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Program Offers Women Drug-Free, All-Natural Childbirth

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Most women who give birth in the U.S. do so with the help of pain medication and other medical interventions. A program at UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest is devoted to helping women have an all-natural, drug-free birth. This month, the program celebrates its tenth anniversary.

— Most women who give birth in the U.S. do so with the help of pain medication and other medical interventions.

A program at UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest is devoted to helping women have an all-natural, drug-free birth. This month, the program celebrates its tenth anniversary.

At UCSD's Birth Center, another satisfied customer lies in a bed with her new baby.

A few hours earlier, Jean Ries was in the throes of labor. But unlike most other moms-to-be in the U.S., Ries didn't have pain medication, and she didn't have a drug to speed up her labor. Ries didn't even spend much time in bed.

"I didn't lie down at all," Ries says. "I'd like lie down once and I was totally uncomfortable. I pretty much was standing, and walking, and in a squat on the floor, took two showers, yeah, I mean I was all over the place.

Midwife Karen Perdian directs the Birth Center. She says in the typical labor and delivery unit, women are usually confined to bed. They're strapped up to a monitor.

In contrast, women who have babies in the Birth Center can pretty much call their own shots.

"She can be in whatever position works for her," says Perdian. "She can soak in the tub, get in the shower, eat and drink, move around, and as long as she is healthy, and the baby is fine and the labor is normal, we can sit back and allow her to have what she wants."

There are no doctors in the Birth Center. It's run by midwives and nurses. The center is the only hospital-based program of its kind on the west coast.

Midwife Karen Ruby Brown has worked at the center for six years. She says their philosophy is childbirth is a natural phenomenon. And pain is a normal part of it. Brown says people often confuse pain with suffering.

"And the pain of childbirth can be considered similarly to the pain of running a marathon, or the pain of climbing a tall mountain," Brown says. "There's a way in which the process of going through that work, integrates into the very being of the mom. And it creates a different kind of experience than someone who maybe took the tram to the top of the mountain."

Brown points out staff like to let labor take its course, without the aid of drugs. But that doesn't mean they just sit around and do nothing.

"If we notice a complication is happening and we need participation from mom and the nurse, we will shout out those orders," Brown points out. "We will instruct the nurses what to do, we will instruct the mom what to do. If a mom needs to for example change position to help get a stuck baby out, I will bark an order at her. I will say, get in the bed right now and bring your legs back."

If a woman's blood pressure goes to dangerous levels, or the baby's heart beat becomes worrisome, the mom will be taken down to the Labor and Delivery unit.

But by and large, most women who want to have an all-natural birth can do so.

A woman named Lupita breathes through her contractions as midwife Brown rubs her back. They walk around the hallway, then step into a private room. Lupita's mother, sister, and husband stand by.

Lupita sits on an exercise ball for a while, and finally gets on the bed.

And not a moment too soon.

"Waa, waa!" It's a girl.

Kelly Frederick had her first child in the Birth Center, and her second in the Labor and Delivery Unit.

She says having a baby in the Birth Center is more natural.

"It's treated as a normal occurrence, and it's treated as something that a woman is able to do on her own, and not as though being pregnant, there's something wrong with you," Frederick says. "There's nothing inadequate about a woman's body, and her ability to give birth to her baby."

Sometime over the next few months, the Birth Center will help bring its 3,000 baby into the world.

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