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Meridian Park welcomes first baby born in water


Legacy hospital now offers water birth suite to expectant mothers

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Molly Simmons of Portland gave birth to daughter Georgia on Feb. 22 at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin. Simmons' was the first water birth ever performed at the hospital, which now offers a water birth suite. When Molly Simmons welcomed her daughter Georgia into the world on Feb. 22, she became the first mother to opt for a water birth at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center.

Simmons’ delivery went smoothly, although she recalled that neighboring patients had been warned there was a natural birth taking place next door — in case they should hear Simmons’ cries of pain.

But Simmons was fairly quiet, and said her labor took just over two hours.

“I don’t think I would have (the childbirth experience) out of the water, if that was my choice,” said Simmons, whose first birth was more conventional by the standards of modern medicine. Simmons had bad memories of an epidural that never seemed to kick in all the way.

The second time around, she worked with certified midwife Renee Beninger, who has attended more than 50 water births with no complications.

“I would follow her to the ends of the earth,” Simmons said of Beninger. “I would go anywhere she goes, which is the hospital. And I’m not really a home birth sort of person.”

Beninger described the birth as “fast and peaceful.”

“Everything went as fluid as possible,” she said. “It was textbook.”

Beninger came to midwifery while she was studying to become a nurse practitioner. After what she described as the “very cold medical experience” of her first child’s birth, Beninger decided to focus her studies on midwifery.

“Nurse midwives, like the midwives who deliver at Legacy Meridian, are educated in medicine and midwifery,” Beninger explained. “So we bring western medicine skills and the art of midwifery when things are normal, because birth and body processes are normal — they don’t necessarily need to be looked at as a medical issue.”

“We look at it as a wellness model, not an illness model,” she added.

Balancing safety, legal concerns

The water birth suite at Meridian Park provides a happy medium between hospital birth and home birth, two often divisive camps.

Beninger points out the distinct differences between certified nurse midwives and what are commonly known as direct-entry midwives — a contrast that is now being debated in the state Legislature. Oregon is one of few states that does not currently require licenses of midwives wishing to practice in the state. Direct-entry midwives specialize in home birth but often have less conventional medical training.

The Legislature is currently considering House Bill 2997, which would require licenses of all midwives.

The wording of the bill acknowledges home birth as a valid medical choice, but emphasizes the state’s need to regulate the practice of midwifery in the interest of public safety.

Under HB 2997, licensing exams would test applicants’ knowledge base on a variety of topics, including anatomy, mechanisms of labor, pathology in childbirth, aseptic techniques and postpartum care. Qualified applicants would be required to have already assisted in a minimum of 25 births, 25 newborn exams and 40 prenatal exams.

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Molly Simmons of Portland with newborn daughter, Georgia, and 3-year-old daughter Francis. Simmons gave birth to Georgia Feb. 22, and was the first patient to have a water birth at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin.The bill provides exceptions for health care practitioners who already hold a relevant license. There are also possible exceptions for midwives practicing within a specific religious or cultural tradition, but such exceptions would be subject to the discretion of the State Board of Direct Entry Midwifery.

HB 2997 is supported by state Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn).

On March 15, certified nurse midwife Judith Rooks testified to the Legislature about the dangers presented by Oregon’s current lack of regulation among direct-entry midwives. Presenting 2012 data on fetal and newborn deaths among both out-of-hospital and in-hospital births, Rooks concluded that the total mortality rate associated with out-of-hospital births attended by direct-entry midwives was six to eight times higher than the infant mortality rate associated with hospital births.

Rooks stated that in some parts of North America — namely, British Columbia — out-of-hospital births were considered to be as safe or safer than hospital births. But in Oregon, where the designation of “direct-entry midwife” can include practitioners who are trained only in self-study, Rooks said this was not the case.

by: JAIME VALDEZ - The new water birth suite at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin offers expectant mothers the option to deliver via water birth with a certified nurse midwife. The first water birth was performed there Feb. 22.

Watery birth

The practice of water birth is popular throughout the world, but has been largely viewed as an alternative approach in the United States, where it is most common in a home birth setting. After contractions begin but before labor, expectant mothers are encouraged to soothe themselves in a hot tub, bathtub or shower. At the onset of labor, the mother will soak in a tub that is set to body temperature, where infants are born submerged.

Beninger explained that infants move from the warm, watery environment of the womb and transition easily into the comparable atmosphere of the tub.

“They are not triggered to breathe until they come out of the water and cooler air hits their face,” Beninger said.

Water birth proponents argue that incorporating water puts expectant mothers at ease by promoting relaxation and by easing the burden on a woman’s muscles. They also believe that using labor tubs improves blood flow.

“When people are sick, they like to get in the bath to feel better. It’s the same feeling for water births. It helps the discomfort,” said Beninger, a mother of three.

There is a clear distinction between nurse midwives and midwives who come from a more holistic model, she explained. Nurse midwives can reasonably manage expectant mothers who present up to a moderately risky pregnancy, Beninger said. Beninger herself only assists water births in a hospital setting.

But, Beninger added, every expectant mother can benefit from working with a midwife. In the cases of high-risk pregnancies, nurse midwives can collaborate with perinatologists to help manage their patients, she said.

To accommodate the option of water birth, Meridian Park provides a hot tub, as well as a Birth Tub in a Box brand labor tub, in the hospital’s birthing center. There is only a single water birth suite — for now.

Beninger confirmed that she was working with several expectant mothers who are looking forward to having their water birth experience at Meridian Park.

Currently, one doctor and three nurse midwives are credentialed and able to attend water births at the medical center.

“Now people can still have a midwife experience in a hospital setting, which I think is the safest,” Beninger said.

View House Bill 2997.