You are a mother. You are also a patient, or a client, depending on your care provider’s terminology. But, primarily, you are a consumer.
Most of us don’t think of maternity care in this way- deciding to pay a specific birthplace and provider, rather than just going to the place that’s cheapest or where your friends went. But primarily, you are purchasing a service, not merely sitting under nonnegotiable care.
I am not writing this to undermine trust in your provider, or to encourage being a “bad” patient who is never satisfied. However, I think that there is enough variance in opinions, management styles, and routines among qualified providers to say that it’s fair to search for one who jives the most with your ideals. Let’s look at some examples.
Hospitals & Birthing Centers- First, look at the time limitations of your hospital or birthing center. For example, our local hospital is the only one in about a 30-45 minute radius that provides maternity care, and only has 16 OB/GYNS who practice there, delivering around 3000 babies a year (at a 36.9% c-section rate). This means that this place is, in the words of several women I know who have birthed there, “a baby factory.” There is nothing wrong with choosing to have a baby there, but the implications of doing so must be considered. When there are literally not enough beds in the mother/baby unit and new moms are being made to share rooms with elderly men in the general sick patient area, you know that the hospital might be too busy. You know you won’t be receiving care from newborn nurses. You know there’s a possibility of exposing your newborn to strange germs. You know you will lack privacy. You know you will lack sufficient one-on-one care. Yes, this hospital has a good NICU, round-the-clock anesthesiologist and cesarean availability, and a history of generally good outcomes (by American hospital standards), but does the high number of healthy babies at the end justify the means of care in helping them arrive?
Let it be known that not all hospitals are like this. I attended one about 2 hours from me that was much less busy, had only a 21.6% c-section rate, was quiet and calm, and had enough staff that the nurses could pop in whenever mom wanted them. Which of these two hospitals would I rather pay for their services? Certainly the latter.
One must also consider monetary influences on practices. (Before I write this, you must know that I don’t think all doctors/hospitals only want more money! I really do believe that they DO care about their patient’s well being!) It is worth noting that c-section rates are notably higher at for-profit hospitals than at non-profit institutions. Check out this news story for one example of this disturbing trend.
Home Birth Midwives
Time and money are also considerations for your midwife, though not as frequently as a big organization. How much does she charge? Does this correspond to her training and experience? How many clients does she take on a month? What is her back-up plan if she has two women in labor at once? You must know the answers to these questions before you hire her for your birth.
When hiring a home birth midwife, I think the most important consideration is finding out if you are paying for a qualified provider. As much as I support home birth midwifery,you must remember that there are different breeds of midwife (CNM, CPM, and DEM), and there is currently no standard of certification for direct entry midwives. I’m not saying you shouldn’t hire one (my own midwife was direct entry), but you should make darn well sure that she is qualified to attend your birth before doing so. Find out her training and experience. Where and with whom did she complete her apprenticeship? Does she have references? Does she have a back-up doc?What is her hospital transfer rate, and what percentage is emergencies? What is her relationship to local hospitals? What are her maternal/infant/perinatal mortality rates, and for what reasons? How would she handle a hemorrhage? What equipment does she bring to a birth? Does she practice with legal integrity? I am not trying to scare anyone out of a home birth, but the safety of a home birth has been shown to depend upon the presence of a qualified attendant. Make sure that yours is.
Birth Philosophies– Remember, you are consuming services. Would you pay for a protestant pastoral education at a local college where the professors are Buddhist? Would you go to McDonald’s to purchase an organic beef hamburger? Would you go to the chiropractor’s office for heavy painkillers? No! Of course these are silly propositions.
Yet we do this over and over again when purchasing birth services. You might want a VBAC, but your provider’s successful VBAC rate is only 15%. “Too bad,” you say. “This is where our insurance takes us. I guess we’ll just work with it.” You have to think through how important your birth preferences are to you, and then choose (and sometimes actually pay for) a provider with a similar birth philosophy as you. You, the consumer, are responsible for picking a provider and birth place that support your desires. If you do not, then it shouldn’t be a surprise when things go differently than you’d hoped. Of course there are always aspects beyond your control, but you can make every effort within your power to ensure that you have purchased like-minded maternity care.
It has been said before that most people put more research into choosing a car or a stereo system than they do in choosing a care provider or birth place. Don’t let this statement be true of you. Make every effort to be an informed consumer.