By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
At once a throwback to times past and a possible glimpse of the future of childbirth, the Central Texas Birth Circle brings together expectant mothers who want to discuss options outside of traditional "medical" births.
"We've lost something that was taken away from us in taking birth out of homes," said circle founder Olivia Sporinsky, 34. "We're trying to reclaim something."
The group meets monthly at Killeen's Avanlee Birth & Maternity Center.
When Sporinksky started the group in August 2008, she said, "We started with four people in my living room." Today, the group averages about 20 guests per meeting, with more members participating in its social networking sites.
Meetings can be focused on planned topics such as "Babywearing 101" and VBACs, or vaginal births after cesareans, but the conversation can change based on mothers' - and even fathers' - moods and questions.
The group's members are as diverse as the greater Killeen area, but two common threads run through most: a kind of voracious appetite for birth literature, and less than desirable past experiences with medical births.
Lack of options
Sporinsky, a mother of three, became interested in natural childbirth after having her son in 2001. At a hospital in another state, she said, "It felt like I had no options. The hospital had a strict set of rules imposed, and I couldn't do the things that I felt would help me during pregnancy."
She wanted to walk around or change position to relieve discomfort during her 17-hour labor, but wasn't allowed, she said.
"If I had the instinct that I needed to move, they'd come in and be really irate with me because they had to adjust the monitor," she said.
She was encouraged to take painkillers, she said. "About every hour the nurse was coming in and pushing the epidural."
Sporinsky began reading about alternative birth options following that experience, she said, and hired a midwife for the birth of her second child. She saw the advantages of natural birth for her again when she and her active-duty Army husband had another child at a non-traditional hospital while stationed in Germany. After laboring for only about two hours with her second and third children, she was also able to hold them immediately.
"With my daughters, they were immediately skin-to-skin," she said. "My (firstborn) son was taken from me for four hours and that was really hard."
Those experiences inspired Sporinsky to become a certified labor doula, a kind of birth coach and intermediary between mother and doctor.
"I can recognize the things that maybe they don't realize they're experiencing or that they're getting ready to ask for," she said.
Sporinsky is a junior midwifery intern at Avanlee Birth & Maternity Center, which opened in 2006.
Jennifer Bennett is the Avanlee midwife at the center of the Central Texas Birth Circle.
Bennett is almost a human encyclopedia of all things labor. She can quote a 2005 British Medical Journal study of North American women that concluded natural births with certified professional midwives produced overwhelmingly satisfactory outcomes, then praise midwife, author and "birth guru" Ina May Gaskin in the same breath.
Bennett is a professional midwife certified by the North American Registry of Midwives and re-licenses with the state every two years. Becoming a midwife took about three years, she said.
Bennett is trained to monitor the pre- and post-natal health of the mother and baby like any other care provider. During birth she can administer intravenous therapy, oxygen, antihemorrhagic medication and infant CPR, and suture any tears afterward with a local anesthetic.
She doesn't administer epidurals or perform emergency Cesarean sections, but she has taken women who began their births naturally to the hospital for both.
"I'm not anti-epidural. I've taken a handful of women in for an epidural to save them from C-sections," she said. "It just shouldn't be used on every single person."
Bennett has transferred care for several women deemed at high risk to a traditional medical provider. Low-risk pregnancies usually delivery naturally with success, she said.
Most of the 200 births Bennett has attended have been at the birth center, while a small percentage have been home births. The center includes an examination room, two laboring rooms that look like bedrooms and a jacuzzi for water births. People often opt for the "natural epidural" that is water, she said.
But most of the time "a father and mother laboring together in a warm, dark room is more than enough. That's the kind of energy that got the baby in there, and it's going to get the baby out, too."
Bennett said practice has grown by about 20 percent each year since it opened, and there are two other midwives in the greater Killeen area.
Still, she said, she sometimes feels like, "I'm in a forest and all I can see are the trees."
One hundred years of conventional wisdom about hospital births is hard to change, she said.
Still, she sees progress.
Many private health insurance companies now pay for midwives, which are often less expensive than obstetrician.
Bennett charges $2,300 for labor and pre- and post-natal care at the center and $2,700 for home births. She charges less for labor-only services. TRICARE doesn't cover midwives, she said, but Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center employs certified nurse midwives to assist with births there.
Women are the greatest factor in the resurgence of natural births, and the democratization of information due to the Internet has helped.
"There's just so much information available to women now," she said.
Taking a different route
Expectant mother and birth circle member Sherita Smedley, 31, is a composition professor at Central Texas College who opted to deliver her third child naturally, following two unsatisfactory hospital births.
"I'm not going to lie and say I'm not nervous," she said. "(But) I have six months to get prepared mentally."
Her husband, who is stationed at Fort Hood, also wants a natural birth, she said, as the format promises to allow him a greater role during labor.
"We're reading different books and he wants to be more a part of the experience because he's a soldier and he's always gone a lot," she said.
Fort Hood spouse Stacy Hay, 25, gave birth to her second child, Monika, three months ago at Avanlee. She and her husband, Staff Sgt. Kenneth Hay, wanted to birth their first son, Caleb, naturally at a hospital in another state three years ago but were "hindered by hospital policy," she said.
"I was treated like I was an idiot, like 'We're doctors and we know best,'" she said. "I felt very defensive."
She doesn't remember much from the actual birth, she said, due to being given Demerol despite her objections.
In contrast, she said, Monika was born at Avanlee after just two hours of labor.
"They put her right on my chest, instead of putting paper down."
She was immediately alert, Kenneth said, in contrast to Caleb, who was still groggy from the painkillers.
"She was looking around and her eyes were open," he said. "When it came time to eat, she latched on immediately.
"Everything here moved so fast, I didn't even have time to catch."
Stacy and Kenneth credit the birth center's relaxed environment and Stacy's trust in her own body for the ease of the delivery.
"There's no need for people to intervene when it's just working the way its supposed to," she said. "It was awesome, and then it was over."
For more information on the Central Texas Birth Circle, go to facebook.com/centexbirthcircle or meetup.com/CenTex-Birth-Circle. The group's next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 20 at Avanlee, 811 S. W.S. Young Drive in Killeen.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.