I have now had three babies in birth centers. While I believe home birth is a good option for some families, we chose a birth center for our three births and are so pleased with our experiences. Here are some of the factors we considered.
When I was pregnant for the first time, we lived in a suburb of Houston, TX. While the nearest hospital was only a few miles away from our house, with Houston traffic and congestion, it was a forty minute drive. The birth center, on the other hand, was near a hospital and since this was our first birth, that was a comfort to us. For some people, the opposite may be true - their home may be closer. It's a good idea to ask midwives what their transfer rate is and their usual plan in those cases.
We were also living in a rental home, so we did not feel a lot of sentimentality or attachment to the house. I can totally appreciate someone making their home a special, cozy place and wanting to use it to mark the place of their baby's birth. For us, the space was temporary and kind of set up that way. The same was true of our apartments and when we lived with family for a time - it just didn't feel like our home.
The birth center where our son was born was a pretty little house in a quiet, historic part of town. I actually loved the idea of getting to drive him by there one day when he is older to show him he was born there. The same is true of the birth center where babies #2 and #3 were born. It is such a special place to me and I hope that building is standing for a long time for them to visit. And if one of my kids decides to have a baby there one day, my heart might explode.
The second time we were planning a delivery, we had just moved into a house we purchased. There were boxes to go through and a long to-do list to make it feel more like our home. It was actually kind of stressful to think of trying to focus on labor with those tasks right in front of me. Not everyone would feel that way. I know some moms who would be happy to labor in their own space regardless of how put-together it seemed! But I'm the type of person who would want an empty sink and laundry basket when I went into labor, and since the nature of birth is so unpredictable, that could prove problematic. I might drive myself and my family nuts wanting to keep the house "birth-ready" for weeks.
At the birth center, the birth rooms were completely set up and prepared. Truthfully, they were much prettier and more relaxing than my own bedroom. Even if I had seen a mess, I wouldn't have been distracted by it because I knew it was not my responsibility.
The birth centers were also totally stocked and ready to facilitate birth. I did not have to put any thought or effort into making sure we had something we would need. The midwives were in their own space, had all their tools organized and worked around us without needing our direction to find anything.
The rooms also had much bigger bathrooms and deeper tubs than our homes had. Since I planned to labor in the water, that was really appealing to me. I ended up really using that comfort and the space around the tub for all my supporters.
This might seem an odd benefit - how much more private can you get than in your own home? That depends upon who else needs to be at your house while you are in labor. Some people choose home birth so that their older kids can be present, day or night and comfortable in their own space. I love that idea. But for families who do not envision their kids there, it might be easier to leave the kids at home with a family member or friend and go to a separate space.
I went back and forth on this. I wanted them to share the moment, but I also did not want to hold back moving or sounding like I needed to for fear of upsetting them. I knew for me, they could become a distraction.
Also, my parents live out of state, so I knew they had a place to stay without being in my birth space. When they and my in-laws came up to the birth center, there was a separate waiting area for them. It was nice to have them close, but with that division, so we could also have some privacy.
Wherever a woman chooses to birth, she should be safe, comfortable and supported. We have to be able to relax to progress, so the right place will vary person to person!