The number of out-of-hospital births is rising nationwide, and women now have an option in Middle Georgia to give birth outside of a labor and delivery unit.
Georgia’s first physician-led, freestanding birth center opened last month in Forsyth, and it could help fill a growing gap in maternal and infant care statewide.
Executive Director Chelsia Ogletree said she hopes the ObGyne Birthing Center for Natural Deliveries will allow women from across the state, especially its rural areas, to access a range of pregnancy-related resources in one spot.
“The location is everything. The people here are everything,” Ogletree said. “The facility is state of the art, and we’re just ready to service these women in Middle Georgia and their families.”
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Between 1994 and 2014, 30 labor and delivery units closed across the state, mostly in rural communities where the next closest maternity ward could be 45 or more minutes away. More than half of primary care service areas outside of metro Atlanta are either overburdened or completely lacking in obstetric providers, the Georgia Maternal and Infant Health Research Group reported in 2015.
Birthing center deliveries are less likely to result in cesarean section, an invasive surgery with a six-week recovery.
Only 6 percent of women who go to a birth center undergo a C-section, compared to 32 percent of total births in the U.S., according to the American Association of Birth Centers. While the overall C-section rate has increased substantially since the 1990s, according to the CDC, it has consistently hovered between 4 and 6 percent at birth centers during the past two decades.
C-sections are more expensive than vaginal births, costing an average of $16,711 without insurance in Georgia compared to $12,448 for vaginal deliveries, according to health care watchdog organization FAIR Health.
Birth center vaginal deliveries typically cost less. The Forsyth center charges $5,000 for a delivery if the patient chooses self-pay, but also it accepts Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance.
What really sets birth centers apart, Ogletree said, is its home-like environment.
At the ObGyne Birthing Center for Natural Deliveries, each patient has a private room with a memory foam gel queen-size bed, a rocking chair draped with a fuzzy throw blanket, an en suite bathroom with a walk-in shower as well as an outdoor patio where the patient can get a breath of fresh air between contractions. One room also is equipped with a jacuzzi tub for patients who opt for a water delivery.
The goal at the natural delivery center is to deliver babies with as little medical intervention as possible. Patients will not receive an epidural or other pain medications, though they can get laughing gas to take the edge off their contractions.
Women who have a natural birth often recover more quickly, Ogletree said. They can breastfeed sooner than those who take pain medication, and they also face lower hemorrhaging risks.
“You have so many different advantages, really, to having a natural birth,” she said. “But, most importantly, you have a woman who is empowered with her birth, who is in control of her body, who has a say in how things go and can walk away from the birth experience without it having trauma.”
In a state with the third-highest maternal mortality rate in the nation, many mothers share horror stories about their own birth experiences or those they’ve heard from others, she said. A Warner Robins woman told The Telegraph last summer that she nearly died during childbirth, despite otherwise good health and a completely normal pregnancy.
Hospitals can customize deliveries
Some pregnant women have lost trust in hospitals, because they feel like their providers are not listening to them, said Dr. Patrice Walker, an OB-GYN at Navicent Health.
“In those cases, they really want to have that autonomy back,” Walker said. “They want to have choices. They want to have options. And sometimes, when they feel like they’re in, you know, a more traditional health care setting, that sometimes those options go away.”
Those women might not realize that hospitals also can offer customized touches to their patients’ deliveries, she said.
“We definitely try to honor patients’ wishes when it comes to the experience that they want to have in that setting,” Walker said. “Some women want certain scents and they want music and they want to use a birthing ball or a birthing tub, and we offer all those things in the hospital setting, too. So, sometimes it can be a matter of educating patients that you don’t necessarily have to go to a birthing center to have the experience that you want.”
The most important thing is to give expecting mothers all the necessary information they need to make an informed decision, she added.
Only women who meet an extensive health checklist can deliver at birth centers.
The Forsyth center is equipped with heart monitors, oxygen and resuscitation machines in case of an emergency. It is located across the street from the Monroe County Hospital, where ambulances can reach the center almost immediately, Ogletree said.
The American Association of Birth Centers reports that less than 1 percent of women who labor at birthing centers are transferred to hospitals for emergency reason.
Still, there’s always an added risk whenever someone delivers outside of a hospital, Walker said. It’s hard to anticipate who might need specialists or hospital-grade machines to avoid poor outcomes, even among healthy patients, she added.
“Birth is one of those things that can be unpredictable,” she said.
Dr. Bola Sogade, founder of the ObGyne Birthing Center, has worked with mothers in diverse settings around the world. The Nigerian-born OB-GYN has practiced at the high-volume King’s County Hospital in New York City and at health clinics in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Now based in Middle Georgia, the physician hopes to bring the lessons she’s learned in her 17 years as an OB-GYN to a state she said she thinks is facing a maternal care crisis.
Her birth center brings together physicians, midwives and doulas in one space where women can receive prenatal and postnatal care, as well as general well-woman care. It also offers preconception planning, breastfeeding support and support groups for both mothers and fathers.
The goal is to create a community that promotes maternal health, where women can come together to learn and empower one another.
“We want to bring it home. We want to make it local. We want to make it accessible,” Sogade said. “And that’s why we think it’s a first step. We’ve got to start somewhere.”
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member and reports for The Telegraph with support from the News/CoLab at Arizona State University. Follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/smax1996 and on Twitter @samanthaellimax. You can also join her Facebook group. Learn more about Report for America at www.reportforamerica.org.