Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The real reason I chose a birth center

I'd like to welcome a guest post today by a Lansing area mom. Do you have an idea for a post topic? Are you interested in sharing your story? We would love to hear from you. Please get in touch with us here


It took me a year, but I think I am finally able to be honest with myself about why I wanted to have my baby at a birth center.  I didn't chose a birth center because I thought it was safer. Or because I was scared of the hospital. Or because I think natural birth is better than medicated birth. I went to a birth center because I was lonely and I wanted to meet people.  That's the truth. Let me explain.

My husband and I moved to Lansing a little over a year ago from another town in Michigan. We got pregnant and had our first trimester of care out of state. When we came home I felt anxious to start building my social "nest" - surrounding myself with people that would support me through the rest of my pregnancy and into parenthood. With all of my friends and family out of town (and out of state) and no local network of colleagues or acquaintances since I work from home, I felt terribly isolated. The way I saw it, I had about twenty weeks to build a social hub for myself and my baby. How could I do it?

Then I landed on the perfect answer: I could have my baby at the local birth center - Greenhouse Birth Center! Plugging into that community of midwives and families seemed to be the fastest and easiest way to gather support for my motherhood journey. I felt that if I had a hospital birth, I would miss out on a one-time chance to forge meaningful, long-lasting friendships . . . the kind of relationships that build up around powerful, shared life events (like birth). Have you ever heard a woman talk about her hospital "community?" Me neither.

Through our pre-natal care, I did feel that I was building close relationships with the midwives. We talked for hours over the course of our pre-natal visits. They asked me about my Thanksgiving dinner. They met my mom when she was in town. They gave me hugs. We laughed, we cried . . . I figured we were well on our way to being buddies. I didn't have as much interaction with other moms as I had hoped (our birth class was really small) but I figured that would come after our son was born with Mommy & Me classes, breastfeeding support, etc. All in all, I felt very comfortable and welcome at the birth center and that was just what I needed . . . a place to go where everybody knew my name. As my due date approached I felt very confident. Not only was I healthy but I trusted that the close relationships I had been forging with my caregivers over the last 20 weeks would come in super handy during labor. I imagined that the midwives would know exactly what to do and say to help me. I also felt certain that they would support me if and when I needed additional help or asked to go to the hospital. Through all of this, it never occurred to me that we would have anything less than a stellar labor/delivery at Greenhouse Birth Center. After all, I had only ever heard positive things!

Unfortunately, I did not end up having a great experience. I had a frustrating labor and a sloppy hospital transfer. I asked questions during labor and got blank looks. The midwives told me I was completely dilated and encouraged me to push when it was too early. They stalled when I asked to go to the hospital after pushing for three hours then told me that, if I went, I would probably have an emergency c-section (which I didn't). We arrived at the hospital and spent the next 30 minutes answering basic health questions and filling out insurance forms, since we weren't pre-registered. Our midwife came with us but did nothing to assist in the transfer of care. We felt like people off the street. All in all, the midwives were passive and at times downright unprofessional during the time when I most needed guidance and support.  Happily, our care at the hospital was excellent and our son was born healthy. But my carefully laid plans for having the birth center as my social hub post-partem had gone right out the window.

I didn't feel like continuing relationships with the people who had disappointed me. I also felt embarrassed about "failing" and going to the hospital - how could I face other birth center moms with my story? I felt confused and insecure. Those feelings all persist but now, more than anything else, I feel angry at myself for making such an important decision based on my emotional needs. By placing such high value on my social "birth experience" as a woman and a mom, I actually jeopardized what was really important: the health and wellness of our baby. I will always regret that.

I wanted to write this post because I don't think my mindset in choosing an out-of-hospital birth was unique. After all, it seems that most couples these days are raising children far away from their support network of parents, siblings, relatives and friends. Unfortunately, the people that matter most to us - the people we want around during challenging times - are often scattered far and wide. For women, I think this distance is especially difficult during the childbearing year. I know it was for me. But I learned that no matter how lonesome you feel and no matter how much you crave a place to belong, it isn't appropriate to make important decisions about health care based on emotions. I won't be making that mistake twice.


  1. Birth centers sell the experience so it is not surprising that the experience and relationships were the major factors in your decision.

    I chose a birth center here in KS (although the first one I picked was run by CNMs who WERE good practitioners) because I wanted continuity of care. I wanted to know who would be with me during labor, instead of spending my labor being cared for by nurses and residents that I had never met before. Although I did have a good experience, I decided that this birth center, built to serve the Amish so in a somewhat rural location, was too far from my home and too far from the hospital if a true emergency occurred. My next birth I went with a CPM run "birth inn," which was NOT a good experience.

    My perspective now is that the negatives of hospital delivery are far outweighed by the safety issues.

  2. Interesting Becky! I am 39 weeks pregnant and we are going to a birth center that was also intended for the Amish community. Although since it is the only water birth facility for miles it is now more than 60% first time mothers from the community that are not Amish.

    We started off by going to a high risk doctor in the city who was recommended to us by the only other pregnant lady we knew. We had also just moved into the neighborhood. However, I felt like since this wasn't a high risk pregnancy, I wasn't going to be a priority. After a long talk about who would likely be with us for delivery (nurses we had never met and likely one of the other co-doctors we had also never met) we decided to transfer to the birthing center.

    We also had the option of a local doctor, and depending on how this all turns out might be our choice next time. It's getting old driving 1.25 hours each way once a week.

    I had also hoped to make other new parent friends, at the birthing center classes, but many of us were traveling over an hour to get there and so we aren't close to any of our fellow classmates.

    If you haven't already, there is a book called Birthing From Within that I highly recommend you read even postpartum. It's a book that looks at the psychology of birth by examining expectations and preconceived ideas every mom has. Many of the case studies specifically look at women who did not have good experiences and how they plan to improve on their next birth and let go of the hurt from their first.

  3. I have to weigh in, Foy, that any book that encourages you to develop a plan to improve your next birth should be met with healthy skepticism. This is why: there are so many variables that could make your next birth less than the hoped-for experience you are desiring. I have not read the book, so I cannot comment on the specifics of it. However, I made radical changes after MUCH thought and consideration on how to improve my last birth from the previous one. I certainly did have a different experience - horribly different in the exact opposite ways and much worse. I don't know how I could have done anything differently. What did I learn? Have realistic expectations about the birth process and don't try to heal a bad birth memory by having another baby. I don't know if the book is even suggesting this, it probably is not, but I found that only counseling, prayer, and the love of my family and friends plus time has brought healing to my bad experiences. I am done having children so I have a unique perspective after 6 births with varying doctors, hospitals, and nurses. I think going to a new moms group or breastfeeding support group (if you are breastfeeding), or a local MOPS group (church sponsored)are the best ways to get community support for this sensitive time in your life. I wish you all the best