Levi's Birth Story, Part 1 // Backstory, Birth Choices and Birth Centers

The fact that our son is almost 11 months old and I’m only now documenting his entrance into the world could be classified as avoidance coping. I fully understand that plenty of women never have the faintest interest in writing out their birth stories, but while I was pregnant, I binge-read birth stories like it was my job. However, in the days following Levi’s birth, tears would cloud my eyes when asked about the experience — and not magical, new mama tears. Although I did share the details of his birth with a handful of close friends and visitors in that first month, I didn’t enjoy sharing it — it felt like routine verbal processing.

Hawaiian baby moon bump shot at 31 weeks

Hawaiian baby moon bump shot at 31 weeks

I knew I needed to change my perception of the experience in order to normalize it and take the fear away, so throughout the rest of his first year, I read more, shared more, prayed more and talked my therapist’s ear off. Some people tried to silver-line my birth experience with the classic, “...healthy mom, healthy baby!” line. But I didn’t want to sell my emotions short. It’s true, I gave birth to a perfectly healthy boy, so my pregnancy preparation wasn’t all for naught. But the path to get him into the world was far from any of the potential routes I had imagined.

By this point you’re probably wondering, Well what the heck happened then?!

Some backstory first. You already know I was a tad obsessed with all things “natural birth” in the years leading up to Levi. I read Ina May before we even tried to conceive and was hopped up on B vitamins well before we had “the conversation.”

When David and I decided we were ready for an addition to the family, I was consumed with excitement to finally apply all my research and knowledge to my own body in order to set myself up for the best possible pregnancy. And all things considered, I did have an amazing pregnancy. I conceived the first time we tried, and I felt like a textbook case following that first test.

For me, pregnancy felt like a purposeful season that was meant to be dedicated to proactive preparation: mentally, physically and emotionally. I could write chapters about the things I ate, drank, did, read and watched during those eight months, but this is a birth story, not a pregnancy story, so more on that later. 

Photo by  jess-roy.com

Photo by jess-roy.com

To officially confirm the pregnancy, I defaulted to the nurse practitioner I’d seen for an annual visit the year before. She confirmed the due date I had predicted — April 21, 2017 — and we heard the hummingbird heartbeat for the first time. It was a quick and clinical appointment, and many of the warnings and potential interventions she ushered our way didn’t line up with what I’d come to know about the beauty of natural birth.

Anything that disturbs a laboring woman’s sense of safety and privacy will disrupt the birth process. This definition covers most of modern obstetrics, which has created an entire industry around the observation and monitoring of pregnant and birthing women. Some of the techniques used are painful or uncomfortable, most involve some transgression of bodily or social boundaries, and almost all techniques are performed by people who are essentially strangers to the woman herself.
— Family physician Sarah J. Buckley writes in her popular book “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering”*

I have a deep respect for those who practice obstetrics in a clinical setting. I know people who desperately need their expertise to save their lives and the lives of their babies. I came to need their expertise at one point in my birth story (spoiler alert). But I also strongly believe that low-risk pregnancies should conclude in low-intervention births if at all possible. I highly recommend reading Chris Kresser’s short, sweet and science-based series on natural childbirth here.

Between weeks nine and 13, my husband and I had many conversations about what the birth of our baby could/should/would look like. A little context: Santa Barbara has one hospital** with a labor and delivery wing (OB/GYN’s only). The other birth option in Santa Barbara is to choose from a handful of private midwives who attend home births. It was only six years before Levi’s birth that a third option opened up to the families of Santa Barbara County — the perfect middle ground, as I kept calling it around my husband. The Santa Barbara Birth Center (SBBC) has two birth rooms and a dedicated group of midwives known as the Santa Barbara Midwifery. I looked at every photo and read every word on their website. I had already listened to hours of birth stories on The Birth Hour podcast, always gravitating toward the low-intervention, natural births at home or in birth centers. And lo and behold, there was a birth center in my hometown now! I was overjoyed.

The founding midwife of SBBC gave us a tour shortly after we had visited the hospital, and the differences were striking. We were impressed by the level of care offered by the midwives and the way the birth center was outfitted with oxygen and resuscitation equipment for mother and baby, as well as IV fluids for hydration, volume replacement and the administration of medications to control hemorrhage. These are the emergency moments many worry about when considering not giving birth in a hospital. And if a transfer did become necessary during labor, the hospital is only one mile away from the birth center.

Photo courtesy of sbbirthcenter.org

Photo courtesy of sbbirthcenter.org

I was overcome by the warmth we felt as soon as we stepped through their doors (disclaimer: the jacuzzi tubs in each room were a big draw as well). My husband saw firsthand how affected I was by the level of support and continuity of care that the midwives offered. We filled out our paperwork that next week.

Each prenatal appointment was an hour long, allowing us to get to know each of the midwives and never feel rushed with any of our questions. They became like angels to me throughout my pregnancy, never making me feel insecure, small, or unimportant as a first-time mom. And they were always just an email away.

As a social experiment, I held onto my second OB/GYN appointment at the medical group I had previously been a part of. I literally left the birth center after one appointment and popped over to see a doctor for what should have been a very similar appointment. For fun, I timed each element. I waited 17 minutes past my appointment time, saw a doctor I had not planned to see, had my blood pressure taken in the waiting room, and then met with the doctor for a grand total of six minutes. I'm sure this must sound efficient and idyllic to someone reading this, but especially with my first pregnancy, I longed for so much more out of the experience.

I was growing a HUMAN, for crying out loud!


*Buckley, Sarah J. Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering: A Doctor’s Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting Choices. Celestial Arts, 2009. pp. 96

**We had toured our local hospital’s birth wing when I was just 11 weeks along, and it is a beautiful and newly remodeled facility, but I had several well-founded qualms about choosing to give birth there. It’s known for its high number of interventions surrounding low-risk pregnancies/births. As of 2014, its percentage of low-risk deliveries done by C-section was over 31%, when the federal target rate is 23.9%, with many hospitals in California as low as 12% (source). Area obstetricians have chosen to prohibit natural childbirth procedures for women who have had a Cesarean section previously (a.k.a. no VBAC’s). While they have recently made big strides toward becoming a Baby-Friendly facility, I still did not feel at ease when picturing the future birth of my baby there.

Madeline GivenComment