When Ashland Community Hospital opened at its current location in 1961, the delivery of a child was treated as a surgery &

with separate rooms for labor, delivery and recovery.

In the 1970s many began to consider the experience of the child in the birthing process and a movement began that would promote a more natural approach: one that emphasizes the mother's relaxation and, if possible, a drug-free birth. Because the hospital's standard practice did not take these factors into consideration, people started giving birth at home, a practice which, rather ironically, was only considered by those who could not afford to go to the hospital in previous decades.

Many of Ashland Community Hospital's more progressive physicians attended these home births and, along with the nursing staff, lobbied the hospital to open an alternative birth center, the first of its kind in Oregon.

"We just wanted to become more family-centered," says Sheila Horton, a registered nurse at the hospital since 1977, when the Alternative Birth Center opened. "We wanted to give those moms and dads that were looking for home births that same experience here."

The birth center's facilities now resemble private hotel rooms and include a television, refrigerator, large bay window seat with a courtyard view and a bed that can be adjusted to almost any position and will even accommodate a labor bar. Emergency equipment and monitors are hidden from view yet available if necessary.

A whirlpool labor tub was installed in the 1980s to help with relaxation and reduce both the total labor time and the use of pain medication. Dr. Jani Rollins performed the first water birth in Southern Oregon at the hospital, a technique which is a primary example of the birth center's focus on personal choice for the mother.

"We traditionally used [the whirlpool tub] a lot, for people in labor," says Dr. Rollins. "Eventually some patients were so comfortable that they just didn't want to get out &

so, we let them stay and birth in the water. After we had done that a few times we did some research, got a delivery tub and decided that this was a program that we'd like to offer formally."

Including Rollins, there are currently four doctors that perform water birthing at the center.

Besides doctors and nurses, the hospital also employs a staff of doulas, experienced child birth coaches who provide emotional support to mothers-to-be. The program was originally implemented to help Spanish-speaking residents feel more comfortable in their delivery but was expanded to be offered as a free service to any expectant mother.

"It's really an incredible service," says Rollins. "It represents how strongly we feel about supporting women in their choices and helping them to achieve the delivery they'd like to have. The fact that the hospital pays for this service says two things: that they support us &

the physicians working there &

and what we want, and also that they're supportive of our community and the people who choose to deliver with us."

As a testament to the job that the birth center has done in creating a comfortable home-like environment, Sheila Horton says that these "transports," as they are termed, are generally happy, even in these often traumatic situations, with their experience.

"I think they're surprised that they have what they want," she says. "That all those things they are concerned about are honored. We've had people who have chosen to sleep on the floor, on special bedding, so we move out the bed. We really try to meet their wishes."

An important aspect of their choice-centered approach is that they allow mothers to create their own birth plan, which allows the mother to state clearly how she would like the birth, if possible, to proceed. This can include anything from a planned C-section to a medication-free birth in candlelight.

The birth center's staff understands the importance of mother-child bonding and allows the maximum possible time for the mother and infant to be together immediately after the birth and will even let the infant breastfeed during the final stages of a C-section.

Thirty years after the creation of Oregon's first alternative birth center, its nurses and physicians are still at the forefront of birthing trends and technologies. After finely tuning their approach for three decades, the next step in the eyes of many is to create a larger facility so that even more Rogue Valley residents can benefit from this unique community asset.

is the father of an Ashland Community Hospital water-birthed baby girl and can be reached at graysonberry@gmail.com.