Hi! I'm Jenny, and I had two natural births at the same birth center — in two years. I get a lot of questions about my experience at a birth center, so I thought I'd write down a few thoughts for any of you moms out there who might be considering a birth center for your next baby's birth!
|The room in the birth center where both my babies were born|
What is a birth center?
First of all, a birth center is not a hospital, although many birth centers in urban areas are located right next to a hospital and have a working relationship with the hospital and an OB/GYN on call (ours did). We even registered with the hospital before our birth, similarly to someone who is delivering at the hospital would, in case I needed to be admitted during the course of the labor. I would highly recommend seeking out a birth center with a positive working relationship at the nearest medical facility.
A birth center is similar to a hospital setting in that it often contains the same equipment you'd find in a delivery room at a hospital. I was hooked up to an IV briefly for antibiotics, and the birth center had a complete resuscitation and infant emergency center that allowed the midwives and birth assistants to care for an infant who might need immediate help after birth. Similar to a hospital, you will be checked regularly during labor, but unlike a hospital, you will always know the midwife or birth assistant who is checking you because you've spent your entire prenatal period with them at appointments. The same staff stays with you throughout your labor. There are no random, unknown people coming in and out of the room, and interruptions are kept to a minimum.
A birth center also differs from a hospital in warmth and personalization. Most birth centers that I have visited are converted historical homes that are decorated with rugs, tapestries, and have huge beds with soft linens. The exam rooms are like smaller bedrooms and even the gowns are cloth instead of paper. You will attend your prenatal appointments right next to, or even in the rooms in which you will eventually give birth.
The approach of a birth center is to allow freedom during labor. This means that a laboring mom can eat and drink as she sees fit, move around and is often encouraged to walk during labor. There is always a garden tub and shower in which to labor, and family members and supportive friends are welcome to participate. It is not uncommon for an older child to attend the birth of their new sibling.
Why did you choose a birth center?
For my husband and I, a birth center was a great middle ground between a hospital and a home birth. I knew even before I was pregnant that I'd like to try for an unmedicated childbirth. I'd come to a place in my fitness and health journey where I really trusted my body, and I trusted my husband's personality, temperament, and convictions to be a full birth partner. What I didn't trust was that I would have the mental strength to refuse pain medication if it was constantly offered. I also tend to get very tense when I'm put under pressure and a hospital environment can exert a lot of pressure to deliver a baby quickly. A birth center took away pain medication as an option -- I'd have to specifically request to be admitted to the hospital to receive pain medication. Some birth centers differ on this policy, but I sought it out. A birth center also seemed less risky to me than a home birth, due to the proximity to the hospital. We were living in a rental home at the time, and I wasn't too attached to it. I didn't really want to give birth to my child somewhere that we might leave in a year.
Is a birth center for me?
Only you can answer this question! Fortunately, birth centers are accustomed to questions and are very hands-on when it comes to helping you understand if this is where you want to give birth. All birth centers give tours, and there should not be any pressure to commit to anything as you and your birth partner consider if that is where you feel most comfortable giving birth.
Overall, I loved our experience at a birth center and my husband genuinely loved catching both our children as they were born and bonding with them immediately after birth. I feel great about the choice for our family, but I also recognize that a birth center experience is not for everyone.
I hope that sharing my experiences and observations might help you in your journey to choose where you give birth! Have a wonderful birth-day!