“I think I’m scared,” Laurel Philips, founder of the Santa Barbara Birth Center, whispered with her eyes closed to her husband and mother as she sat in the labor tub. She was at home, about to give birth to her first child, her baby girl. “Tell us about that fear: what are you feeling?” her midwife’s voice reached her from across the room.
“I realized I was completely on the threshold and really soon my dream baby was about to become a real person,” Laurel explained. “The door to reality was going to open and I just needed a moment to comprehend.” After talking through those emotions and coming to the realization that she was ready, Laurel birthed her beautiful and healthy daughter.
“This was such a pivotal moment for me getting ready for motherhood – to have the space and invitation by my midwife to explore what was happening for me right then. It would have been so easy for someone who wasn’t holding the depth and awareness of what was happening in labor to say, ‘oh honey, everything is going to be ok.’”
This is where midwives are qualified to handle not only the physical birth, but also the personal and emotional aspect of such an intimate experience.
The Center for Disease Control reported 36,080 births in 2013 took place at home or in a birth center. This is the highest amount since reporting began in 1989, and the number is growing. As home birth becomes a more common occurrence, the debate on safety is getting louder. Articles and studies online are clouded with biases and misuse of statistics, and it is hard to determine what information you can trust.
In reality, women who chose to give birth in a hospital increase their chances of having a surgical intervention. When you walk in the door of a hospital in the US to have your baby, you take on a 30% risk of having a C-section. This statistic, combined with the risk of infection after surgical intervention, is a key argument in a recent study by the British National Health Institute, whose findings mention it is safer to have a baby at home or in a birth center than at a hospital.
Making the decision on where to have your child is where the process of parenting begins. “Parenting begins at the beginning of pregnancy, because parenting is centered around making the best possible decision for your child.” It is important for women to ask the right questions and do research so they are in a comfortable environment during the miraculous experience of childbirth.
The Santa Barbara Birth Center
The Santa Barbara Birth Center is a local nonprofit organization that provides midwifery care to expecting mothers who want to have their child outside of the hospital. Their facility has two beautiful private rooms and a fully stocked kitchen along with space for classes and check ups.
“What the Santa Barbara Birth Center is really about is choice,” said Laurel as she described her vision behind opening the birth center. “There is a misconception that by working with the doctor in a hospital that you are eliminating risk, when birth is a natural process.”
Laurel worked hard for three years with the help of her wonderful team and the Santa Barbara community to make the birth center possible. Driven by her strong rooted belief in choice and experience with home birth, Laurel learned the ins and outs of the nonprofit world, and the Birth Center opened its doors.
The Birth Center provides complete services, and women are attended by the same midwife throughout their pregnancy, labor, birth and postpartum care. The Birth Center has a strong relationship with the local medical community and collaborates with obstetricians, neonatologists, and pediatricians. Approximately four to five women have their child at the birth center every month.
The Birth Center team is composed of five midwives as well as a team of experienced doulas. Unique to midwifery care are the postpartum home visits and the 24/7 availability to contact your midwife, a relationship of caring and advice that lasts for years after the birth. This relationship emerges because of the time, trust and energy between each midwife and mother.
“Including all of the prenatal visits and exams, the average relationship of someone with their doctor is composed of roughly 3-4 hours of face time. With us it is over 40,” states Laurel, describing this face time as a major benefit of midwifery care. “Obstetricians have such a higher volume, and I am sympathetic to that. Since we have a much smaller caseload and don’t go through the insurance companies and are paid directly by the client, we are able to devote that extra time to each person.
Education and Choice
The midwifery model of care focuses on client education, informed consent, evidence based practices, and individualized prenatal care.
When women have anxieties about home birth, it is usually a vague “what if something goes wrong?” But there are really specific answers to every scenario you could come up with. “When asked this question, we focus on presenting all of the scenarios and explaining exactly how we would proceed, which is really why we are there,” explained Laurel. “We are there for emergencies as well as the overall care.”
If you remember that birth is a healthy process and is not an illness, then the environment where it happens becomes really important. “It is something really intimate that requires vulnerability and should be somewhere you feel really safe. The people you are surrounded by shouldn’t be people to whom you have to advocate for what you want.”
Women have the amazing ability to give life and Laurel wants every woman who goes through the Birth Center to have that experience and be able to walk away with confidence saying, “I did that.”
Some great resources when making an informed decision of where to give birth include the Science and Sensibility Blog and Lamaze International where you can find webinars and iPhone apps on a range of topics about pregnancy and parenthood.
The Birth Center is a nonprofit organization and your support helps not only to provide families with compete midwife care and birth services, but also create a community Birth Resource Center which houses a nexus of reliable information and resources for anyone with questions about pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, parenting and beyond, along with a space to hold meetings and classes.
You can donate online here.
All photos provided by the Santa Barbara Birth Center