Rachael Wooten of Aurora was in her third pregnancy before she became more interested in natural birthing alternatives. “I didn’t personally know anyone that had given birth outside of a traditional hospital setting with(out) an OBGYN and an epidural, ” says Wooten. She started asking more questions, and found the answers she was looking for at a birth center.
Wooten’s confidence to give birth naturally grew as she got to know the midwife and nurses there. “I felt seen and heard. The midwives truly cared about me and trusted my instincts, ” she says.
You might say Wooten truly found her ‘tribe” in the birth center community, and she hasn’t looked back. ” At the birth center I felt like I was part of a movement for empowerment, positivity and health, ” she says. In fact, Wooten was so inspired by her third child’s birth experience that she decided to start training to become a doula.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), birth center deliveries have increased by about 50 percent in recent years. Though most babies are born in hospitals (98 percent nationally), Colorado has five birth centers, and the state’s number of out-of-hospital births is slightly higher than average, according to the CDC.
Locally, the Mountain Midwifery Center in Englewood has seen a steady increase in babies each year since they opened in 2006. Their facility has a feeling of home with a kitchen for families, large and cozy birthing rooms and a stocked playroom just a few feet away for siblings.
Aubre Tompkins, clinical director of the Mountain Midwifery Center points out that women have in fact been giving birth outside of hospitals throughout history. “Only in the last 70 to 80 years have more women been giving birth inside a hospital, ” Tompkins says.
MODEL OF CARE
Women who choose birth centers like the relaxed, cozy and often spa-like atmosphere, run by midwives. They deliver a high percentage of water births and offer several pain-management alternatives to the epidural, which can only be performed by doctors in hospitals, surgery centers or physician’s clinics.
The model of care often includes classes, support and community. The Birth Center of Boulder offers what they call “collaborative care”—classes during each trimester, breastfeeding classes and continuous support during labor from the nurse and midwife. The center also sends a nurse to visit mom and baby at home 24 to 48 hours after birth.
“The home visit is an important piece of our care, ” said Angela Stevens, certified nurse midwife and one of the co-founders of the Birth Center of Boulder. “Our model is relationship-based; we want the families to feel comfortable and not rushed. We spend the time to develop a trusting relationship, ” says Stevens.
Birth center births are roughly a third of the cost of a hospital delivery. This economic advantage may not apply to everyone, depending on insurance provider. Expectant parents can meet with the birth center to discuss what their health plan will cover.
Some local hospitals are emulating the birth-center atmosphere, including Rose Medical Center and the University of Colorado Anschutz.
“We follow the birth center model, we are family-centered, offer water-births, nitrous-oxide for pain management, we welcome doulas and yet we are located in a hospital, so we have the necessary resources should the need for interventions arise, ” says Jessica Anderson, director of The Center of Midwifery at the University of Colorado Anschutz. Anderson adds that families drive from as far as Wyoming and Kansas to give birth at the University of Colorado hospital.
This combination approach, too, is growing in popularity. The Center for Midwifery delivered an average of six babies per month in 2004, the first year they opened. That average has steadily increased in the last decade to 555 total births in 2015. “Women have become more savvy in the last decade and are seeking options which fit their beliefs and philosophies, ” says Anderson.
WHO QUALIFIES FOR A BIRTH CENTER?
Out-of-hospital births aren’t for everyone. Some women may not qualify to give birth in a birth center if they have high levels of what are called “risk-out” conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes.
Tompkins recommends women who are considering a birth center go to the center, meet the staff and take a tour. She also stresses finding a nationally accredited birth center, which offers “another level of safety. ”
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends women choose accredited birth centers and midwives with the additional caveat that the birth center should have access to a hospital in case of emergency. Surgeries, like Caesarean sections, cannot be performed at birth centers. Should the need for a C-section or other surgery occur, birth centers work with nearby hospitals to transfer the patient to the hospital.
About two percent of women are transferred to hospitals for emergency situations. Up to 10 percent are transferred for pain management. “The vast-majority of births are not high-risk medical events, ” says Tompkins. “We are strict about who we consider low-risk. We don’t push the bounds. That’s one reason why we have such good outcomes. ”
Chera Prideaux is a freelance writer who lives in Castle Rock with her husband and two daughters.