Mama Madison: It's good to have birthing options

One size does not fit all

My obstetrician's office for pregnancy number one was located on an upper floor of a swanky downtown Chicago high rise -- the Playboy Building, no less (I always thought there was something kind of comical about this given the amount of times I disrobed there). The practice though was geared less towards Bunnies and more towards no-nonsense, professional mothers-to-be. Efficiency was the name of the game. During those nine months I saw an ever-changing rotation of doctors who began discussing episiotomies, epidurals, and planned inductions before I was even showing.

My son's subsequent birth in a major teaching hospital was relatively easy, but, truth be told, felt much more like a clinical procedure than the dizzyingly beautiful "experience" my personal newsstand of pregnancy magazines had led me to believe childbirth could be.

I'm pretty sure though if I'd asked my doctors about constructing a birth plan that felt a little more "natural," they'd have recommended I lay off the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. As far as their medical practice was concerned, that kind of stuff went out with covered wagons.

Things didn't change a whole lot with the birth of my second son. We were in Madison by now, and I had become aware for the first time of things like the Bradley Method, doulas and water births. But when it came time to pick a practice and location for his delivery, I took the well-traveled road and went with the UW physicians group and hospital that were covered by my HMO.

In fairness, the Meriter birthing suite where I welcomed my son was way cooler than the separate labor, delivery and recovery rooms I'd experienced in Chicago. My room was bright and sunny and filled with all sorts of shiny, sterile medical equipment tucked away behind hidden doors. It was kind of like giving birth in the Bat Cave.

Then, a few years later, something really cool happened. My adored across-the-street neighbor gave birth, on purpose, at home. She labored and delivered in the privacy of her own bedroom attended by her midwife, husband and two older children.

When I went to visit her and her newborn baby girl the next day she seemed unusually relaxed and happy as she sat, a mere twelve hours post partum, in her own rocking chair, wearing her own clothes in her own living room. Yes, it was a little house. But it most certainly wasn't on the prairie.

So when I got pregnant with baby number three a few months later, I decided to give the UW Midwives a try. No, I wasn't looking for a home birth (which they don't offer, and besides,I was kind of concerned with who cleans up after delivery--it's a pretty messy business). But I liked the idea of a more personalized birth experience than I'd had in the past. And the practice didn't disappoint. The providers took time with me, patiently answering my questions on chromosomal testing, maternal nutrition and the possibility of a drug free birth.

My daughter's entry into the world, also in a Meriter suite, felt entirely different this time. My delivering midwife played calming music and lit a candle. She stayed with me the whole time and offered a back massage. And my daughter came more quickly and easily than my other two had, likely because I didn't have an epidural.

Now, I try not to play favorites with my kids. But there's little question that number three was my favorite pregnancy and delivery.

And who knows where a pregnancy number four (no, not happening) might have led?

So I felt nothing but sad this past week when I heard the news that the Madison Birth Center (http://www.madisonbirthcenter.com) in Middleton would be closing its doors in November. Because I fully understand, three childbirths later, that there are alternatives to a traditional hospital labor and delivery. And now, many Madison moms-to-be who would have loved to have met their baby for the first time at either the Center's state-of-the-art, yet warm and inviting, birth space or in the comfort of their own homes, will be missing out on a high quality option.

And all, it seems, due to Madison area HMOs' refusal to cover care there. No, I wouldn't have expected my doctors from the Playboy Building to understand why a healthy woman might not want to deliver her baby in hyper clinical setting.

But I guess I would have expected the health care community in progressive Madison to more readily embrace the change. Their decision to deny coverage just seems so old fashioned. Maybe we haven't come such a long way from the covered wagons, after all.

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