Pregnant Women Turn to Alternative, 'Personalized' Birthing Options

For home births to "laughing gas," more women are tailoring their deliveries.

ByJUJU CHANG, AUDE SOICHET and LAUREN EFFRON
March 03, 2015, 2:13 AM

— -- Giving birth is the most primal act in a woman’s life. And yet, modern medicine has turned birthing into a sterile, medical procedure, often performed in a hospital operating room.

But more and more women are rejecting the traditional hospital approach to delivery in favor of a more “personalized” birthing experience, with some literally going back to their primal roots by trekking into the wilderness to give birth.

"Born in the Wild” is a new reality TV show, which debuts on Lifetime on Tuesday at 10 p.m.. It features expectant mothers who chose to give birth outside in the woods. Peter and Audrey Bird, who live in Alaska and have two children and a third on the way, are featured on the show. They said they had a negative experience in the hospital with the birth of their 6-year-old son.

"My labor was full of fear," Audrey, 25, says on the show. "That's not something that I ever wanted to do again.”

So to welcome their daughter Piper, they decided to go into the great outdoors to give birth in a makeshift tent, with no medical professionals.

"I’m excited to have my baby outside in Alaska," Audrey said. "We’re surrounded by the lake, the trees, and the clouds, and the mountains. It’s absolutely breathtaking. We are about a hundred miles from the nearest road. No power lines run to the property, no phone lines, we don't have a sewer system. On this side of the lake, it’s just us. There’s no neighbors. There’s no other families nearby. So we are very isolated."

Practicing OBGYN and ABC News contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton said, while extreme, more women are taking control of their labor and delivery.

"I think there's no question we're certainly hearing a lot more about alternative births," Ashton said. "I think in large measure that comes because women are growing more and more dissatisfied with what’s being offered by their doctor, by their board certified OB or even in some cases by a certified nurse midwife, and it’s pushing them to seek out these more extreme birthing experiences."

In suburban New Jersey, Cheryl and Terrance Suydam decided to have all three of their children born at home.

With their third child, Cheryl planned to give birth in a tub set up in the family's living room, with two midwives and her husband on hand. In the final stages of labor, she decided instead to move to the family sofa, which had been covered in plastic. After 21 hours of labor, Cheryl delivered a healthy baby girl.

Throughout Suydam's delivery, the couple's two other kids, Livvy and Alex, who were ages 3 and 6 at the time, and even the family dog, freely walked in and out of the birthing room.

Out-of-hospital births are far from the norm. Only around 1 percent of births in the United States are done outside of a hospital, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The fact of the matter remains, that in obstetrics, there can be life and death, last minute emergencies that are unexpected, unanticipated, and if they occur outside of a safe hospital or birthing center setting can be disastrous for the mother or the baby," Ashton said.

But more U.S. hospitals are seeing the trend of mothers wanting options and now offer a variety of birthing experiences, including Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Jennifer Horn had her son Seth at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and although it was her third time giving birth, it was the first time she was able to watch her baby being born.

Horn had previously given birth to two children via C-section, but for her third child, she decided to try Vanderbilt’s “family-friendly” C-section option.

With a traditional C-section, the surgical drape stays up for the entire surgery and the mother is cut off from the birthing process. Afterwards, the baby is usually whisked away to be cleaned up. But with the "family-friendly" option at Vanderbilt, the baby is given to the mother immediately after birth, so she can cradle her newborn, skin-to-skin.

"Studies have shown that babies who have that contact with mom, that skin-to-skin in the first hour, have higher rates of breastfeeding, longitudinally, over time when you look at that three months, six months," said anesthesiologist Dr. Sarah Starr, who helped develop the policy at Vanderbilt.

With this option, the surgical drape still goes up on the mother's midsection during the surgery, but when it's time for the baby to come out, the doctor opens a window in the drape so that the mother can have the same view of her baby being born as a mom giving birth vaginally would.

"It's just like vaginal birth. You don't see anything down there, but you get to see the baby come out," Horn said.

In the same hospital, another mom-to-be named Glenna Kramer opted for a completely different type of delivery for her first child. She wanted to have natural childbirth, without an epidural or an obstetrician present. Instead she had a midwife and a nurse help her through the delivery.

To ease the pain, Glenna used a tub of hot water, an option not available to women attached to IVs, and she had nitrous oxide, more commonly known as "laughing gas," to help take the edge off.

"[The nitrous oxide] more or less served the purpose of calming me down and helping me relax and helping me cope with the pain rather than taking the pain away," she said.

In the end, Glenna was snuggling happy, healthy baby boy she had brought into the world by doing it her way.

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