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El Paso offers holistic approach to childbirth

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EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Most women in the United States — about 99 percent, according to one study — plan for a hospital birth.

But some mothers are trending away from the sterile hallways of their local medical facilities to labor and deliver in the comfort of a birthing center — or their own homes.

That's what Emily and Vito Cancellare decided to do.

On Dec. 26, Leo Cancellare was brought into this world in a tub of warm water at The Retreat birthing center in El Paso.

"We educated ourselves on what our options were," Emily told the El Paso Times ( "I knew that if there was an alternative to a hospital birth, we would take advantage of that because there is a little more freedom in the decision-making process that would be respected more in a birthing center."

The Cancellares decided on a birthing center to avoid unnecessary medical interventions and drugs.

"Emily was 100 percent in all the way," Vito said. "My wife is a very, very powerful woman. She is strong, she is confident. A lot people view a pregnancy as a condition, she viewed it as something natural. This is what she was built for. Women have been doing this for millennia."

The number of babies born in birth centers run by midwives has jumped from 56 percent since 2007 to about 16,000, while total U.S. births have dropped nearly 10 percent in the same time, according to federal data.

Lynn Arnold, founder and administrator of The Retreat, said they are providing a support system for women looking for a holistic approach to childbirth.

"I don't care who or where you birth with, but I want you to be educated, I want you to have a support system and I want you to come out of your birth experience without feeling birth trauma or postpartum depression or any of those things," Arnold said. "And if you do, we have counseling for that, too."

There have been eight births since The Retreat opened in September. Three more births are planned for January and seven more in February.

"There's another birthing center called Maternidad La Luz," Arnold said. "That was set up like Casa de Nacimiento, which serves women of Juarez on this side of the border. Our women here tend to be military wives, professionals, upper-middle class Americans. Predominantly, we are serving El Paso women and some Las Cruces women as well."

Birth centers are covered by many insurers the same way a traditional hospital birth is covered. Since the length of the mom's and baby's stay in a birth center is so much shorter — hours instead of days -- and does not involve doctors or anesthesia, the costs of a normal delivery are about half those in a hospital.

"Think of it like a hospital where you go in and pay the hospital and then you pay your doctor separately. It's kind of the same way here," Arnold said. "If you are coming in at a full cash pay, its $1,500 to $2,000. Your midwife depends on what her individual fees are. For example, I'm the most expensive one here at $3,500. There are two other midwives at $3,000, and then there are newly licensed midwives at $1,500 to $2,000."

The center provides many services, including breast-feeding support, yoga, music therapy and counseling.

"It's a back-to-basic birth," said Lety Knight, a childbirth educator and doula. "Natural birth and birth centers get labeled as being trendy or something new, but in reality, home births, and being surrounded by midwives and other supportive people who know natural birth, have been around since the beginning of mankind. Hospital births are less than 100 years old."

A doula is also known as a birth companion and post-birth supporter, who is a non-medical person who assists women before, during and after childbirth.

"Knowledge is power," Knight said. "The more you know, the better you're going to be prepared and the more confident you are going to feel. It's nice to have your baby in familiar surroundings, where you know the people, you are comfortable and you know who is coming in because you've worked with them throughout the pregnancy."

Jamie and Mark Ziegenfuss said they wanted flexibility to have the birth they wanted.

"That was very important to me," Jamie said. "I have many friends who had really downright horrible experiences in hospitals. I'm not bashing anyone who decides to or needs to go to a hospital, but in an uncomplicated birth, there is no reason why a mother should not be able to have her child where she chooses to."

Their baby Athena was born at The Retreat on Dec. 25.

"I wanted a birth that was unmedicated and make choices that I wanted to have without opposition. I was able to do that here," she said. "It was a very easy birth, I couldn't ask for a better experience. Lynn and the entire staff were very supportive and right by my side the entire time."

Amissa Metcalf, a doula, childhood educator and yoga instructor at the center, said the team and personalized concept of The Retreat is what makes the center special.

"We realize this is a special experience. But, it's not just a physical experience, it's an emotional experience and it's a mental experience," she said. "This is designed to support all of that in one place. The birth experience is an amazing event every time."

Vito Cancellare said being part of the birth experience is something he will always remember.

"Emily was going to carry the baby for nine months, so I wanted to do whatever I could to make the birthing experience a positive one," he said. "I didn't want to be the goofy sitcom dad who didn't know what to do."

He said it was a positive experience for him, too.

"I brought my son into this world," he said. "I was the first person to touch Leo as he came into this world. Emily was in the tub, I saw his head and I jumped right in there. It was amazing to watch; I was in awe. It is something I'll never forget."


Information from: El Paso Times,

Editor's note: This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the El Paso Times.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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