I visited the birth centre at the Princess Royal University Hospital (PRUH) in Orpington as part of their weekly guided tours for expectant parents. I called up beforehand to check whether it was okay for me as a DEFINITELY non pregnant person to come along, and whether I needed to book a slot, but was told just to turn up. The tours run weekly, on a Thursday evening at 7pm. We were asked to wait next to the Costa coffee outlet next to reception behind the main entrance.
The website states ‘There is limited parking on site and locally’, so I might have been late while I hunted for a parking spot, but in reality there was ample parking. I parked just adjacent to the main entrance and a kind staff member told me that there are never parking attendants checking at night when she saw me fumbling for change, so in fact I got there bang on 7pm. The group of people milling around waiting for the tour seemed very large, but when the midwife arrived and ushered us into the lift (immediately behind reception) we felt a smaller group.
The birth centre is on the 3rd floor and we entered through a set of double doors and down a corridor plastered with photographs of babies who had been born there. We were shown into one of the two larger birthing rooms. It had a birth pool, a convertible delivery bed, a sofa and a resusitaire station. The monitors on the wall behind the bed and the resusitaire were much more obvious than in the other two birth centres I have visited (Lewisham and QEH). The lighting was lowered, there was a lovely light floral smell in the air and there was a bubble lamp giving a relaxing and calming aura.
I saw birthing stools, additional pillows, mats and birth balls in the rooms available for couples to make use of during labour or afterwards. The midwife running the tour explained that the birth centre is for women who have had low risk pregnancies and who wish to birth their babies with as few interventions as possible. The birth centre has two larger rooms, with plumbed in birth pools, and four smaller rooms, though an inflatable pool may be set up in the largest of the four should both permanent pools be in use. When asked how many birth companions a woman may have, the midwife indicated the size of the room – large! – and explained that there isn’t really a limit as such, but that since birth is a private act where a woman may fare better without too large an audience she mightn’t want tooo many spectators! All of the rooms have an en-suite shower room. The midwife answered our questions about pain relief (they have TENS machines, Entonox (Gas and Air) plumbed in on both ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ sides of the room and can administer Pethidine) and length of stay (usually less than 24 hours, though can be as few as 6 hours).
After looking around the larger room we were shown one of the smaller rooms; it had a low couch rather than the delivery bed and a birthing stool. I also noticed the relaxing music and once more the pleasant smell throughout the Birth centre. On the wall between the two rooms there was a display board covered with laminated affirmations that women were invited to borrow. There is also a day room that’s well stocked with drinks and snacks for the labouring/ recovering women and their partners. The midwives that I met were particularly helpful and patient with all my questions!
After a mother births her baby in the birth centre she will either go home from the birth room if her stay is very short, or if she needs to/ wishes to stay longer she would be transferred to the postnatal ward, which is within the birth centre and has 4 curtained bays. Private rooms are available, should a woman wish for more privacy during her stay, which have a single bed, and are £200 per night.
The midwives in the birth centre were particularly lovely and patient with my questions (the birth centre was very quiet at the time of the tour, but they had had a busy day following which they’d had to clean and reset the rooms). They explained that the labour wards are on the same floor, the 3rd floor, and despite how it seems when you exit the lift they are connected by one corridor. Should a woman decide she wants an epidural or should intervention be necessary she can be transported to the labour ward in under 30 seconds. The midwife also explained that obstetricians or other doctors from the labour ward may be called in to the birth centre if necessary.
So, in conclusion, the Oasis Birth Centre has a similar ethos to the other birth centres I have visited though the rooms feel slightly more clinical due to the exposed equipment and medical-style bed but the staff are lovely and it smells and sounds relaxing and calming. Loved the communal affirmations too!