by Sue Sierralupé

Pregnant women are healthy women. Their bodies are working hard to support the growth of their developing babies, which means they need extra assistance. According to the World Health Organization, between 90 and 95% of births proceed normally. It is certainly true that pregnant woman can get sick, but to see the pregnancy itself as normal and healthy is an empowering viewpoint for Oregon families.

Oregonians pride themselves on their independent spirit. Exercising the power to choose which situation is best suited for the birth of the new member of their family is natural in the Willamette Valley. Most Oregon families attend birth classes taught at their local hospital or by a private provider such as a birth coach or midwife. A growing number of doulas also offer services as non-medical support.

Families use these services to help form their birth plan so that they feel prepared for the delivery of their new baby. Birth plans can include everything from the drugs that they may or may not be willing to take to help with pain, to herbs that will speed delivery, to which family members may attend the birth, to what kind of music makes the mother feel most comfortable. Alternative health care such as acupuncture and massage may be added to the list, depending on the needs and resources that the family prioritizes.

The choice of a care provider is a key part of the birth plan because it may dictate where the birth will take place. There are three primary locations for supported birth: hospital birthing rooms, birthing centers and the family’s own home. Some hospitals, for example, still do not welcome midwives into the delivery room but accept the presence of non-medical support such as doulas. Families choosing a home birth should enlist a midwife’s service since most doctors no longer make house calls to laboring mothers in Oregon.

My own journey as a mother has allowed me to give birth in all three of the primary locations. All of my pregnancies were low-risk, so I had the luxury of choosing the setting that best suited my situation at the time. Our family had agreed on a drug-free pregnancy and delivery since we were concerned about the possible side effects. My midwife offered different herbs and dietary changes during my pregnancy, which easily solved the morning sickness and stress to my immune system. My friends commented that I made pregnancy look easy.

Hospital Labor Rooms

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had full insurance that covered a delivery in a hospital with a reputation for being family-friendly. I wanted my family and friends with me for support. The birthing room had a shower that fit both my husband and I. My mother recovered from the stress of seeing her only daughter in labor from the comfort of an overstuffed chair. My midwife rubbed my aching lower back after the doctor had finished his exam. The hospital staff offered medication but accepted my choice to "tough it out" with a shrug.

Women with challenges in their pregnancies (high-risk pregnancies) can enjoy comfortable labor rooms in hospitals with easy access to emergency medical services. Many hospitals go so far as to call them "Birthing Suites." Many of the labor rooms have clean, cozy furnishings, such as rocking chairs, full baths, sky lights and even Jacuzzi tubs. Family members are welcome to stay with the laboring mothers as long as the mother prefers this and there are no complications that would endanger either the mother or the new baby.

Studies show that hospital-assisted care in the Willamette Valley has a lower rate of ending in a cesarean section delivery than in other parts of the state. Natural childbirth is becoming a focus for families and hospitals. Most women prefer to avoid the long recovery period from C-sections and are nervous about the effects the prescription pain killers and antibiotics might have on themselves and their newborn. Many Oregon hospitals encourage pain relief through massage, hydrotherapy or the use of birthing balls (oversized rubber balls that relieve back pain considerably).

Birthing Centers

Natural childbirth is centered on the mother’s needs, not the needs of the health care provider. Birthing Centers are springing up all over the Willamette Valley with the mother’s comfort in mind. Often the birthing center is built to resemble a home from the outside. Some used to be family homes that were retrofitted with medical equipment stored behind folding wooden screens or built-in cupboards.

My middle son was born in such a birthing center a few miles from my home. It was a remodeled Craftsman home with claw-foot bathtubs, four-poster beds, hammocks and baskets of toys for excited siblings. My daughter was a toddler at the time her brother was born and kept her grandmother busy running up and down the polished hardwood stairs while the midwife kept tabs on my progress.

Nurse-midwives and/or licensed midwives are generally the lead health care providers for these centers. These centers are within a short distance to a full-service hospital should a delivery develop, complications. Many birthing centers are actually owned by the local hospital.

A nurse-midwife has attended both nursing school and midwifery training courses. A licensed midwife has been certified by the state of Oregon after passing a grueling test and assisting in a large number of births with experienced midwives. Oregon is fortunate to be one of 24 states in the U.S. that licenses midwives.

Midwife-operated birthing centers offer alternatives to prescription drugs throughout the pregnancy. Homeopathic medicine or Bach Flower Remedies are often available for sale at the front desk. In the waiting room, colorful informational flyers offer practical advice such as which daycare has overnight service (in case of an emergency), or how to apply ice bags to sore muscles for relief.

Herbal medicine is growing in popularity in Oregon. Most midwives travel with a bag of herbal tinctures in their car for emergencies. They find that herbs are inexpensive and easy to incorporate into every family’s lifestyle. Under a midwife’s advice, pregnant women drink raspberry tea to tone their uterus, chew ginger candy to control morning sickness or toss garlic in the stew pot to recharge their immune systems.

Many of these herbs have a long history of documented use. Women often find themselves using herbs that their grandmothers relied on for years. Nutritious old family recipes are coming out of the attic again. The result of this change is a growing body of families with increased health awareness.

Home Births

My youngest child was born in the home that my family still lives in. My midwife was convinced that I was an old pro at childbirth by this time and would probably be just fine with or without her help. She and I sat down together to discuss our birth plan a few months before the due date of my son. She had already done a thorough job of educating my older children on the upcoming birth process. Now it was my turn to visualize.

"Tell me how you want this birth to unfold. We’ll make it happen." I had never felt so empowered in all my life. True to her existential philosophy, the birth went according to plan. Too bad she wasn’t a gambling woman because she had even guessed the weight right.

Home births like my own are often attended by certified midwives or lay midwives. Lay midwives often have the same experience as licensed midwives but without the paperwork. Both may practice legally in Oregon. The midwife conducts prenatal visit in the home of the mother or in her own home or office. My own midwife was within walking distance of my house and my monthly visits were part of my regular exercise routine.

Midwives offer holistic services to newly expanding families. Nutrition, exercise and family support are all part of the job. For the midwife, the key to a successful birth is seeing to it that the mother feels confident that she is in charge of her own body and is making safe, educated choices for herself and her newborn. It is the midwife’s job to get to know the family and guide them towards a successful birth that is tailor-made to their lifestyle. No wonder the results of a 1998 CDC study showed that midwife assisted births resulted in a 19% lower rate of infant mortality than doctor-assisted births.

Even insurance companies, which are known for their conservative policies, are beginning to show support for natural childbirth techniques. Treating pregnant women as unhealthy women is an expensive process that has long-term consequences. Parents that are proactive in the healthcare of their unborn children are more likely to remain proactive throughout their lifetime. This means that costly health hazards such as childhood obesity is kept at bay for these families. All Oregonians benefit from healthy families and it all starts with a simple change in perspective.

Sue Sierralupé is a certified herbalist, master gardener and freelance writer living in Eugene, Oregon .

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