In 1999, I discovered I was pregnant with my first child. I was young, just 25 years old, and only a year into my marriage. I was determined to have a great first experience and I wanted my birthing experience to be different from the stories I had heard from my friends and family. Most of my family members had numerous difficulties especially with gestational diabetes or tales of being hooked up to heart monitors and fetal monitors. I started by going the non-traditional route and found a birthing center at Mount Sinai West hospital. I was determined to have a healthy prenatal experience and pregnancy.
The Birthing Center at Mount Sinai West was established in 1996 and offered all the freedom and comfort of a home birth while ensuring that total medical support is standing by just a floor away. The birthing center rooms were homelike and beautiful, complete with hardwood floors, spa-sized jacuzzi, and shower. Women were encouraged to manage their labor in the way that helps them most. Most women labor in a hydrotherapy tub and give birth in bed.
To use the birthing center, an obstetrician or midwife must agree to perform the delivery there. She or he must also evaluate a patient’s medical situation, and state that they are low-risk and qualified to use the center. This step of being medically cleared by your midwife or OBGYN is important since epidural anesthesia cannot be given in the birthing center, all other pain relief options are available. In case of difficulties that may arise during labor and delivery, the birthing center is only a floor away from the latest equipment and the most highly trained maternal-fetal medicine specialists.
My favorite opportunity was that there were no restrictions on the number or age of supporters that may share this experience with you. So present for my birth was my husband, brother, and mom. My dad and husband’s family waited in the family room. I gave birth with soothing music, water therapy whenever I was feeling contractions and I was allowed to eat which is prohibited in many other American hospitals. It was a very nurturing environment to bring my first child, Kai. I was lucky to have this type of first birthing experience.
Unlike my birthing experience, some women in Japan have their birthing experience at home. Although currently 95% of Japanese women now give birth in hospital settings, back in 1950’s many Japanese women gave birth at home (Misago 2000). There are still about 300 birth houses that are utilized by Japanese families as a way to continue the tradition of home births. According to Misago (2000), the birthing house follows a principle of pursuing the fulfillment and empowerment of both women and staff. At these birthing houses, every woman is respected as an individual, and staff midwives fully commit themselves to accepting each woman as she is and is fully trained to assist in birthing experiences. The midwives provide continuous care and emotional and psychological support during pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum are the essential components. “Since 1974, the house has handled 998 births of which only 14% needed to be referred to hospitals. No maternal deaths or neonatal deaths have occurred during this period” (Misago 2000). In addition, many mothers reported a less stressful environment and a sense of confidence and strength in the way they delivered.
Although the home births in Japan and my American experience are very different regarding the setting and the method in which they were conducted, I believe that the goal was very much the same. The goal in both methods is to have a natural, stress-free experience for the mother and the child. I believe that if the start of child’s development is stress-free, loving, and calm their existence at birth will be less stressful which will help the infant quickly recover from their initial birth experience.
Misago, C., Umenai, T., Noguchi, M., Mori, T., & Mori, T. (2000). Satisfying birthing experiences in Japan. Lancet (London, England