One of the most beautiful things about birth is the fact that each experience is uniquely its own. You can never predict with complete certainty how a new baby is going to enter the world (even planned c-sections come with the occasional surprise), but one thing you can control (to some degree) is where and how you decide to deliver your baby. Hospital, birthing center, homebirth…there are quite a few options available and each has their benefits.
Homebirth vs Birth Center
If you’ve come to the conclusion that a hospital birth isn’t what you’re looking for, but you’re still unsure if a birthing center or a home birth would be the right fit for you and are looking for more information, then you’ve come to the right place. Having delivered two of my three babies at birthing centers and one at home, I’ve had the opportunity to see what each has to offer and am going to share some things you may wish to take into consideration.
Choosing a Birth Center over Hospital Birth
My first and third babies were delivered at a freestanding birthing center and I loved so many things about the experience. As a first time mama-to-be, I had planned to go the traditional hospital route, but after 18 weeks spent in care there, realized that it wasn’t the right fit for me. The environment was sterile, the doctors and midwives I met with were impersonal, and everything about it felt so clinical. That said, I also didn’t feel prepared to take on a homebirth as a first-timer and to be honest it felt a little too “woo woo” for me at that point, so I decided that the birthing center was the route I wanted to take.
Pros of Giving Birth at a Birth Center
Right away I was very pleased with my decision. The environment was far more homey than the hospital, but still had plenty of medical supplies on hand. There was oxygen available, pitocin to stop bleeding, and even nitrous oxide as a potential pain management option. The midwives were warm and friendly and I got to know them well, instead of being shuffled from person-to-person as I was during my time at the hospital. Everything about the process was sorted out for me and I didn’t have to plan for much at all and during my delivery and postpartum stay I received so much help and pampering.
The birth center was located very close to a hospital so I felt much more confident about a potential transfer in an emergency. There were midwives available for around-the-clock care during my two night stay, so I could ask questions about breastfeeding and get extra help as I was healing. I was also able to order delicious food and though it may not be the case everywhere (or many places), I also got to enjoy a postpartum massage. To be honest, it felt as relaxing as giving birth could possibly feel and was the perfect set-up for me as a first-time mama who was still trying to figure everything out.
Cons of Birth Center Birth
The downsides of the birth center experience were that as comfortable as it was, it still wasn’t my own home. I also really hated having to actually drive to the birth center – sitting in the car during contractions was terribly uncomfortable. The other downside was that although birth centers offer far more privacy than hospitals, there were still other women coming and going for pre and postnatal appointments and women laboring in nearby rooms so it wasn’t exactly 100% comfort level.
Choosing a Homebirth the Second Time Around
After my wonderful and empowering birth center experience, I decided to opt for a home birth for my second baby and there were also many of things I loved about that experience. The first thing I loved about the experience was the fact that all of my midwife appointments took place AT MY HOUSE! This isn’t the case with every practicing midwife, but it was for mine. Having a toddler at home, it was so nice on those days when I felt super exhausted to not have to load up a little one for a midwife appointment. I literally wore my pajamas for many of my midwife appointments.
Pros of Homebirth
I also loved being in the comfort of my own home and having everything I needed. I didn’t have to pack anything, which was wonderful, because all of my clothes, snacks and baby supplies were right at my fingertips. I was able to watch my favorite shows during early labor and walk around in whatever state I wanted, knowing I wouldn’t have to hear anyone else in labor and no one else would hear me. Also, the inflatable birthing tub was amazingly comfortable! At the birth center, I had a water birth in a jacuzzi style tub and while I loved giving birth in water, the tub was hard and uncomfortable. The inflatable tub I used at home was infinitely more comfortable for kneeling in, and while we’re talking about comfort, it was so much nicer sleeping in my own bed. I also really liked being able to have friends and family visit us at home right away.
Cons of Giving Birth at Home
The downsides of home birth were that there was more planning involved regarding supplies to buy and there were less medical supplies at our disposal. I also didn’t have the luxury of around-the-clock care as I did at the birthing center. While my midwifery team did stay for a few hours after the delivery to monitor and to help clean up, I was on my own pretty quickly. This was fine for me since it wasn’t my first rodeo, but could’ve been a bit overwhelming if I had no idea what to expect.
Heading Back to the Birth Center
For my last birth, having both a birth center and home birth under my belt, I opted to go back to the birth center. My home birth experience was a bit difficult for me to process since my son ended up being absolutely gigantic (10 pounds 8 ounces and 23 inches long) and it was an exhausting and difficult experience. Because of that, I needed a change of scenery—to go back to a place where I had experienced birth in a wonderfully empowering way—and for me that was the birth center where I had my first child. As a mom with two kids already at home, it also didn’t hurt to think about not having to cook or clean for anyone for an extra day or two.
In the end, I’ve realized that every birthing option has its pros and cons, but what is most important is to choose the environment where you feel most safe, supported and comfortable. Hospital, birth center or at home; each has their benefits and drawbacks. The very best advice I can give is to do your research and then follow your heart.