I don't believe the birthing women of San Luis Obispo have a clue how lucky they are. Even many of the women working in our birth community don't know how lucky we are. We are so busy being in the here and now of our little corner of the world we assume this is how it has always been, this is how it is everywhere. Those of us working in the "alternative" birth community often see only the negatives. Guess what? Your perception is wrong. There are so many positives going on every day in our community. There is constant movement toward making births better for all women and their babies.
This was brought home to me in a very powerful and personal way the first time I attended a birth outside of our community. Being with my sister-in-law as she birthed at a hospital in Berkeley was an eye opening experience. A few years later attending another sister-in-law in Nevada taught me to treasure our hospitals and the people working in them. I can't tell you how grateful I am to be working as a doula in SLO.
So let's focus on the positives please! Here is a list:
Twenty years ago when I had my son if your baby was born in need of serious medical attention he was flown by helicopter to Stanford. Moms, dads and babies were separated until the mom was recovered enough from the birth to drive up to the Bay Area. Then the staff at Sierra Vista got together and created our local NICU. This was a huge project which now benefits women, babies and families in our community every day. Now if you are a high risk mom or have a high risk baby you have a place to go close to home and the support of family and friends.
When it became clear to everyone that General Hospital was probably going to no longer be funded by the county French Hospital stepped up to fill the gap. General had always been the low-tech family friendly hospital. French Hospital with it's small size and supportive staff is an excellent hospital for women going for a less medicalized birth approach.
Not too many years ago the best we could do for using water as a pain relief method was a shower. Now we have labor tubs at all three county hospitals where women can seek pain relief without the use of narcotics and needles. Want to birth in water? You can rent a tub and birth at home with one of our skilled homebirth midwives.
Fifteen years ago when a friend needed a specialized ultrasound done to check out the chambers of her baby's heart she had to travel to the Bay Area. Now for women who need specialized monitoring of their pregnancy we have qualified perinatologists with ultrasound capabilities far beyond what we once had.
We have lots of OB doctors with lots of different personalities and philosophies and styles to choose from. If you want to use a midwife instead we have an ever growing choice. There is something for every woman on the menu. Want to birth in the hospital but with a midwife? Guess what? We currently have two different certified midwifery groups working with two different doctors. Don't want to go to the hospital? We have two different licensed midwives to choose from and by this time next year we should have several new midwives joining their ranks.
Don't feel comfortable either birthing at home or in the hospital? Guess what? We have an out-of-hospital birth center currently under construction. It is due to be open for women with December due dates. Watch their progress on facebook.
I remember when your only choice for birth education was to take Lamaze at the hospital or Bradley outside the hospital. Now you can choose from these as well as Informed Birth & Parenting, Hypnobirthing, Birth Works or Birthing from Within. There is something for everyone from over the grade to the south county.
We have many other support groups and professionals for new parents in our area. Need free breastfeeding help? Call the Warm Line at 541-BABY. Want a breastfeeding support group? Try our local La Leche League meetings. Speaking of breastfeeding; we have excellent lactation consultants working in and out of our hospitals. Need postpartum support and counseling? Call the Postpartum Hot line at 549-7786. Need a shoulder to cry on about a negative birth experience? Go to one of our ICAN meetings. We have mommy support networks both on line and in person such as SLO County Mommies. We have parenting classes through Parent Participation throughout the county or Andrea Herron's Growing with Baby.
Considering using a doula at your birth? Go to the resource guide at the Birth & Baby Resource Network: wwwbbrn.org. We have a whole list of doulas working in the community and new ones getting trained all the time. The perfect match to your personality and belief system is just waiting for you.
As a doula these last items are the most important to me.
When the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists created new rules which required anesthesiologists standing by for a woman to be "allowed" to go for a vaginal birth after a previous c-section Sierra Vista stepped up and did what was necessary to make that happen for our community. Guess what? We have the only hospital for hundreds of miles that will do v-bacs. I recently had a client who moved back here from Santa Barbara just to be able to successfully v-bac!
Need a c-section? Our hospitals are actively working to create them to be as family friendly as possible given their staffing and geography restraints. They are trying to keep moms, dads, and babies together as much as possible. And guess what? Usually your doula, as well as your husband, can be with you during the entire process.
Last I would like to speak about the relationships with the hospital staff and doulas in our community. It has been many years since I was introduced at a birth as a doula and felt open hostility from the nurses. Now the staff has grown in their understanding and acceptance of the value of doulas within the hospital setting so much that I have even been paired with new nurses so they could be part of a "natural" birth. I would like to also say that anytime I have had doula clients with special needs or situations in preparing for their births both Marie Chaney, Maternal Child Assistant Director, at Sierra Vista and Charley Ault, OB Nurse Manager, at French took the time to speak with them and did their best to accommodate their needs and desires.
So within SLO town the picture looks pretty rosy but step outside this box and the picture gets ugly fast. There are hospitals that won't "allow" doulas to be present at births. They also don't "allow" birth plans or want couples who have taken classes which encourage natural unmedicated births. As a doula I have run into open hostility, been excluded from c-sections, had my client's pre-arranged wishes for their births ignored and witnessed verbal disrespect bordering on abuse of a mom preparing for a cesarean birth.
So thank you to all the women over the years who have tried to make this community more mother/baby friendly. A mountain of sand can be moved one grain at a time.
To read more about life outside our bubble go to A Sign on the Door.