If you are an expectant mother in South East London you may be trying to make the important decision of where to birth your baby. The Which? affiliated Birth Choice website is a very good place to start, but it is also helpful to have information from ‘real’ people.
Having completed the Nurturing Birth doula training course and as part of my continuing professional development I plan to tour the delivery suites (and labour wards if possible) of my local maternity hospitals. The first of these to submit to my scrutiny is Queen Elizabeth Hospital, near Woolwich Common in South East London.
The entrance to the hospital is quite attractive from a distance, with a large grassy space dotted with trees, but closer to it is unfortunately, despite very clear signage, a gathering spot for smokers and vapers. After ‘running the gauntlet’ it is very easy to find the Birth Centre on the first floor. It is adjacent to the labour wards, but these are not accessible by tours. I was welcomed into the delivery suite by a lovely midwife, Marnie, who took me to one of their 4 birth rooms. The room she showed me was brightly painted and well lit, with sunny yellow walls and a flower mural on the wall above the double bed. Yes, that’s right, a full size double bed! Marnie explained that the four rooms were each painted in a different floral shade, and named for the appropriate flower. The room was large and spacious, with plenty of space for a large birth pool and a birth chair with a supporting rope attached above. The Birth Centre was opened 2 years ago so it feels really clean and fresh. It was modelled on the Birth Centre at Lewisham hospital where they have 5 birth rooms, 3 of which have birth pools.
The Birth Centre can be used by women who have had a low risk pregnancy and are hoped to have an uncomplicated birth. The midwives are trained to triage women on arrival, and will encourage women to stay at home until they are in established labour. A doula would attend you at home from your first contractions and accompany you to the hospital, if that is where you have chosen to birth your baby. Upon arrival at the birth centre a women and her partner would stay in the same birth room throughout her labour until she and her baby are discharged, possibly as early as 6 hours after the birth if she has had a straightforward labour and delivery, has older children and is comfortable feeding her baby. Her partner may stay with her during that time in the same room, including overnight.
The birth room has a very ‘home from home’ feel. There is a large, wall mounted television, a sound system and a small sofa. There is no evidence of medical equipment, the resusitaire and other equipment are discretely hidden away in the ‘fitted wardrobe’ and there is a large storage closet with different sized birth balls, a birth stool and mats.
The Centre is entirely midwife led, and they are very focused on creating an environment where physiological birth has the greatest chance of happening. It felt like a place where a woman in labour would feel comfortable, calm and able to assume any birthing position she found helpful.