Area birthing centers give women options

On the day I gave birth to my daughter, I put my son down for his afternoon nap, delivered my baby girl two hours later and returned home in time to tuck my son into bed that night. But not before my medical team brought me French toast from IHOP.

I delivered my second child at Gentle Beginnings Birth Center in Hurst, instead of at a hospital. I chose to deliver my baby in a place where there were no epidurals, no beeping machines and, for that matter, no doctors.

Instead, a professional midwife, birth assistants and a doula surrounded me.

More women are choosing to deliver their babies this way. According to the American Association of Birth Centers, the number of American birth centers saw a 20 percent increase in the past five years. In the past year alone, two new birth centers opened in the Fort Worth area -- Gentle Beginnings in Keller, and Beautiful Beginnings in Fort Worth.

One reason is the increasing concern over unnecessary medical intervention.

"I just didn't want to be poked and prodded," said Amanda Prouty of her own decision to give birth outside of a hospital. Prouty is a certified professional and licensed midwife, and the owner of Beautiful Beginnings.

Another reason is women's desire to give birth without drugs in an environment supportive of such an approach.

"Throughout my pregnancy, I focused on living as healthily as possible," said Laura Barbee of Fort Worth. "Delivery did not seem like the time to introduce the baby to such strong medication." Barbee recently delivered her son at Beautiful Beginnings Birth Center.

Birth centers differ from most hospitals in their approach to childbirth in that they see it as a normal family event instead of a medical condition requiring active management.

Their mission, according to the birth center association, is to "promote the rights of healthy women and their families, in all communities, to birth their children in an environment which is safe, sensitive, and economical with minimal intervention."

"I'm all for technology," said Lynne Pewterbaugh, co-owner of Inanna Birth & Women's Care in Denton. "But we don't reach for technology before we allow our bodies to do what we were designed to do."

Some question the safety, but for low-risk women, labor and delivery at a birth center can "result in higher patient satisfaction, cost savings, and equivalent or better outcomes than in-hospital birth," according to the San Diego Birth Center Study, a four-year research project funded by the U.S. Federal Agency for Health Care Policy and Research.

A 2009 Cochrane Review involving 12,276 women found that "midwife-led care was associated with several benefits for mothers and babies, and had no identified adverse effects." Benefits included reduction of analgesia and other medical interventions, as well as giving mothers an increased chance of feeling in control, having a spontaneous vaginal birth and initiating breast-feeding.

What's more, the cesarean-section rate for women receiving care in birth centers averages 4.4 percent, approximately one half that in studies of low-risk hospital births. Overall C-section rates reached an all-time high in 2009 of 32.9 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization recommends a rate no higher than 15 percent.

Such statistics weighed heavily on my heart as I researched my options. I wanted to make the best decision for my child. In addition to my dog-eared copy of What To Expect, books like Pushed and Ina May's Guide to Childbirth were piled high on my nightstand.

The more I read, the more the idea of natural birth resonated. Luckily, my pregnancies were low-risk and uncomplicated, making me an ideal candidate for a birth center.

For me, natural birth was like hiking out of the Grand Canyon. It was gritty and painful and hard. At times, I felt vulnerable and exposed, but when I reached the top, the whole world opened up in front of me and I felt powerful and overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.

Birth centers aren't quite so rustic as that.

Birth centers look and feel like a home. Mothers deliver babies on comfortable king-size beds, or even in a birthing pool. Laboring women are encouraged to move around if they wish. There are iPod docks, warm baths, candles and soft lighting. After the birth, Mom and her baby can enjoy an herbal bath.

"I felt like I was at the spa!" said Brittany Salstrand, who recently delivered her fourth daughter at Beautiful Beginnings.

Although they provide an excellent alternative to a hospital birth for many women, birth centers may not be the right choice, or even a desirable one, for every mother.

"We want women to deliver their babies wherever they feel safe and comfortable," said Prouty. "If that place is in a hospital, she should deliver there. But, if she is looking for a more natural approach, she should know there are other options out there."