by Kelly Wong McGrath

There is a common fear among parents who intend to have a birth center birth that if the birth doesn’t happen at the birth center this will be seen as a failure. This is a unique pressure faced only by those who set their intentions on an out-of-hospital birth. Those planning a hospital birth are unlikely to face feelings of failure if, for some reason, their baby is born before they arrive at the hospital (these happy accidents are even occasionally featured on the local news). 

Yet we, as midwives, understand that part of what makes out-of-hospital birth a safe option is the presence of hospital-based services when risk factors arise. Sometimes that means the best way to preserve the health and safety of birth is to change its setting. But what if, rather than assigning failure or success to the location of a birth, we treat ourselves with deep compassion and honor birth for its wild nature. We can no more tame birth than tame the trees in the wind. 

Recently, I attended the labor and birth of a dear client – a mother of two other children, a strong woman with a big heart, who overcame big hurdles to arrive at the birthday of her youngest child. When she and her team arrived at the birth center, I found that her blood pressure was significantly elevated. We measured again after several moments of rest, but her blood pressure remained stubbornly high. The writing was on the wall, we would have to transfer. 

We left the birth center and arrived at the hospital. She changed into a beautiful robe she had picked for the occasion. She labored peacefully, following her instincts to change positions, dancing at times to the sweet playlist she had made for her son’s journey earthside. I sat at her side, providing her with sips of water, offering her words of support, and witnessing her strength. 

And, as it happens with so many who have birthed a baby before, when her labor became active, a switch seemed to flip, and her tranquility burst open to reveal her ferocity. Her deep vocalizations seemed to make the hospital staff nervous as they bustled around the room – opening and closing drawers, setting up supplies, turning on lights. Her baby was close, the sensations were intense, and the room was feeling chaotic. To help her continue to maintain her strength and focus, I grabbed her and held her in a little cave, our heads pressed together, my words reassuring her that she was doing everything right. 

Moments later, her sweet son slipped out, wet and pink. He cried, she cried, I cried. 

When we reflected on her experience six weeks later, she admitted that she felt disappointed about not being able to birth at the birth center. She understood why her baby had to be born at the hospital, but she didn’t let that diminish the pride she felt. She birthed her baby with autonomy, openness, and strength – none of which was tied to the physical location of her baby’s birth. 

Many of us who chose out-of-hospital birth do so because we want to experience the wilds of birth and find the strength to cross that right of passage feeling empowered. As an out-of-hospital midwife, my hope is that our prenatal care helps you feel ready and open to that experience…no matter where it takes place.