Hope Forgey didn’t want a repeat of her first natural delivery, which involved a doctor she didn’t know, vacuum assistance and a third-degree tear from her vagina almost to her rectum.
“It was traumatizing,” she says.
After learning she was pregnant with her second child, Forgey, who wanted another natural birth because of her sensitivity to pain medications and anesthesia, decided to work with midwives.
Encouraged by Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) Jessica Anderson, senior instructor and associate service director for the Center for Midwifery at the CU College of Nursing and the other CNMs at the center, Forgey dove in. The more she thought about her previous delivery (she felt her best in the hospital bathtub) and the more she read, the more it made sense to have her second baby in the water.
Forgey is among the 75 women in the past year who delivered babies in an inflatable blue pool at the University of Colorado Hospital Center for Midwifery, the only hospital on the Front Range to offer hospital-based water birthing.
The hospital has been offering water births for the past 15 to 20 years, but when the Center for Midwifery opened in 2004 as a boutique midwifery practice promoting water births, more women began to see the appeal of easing their labor and delivery in the warm, calming waters of a pool.
“It’s a tool, not a mode of birth,” Anderson explains. “It’s a tool that may work out in labor for some women; some women change their mind; the mother may decide to get out, or we may decide for them that it’s not the safest place to birth. It’s an option, but it’s not right for everybody.”
Though water birthing is thought of as a New Age phenomenon, Janet Balaskas, natural childbirth advocate and author of the book Water Birth, has said there are accounts of South Pacific Islanders giving birth in warm shallow pools and stories of similar practices among the ancient Greeks and Egyptians.
It wasn’t until the 1960s, however, when Russian researcher Igor Tjarkovsky began helping women give birth in the water and filming them (he even studied women giving birth in the sea with dolphins present) that the idea began to take hold.
The benefits ascribed to it are akin to those associated with hot baths: reduced anxiety, less pain, lower heart rate and blood pressure. Plus research has shown a decreased risk of vaginal tearing.
“It’s a beautiful way to birth, very calm and peaceful,” Anderson says. “The transition from womb to water is similar, so babies don’t breathe until after you bring them out of the water. The babies are very calm.”
The process goes something like this: A large inflatable pool is set up in the birthing room and filled with tap water that’s about body temperature—98 to 100 degrees. The pool has soft walls, a seat and different water depths so the mom can change positions easily in the water. A nurse or certified nurse midwife regularly checks the baby’s heart rate and mom’s progress. When it comes time to deliver, the father or support person can remain at the side of the pool or join her in the water. The baby is born underwater, then brought to the surface by the midwife and placed in mom’s arms.
Critics of the procedure worry about safety and risks of infection. But the Center for Midwifery’s outcomes data over the past eight years, which Anderson hopes to publish soon, doesn’t bear that out. “We’ve seen it’s a safe option for women and babies.”
“My experience was just unbelievable,” Forgey says about her water birth. “I never felt like I was in the hospital. I would do it 10 more times compared to my first delivery. I loved every minute of it.”
And baby Arielle? “She loves to take baths,” Forgey says. “It may or may not have anything to do with the water birth, but you put her into the infant tub and her whole body relaxes and chills out. She feels very at home in the water.”
Editor's note: Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, Colo. has been providing a water birth option for the Western Slope since the 1990's.