This is beautiful birth story I was honored to attend at our Midwife Center in the beginning of the year. Mother did not fully expect for her daughter to attend her birth, but after going in for a routine check-up the discovered that she was so close to delivering her baby and not in labor that they wanted to see if they could get things moving for her instead of going back home an hour away. Her birth was full of fun, laughter, joy, and love. It was only 2 hours of labor before baby came too! All of her family was so supportive which made this birth so wonderful and special.
The majority of families that I work with plan on a hospital birth. The fact is that the majority of women here in the United States go to the hospital to have babies but Out-of-hospital birth experiences have been picking up more tread in recent years and more progressive birthing options have become available for families, including different facilities to have your baby in. For families who might not be ready to have a home birth and are still considered low-risk, a freestanding birth center might be what you are looking for.
What is it exactly though? Many families are choosing birth centers due to their more personal approach, family centered education, and intervention-free methods. They have all the necessary safety medical equipment, licensed highly skilled Midwives (most are Certified Nurse Midwives), and are often a few minutes away from a major hospital - in case of a transfer or if an emergency arises. They offer beautiful, comfortable private rooms to labor and birth in and there are no restrictions as to who and how many people can be there with you. That means that if you wish for your children to participate in the birth they are welcome to be there. They encourage mothers to eat and drink freely, and while there are no epidurals (gasp) a large percentage of centers are now offering Nitrous-Oxide to mothers who may need it. Mothers are not tied down or restricted to the bed but instead encouraged to walk around, and use the tubs and showers. Usually these are not your standard small bathtubs you'd find in your own home or in the hospital - some may even have the Jacuzzi jets inside! Midwives monitor your baby's activity and heartrate but is intermittent and often with a Doppler instead of the belts that typically stay on you at a hospital. Mothers are also encouraged to eat and drink freely, which is extremely important for a longer birth. When your birth flows it is truly a magical experience and when women are able to just let things play out like our bodies intend to.
So what might be the downsides to a Birth Center? It might not be everyone's vision and that is totally okay! After the years of being a birth doula and photographer my opinion is that there may be two considerable setbacks and one minor worry that some families express, but usually they find it not to be a problem. The first concern is that if at any time during your pregnancy a medical issue arises it may risk you out of delivering at the birthing facility. Depending on the Birth Center you may have to find care with another practice or but you may be able to still be under the care of your midwives in a hospital setting. That is if your midwives have admitting privileges, which our midwives do at The Midwife Center in Mercy Hospital here in Pittsburgh. This can be stressful or devastating to some women. The second worry is much like the first - transferring to another facility during birth or afterwards. It's important to remember that Transfers are always handled with care, and compassion but it can always be frustrating to a laboring mother to have to receive intervention when she had a very specific vision of her birth in mind. The small worry that some families express is that your stay at the Birth Center is often short. You typically head home after 4-8 hours after giving birth. A hospital stay is usually 2-3 days after birth so when families hear that you go home so soon afterwards sometimes they may initially get the feeling in an orientation or tour that they will be "kicked-out" or they won't receive the help they might need postpartum. This is not the case and while there may be some cases where a family needs a little extra recovery time most families are ready to go home just a few hours after birth. Birth Centers will often have a midwife come out to you the next day or you will receive several check-in phone calls in the days following birth.
As a photographer, I love working with families delivering at birth centers. My first birth as a doula was at a birthing center. It was highly influential in my own decision with my second child to have an out-of-hospital experience. Midwives are often very comfortable with my presence and want me there to capture the best parts of the story for my families.