midwife model of care,
Birth should not be viewed as a series of emergencies; it is not a disease that needs to be monitored for signs of danger. The midwife model of care treats pregnancy and birth as normal, healthy processes. Midwives work with parents to empower mothers and make birth the joyous experience it should be.
At a birth center, great trust is placed in the laboring woman and her ability to give birth without intervention. That trust is truly empowering.
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
As my friend Violet wrote in an e-mail to me, “Choosing a birth center doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still prepare yourself physically and mentally as if you were having a home birth.”
I agree! In my case, labor came on hard and fast—my body basically skipped early labor—and I didn’t handle laboring at home very well. I have my birth attendant to thank for helping me to focus my energy once we arrived at the birth center. Looking back, I see that it would have been better to have taken a childbirth class focused on natural birth.
Another way to prepare for a natural birth is to read—or listen to—stories about natural birth. During the rest period at the end of each class, my prenatal yoga instructor often read birth stories from Ina May‘s Guide to Childbirth. Every week, these stories supported my confidence in my ability to birth my baby. (To read my birth story, click here.)
Is a Birth Center Right for Me?
Here are a few resources for you to use to explore the option of giving birth at a birth center.
- Mothering.com offers an overview of reasons to choose or not to choose a birth center.
- The AABC provides a tool for finding a birth center in your area.
- Childbirth Connection provides a list of questions to ask when touring a birth center.
Of course, wherever you choose to give birth, best wishes! And, if it is indeed what you are planning for, may you experience what Violet calls “the joy and euphoria” of giving birth with minimal interventions!
Photo credit: Richard Nevins
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