A year ago today, Magdalena was born. The story of her birth is here, and having done it completely without drugs remains one of the most fulfilling and empowering events of my life. I don't say that to belittle anyone who happily chooses an epidural. I just mean that giving birth naturally was something that I really wanted to do, something I worked hard to prepare for, and something I ultimately successfully achieved. It doesn't matter what it is - accomplishing a goal is always something to be proud of.
As I look back on the experience of laboring and giving birth to Magdalena, I am realizing after the fact how many of the circumstances at the hospital's birthing center (Porter Hospital in Middlebury, Vermont) were peculiarly right for me. If I were pregnant now and investigating potential birthing facilities here in Ithaca, these are the things I would absolutely insist on. The sad thing is that many, if not most, facilities in America would not give them to me. The usual caveats of assuming a normal labor without danger to mom or baby apply, of course.
At Porter Hospital,
-I had a private room with its own bathroom attached. This may not have been the case at the Birth Center in Tucson where I started out prenatal care (there are three birthing rooms there but only one has its own bathroom with a large tub).
-I stayed in the same room for the whole time (labor, delivery, and recovery).
-I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Heck, the nurses even brought me food during labor. No ice chips here.
-I was not given an IV or even a heplock. This one still kind of surprises me.
-I was allowed to labor in a tub even though my water had already broken. This is apparently a big no-no in a lot of places.
-I never had to be "checked" unless I requested it.
-I was never offered any drugs for the pain by any staff, the nurses, or the midwife.
-When it came time for the actual birth, I was allowed to use any position I wanted.
-When Magdalena was born, I got to hold her and nurse her right away. It was about an hour before they got around to cleaning her off and weighing her.
I've had a few friends ask me recently about giving birth at freestanding birthing centers vs. the hospital vs. home. The more I think about it, the more I realize that it doesn't really matter what a place is called, or who runs it. As you can see, I had my ideal birth experience in a modern hospital, not at home or in a freestanding birthing center. In fact, I actually preferred the hospital in Middlebury over the Birth Center in Tucson. This shows that a hospital is not always the cold, impersonal, intervention-happy place it is often made out to be in some of the more angry birth literature out there.
So to those of you who are pregnant and trying to decide where to give birth, my advice would be to strip away all preconceptions and all labels. Forget the terms "birthing center" and "hospital." Decide what's important to you, what you're absolutely not willing to compromise on, and then find out who can make it happen. It might be a midwife at home. It might be an OB at the hospital. It might be something in-between. Do yourself a favor and don't rule anything or anyone out.