I like the idea of a home birth; I always have. And after reading books like Ina May Gaskin’s Guide To Childbirth and watching documentaries like The Business of Being Born, I was further motivated to seek midwives and a birth environment that encouraged a more natural, trust-your-body approach to childbirth. And yet I just couldn’t commit to a home birth. Young and scared, a little voice in my head whispered, “What if something goes wrong?” This is when a friend recommended I look into a local birth center. “But what is a birth center?” I asked, completely unaware that one of our nearby hospitals had a freestanding house-like building tucked behind the parking lot designated solely for birthing babies.
According to the American Association of Birth Centers, a birth center is, “a home-like facility existing within a healthcare system with a program of care designed in the wellness model of pregnancy and birth.” Birth centers are equipped with way more monitoring machines and on-hand medication than a home birth ever could but meant to feel more homey than a hospital. My birthing center looked like a house from the outside — including a quaint wrap-around-porch with rocking chairs — but as soon as I walked through the doors, I was greeted by nurses in scrubs. And even though the rooms are much less sterile than, say, a multi-bed hospital room, they still have remote-operated beds, beeping machines, and around-the-clock uterus checking. Unlike a hospital, however, they were pretty relaxed about the number of visitors I had, and when I asked to hook up a Wii to pass the time, they were cool with it.
And yet, of course, birth centers have their downsides. Because these freestanding buildings aren’t equipped with state-of-the-art NICU centers, high-risk pregnancies, premature babies, and medical emergencies have to be sent to bigger hospitals. Most birth centers are built close to nearby hospitals for that reason, although different birth centers have different levels of equipment.
For women like me, with low-risk pregnancies and a natural tug toward a hands-off, midwife-based birthing experience, birthing centers might be the perfect middle-ground solution. If you’re still weighing the options on where to give birth, here are five reasons I chose a birth center.