Friday, November 4, 2011

A Night on the Town: My First L&D Hospital Tour

How to tell a true birth junkie: Her idea of "fun" is to sign up for a hospital labor & delivery tour.

And boy, did I have fun! It was great!

Here goes:

We live within a stone's throw (that is, a 10 minute drive) of three hospitals, but I have always had a preference for Mercy Gilbert. For one thing, it's absolutely beautiful (and new!); for another thing, it gets consistently great reviews from both mothers and care providers that I speak to. I think I've only heard one bad review of Mercy Gilbert, which is not too bad.

Being that we had tentatively chosen Mercy Gilbert as our transport hospital, and that I thought an L&D tour would be a ton of fun, I signed up for a tour, and after two reschedulings, last night was finally the night. Here's how it went!

Mine was an evening tour, and I arrived at about dusk. I was again struck with the hospital's beauty as I drove up - gorgeous architecture and exterior lighting, and I loved the statues (of Catholic sisters or priests) in front.

I also love that MG is a smaller hospital - over the past year I have grown used to the huge, institutional-type hospitals (St. Jo's, Phoenix Children's, Chandler Regional, etc.), and I always find their size to be off-putting. I love the smallness and intimacy of Mercy.

I should also note that, on a personal level, I love the fact that Mercy is a Catholic hospital. I have found that my views on life ethics line up almost 100% with orthodox Catholic views, and that makes me much more comfortable as a patient. I would not want to birth in a hospital where babies were being killed in abortions, as is unfortunately the case in most non-Catholic hospitals. My preference on that point is decidedly in favor of Catholic institutions - I feel much more comfortable and secure knowing that both I and my baby will be cared for under ethical principles that I value.

Moving on!

The first thing that struck me while walking up to the front doors was one of the most amazing things I've ever heard - absolutely thunderous birdsong! There were hundreds of tiny birds in their palm trees, and the noise that they made was deafening. Such beauty! I loved it. What a way to add to the atmosphere.

The inside of the hospital was similarly gorgeous and beautifully done. I was extremely impressed - especially as I have grown used to hospital exteriors that resemble cement blocks and hospital interiors that are grungy and unpleasant. This was such a refreshing change. It felt like a refuge or a resort.

The tour guide told me later that Mercy Gilbert has been designated a "healing hospital" - that is, everything about the decor and ambiance (interior design, color schemes, lighting, architecture, plants, etc.) was designed specifically to promote peace and healing. I can attest to the efficacy of their design! I so wish that other hospitals would take that idea into consideration in their plans. It makes such a difference.

When I got to the birth center, I signed in and sat down to wait. The tour consisted of myself and six other couples (five married couples and one seemingly mother-daughter couple). I had wondered if there would be introductions or group interactions ("Okay, everyone, tell your names and when you're due," etc. etc. etc.), but there was none of that. I suppose with a 30 minute tour, there just wasn't time!

Our tour guide was very sweet. She was not a nurse, but a hospital childbirth educator, and she told us that there were some questions that she wouldn't be able to answer but that she would get a nurse to answer those questions (nothing like that came up).

Our tour consisted of going through or by:

- An LDR (labor delivery recovery) room, showing off all the various assets. She mentioned their new labor tub (not birth tub, unfortunately) and the fact that several more are hopefully on order.

- A postpartum room

- The cesarean suite (they have two operating rooms).

- The newborn nursery (they have the capacity to care for newborns 32 weeks and above, so any micro-preemies would have to transfer to another hospital). One thing I loved was the guide's description of Mercy's emphasis on "couplet care" - the practice of keeping the mother and baby together as much as possible, both right after the birth and during the postpartum period - as opposed to routine separation. She emphasized that the nursery was only for babies who really needed extra care or by specific parental request - otherwise, mothers and babies are kept together. Great job on that one!!

- The anesthesia lounge (a room filled with needles, drugs, etc.).

Everything was beautiful and functional, and I was really impressed. It's the first time I've looked critically at an L&D unit. I have only been on an L&D floor twice before, and both times were before I had children and before I became a birth junkie (or indeed, knew anything about birth). It was fascinating to get to see it from the perspective of now knowing a wee bit (though not much) about childbirth.

The only thing there that made me go "eww, yuck!" (beside the squeamishness of the anesthesia room) was the sight of hospital housekeeping carts. For some reason, those always give me the shivers! I have no idea why - doubtless some past association that I've forgotten. But other than that, there was very little of that yucky "hospital" feeling. They really have done a great job.

Two things that I found upsetting/negative:

- A blanket statement that "when you are admitted, you will not be able to eat any more." Apparently Mercy still has a blanket "NO" on mothers eating during labor, despite the fact that the studies showing no harm from intrapartum food consumption are now more than a year old. Very disappointing. I wonder if there is any variation among nurses on enforcing this practice? I hope so! (I think a friend told me that there was.) This is one archaic practice that needs to go. In the meantime, mamas - make sure to bring your own food just in case!

Also, she mentioned that - after the food ban - the decision of whether or not a laboring mother would be allowed clear fluids or would be NPO ("non per os," or nothing by mouth, meaning only IV fluids) would be up to the mother's doctor. Really? Seriously? There are still doctors practicing NPO for laboring mothers? Please, tell me it ain't so!! I find this so incredibly disappointing to hear. (Better take your own drinks, too!)

- Also, I found it discouraging how many decisions were left to the doctor rather than the mother (or mother and doctor jointly). When will I be released from the hospital? "That's up to your doctor." Do you routinely practice delayed cord clamping? (My question.) "That's up to your doctor." I found the lack of patient autonomy to be discouraging. (Though she probably had to say that.)

But other than that, I loved Mercy Gilbert, I had a great time on the tour (I wish it had been longer!) and I am confident that it will be a great transport location should we need it (praying that we don't!).

Of course, as with any hospital, the care that one receives depends primarily on one's midwife or doctor and on the nurses that one gets. I'm very thankful that our midwife has several great groups of hospital care practitioners with whom she works in transport cases so that we are sure of good care once we get to the hospital, should the need arise.

After the tour, I stayed behind and thanked the guide for her time. She asked me if I planned to birth at Mercy, and I told her that we have our babies at home but that Mercy would be our transport hospital, and she was very sweet. Afterwards, one of the women on the tour told me that she had had all of her babies at home (a long time ago) and was very enthusiastic about our plans. 

And there you have it! Maybe I'll do another hospital for fun sometime, to compare, but for now, this was a great start. I loved Mercy Gilbert! Thanks for a great tour, and congratulations on all the wonderful work you are doing to promote a healing atmosphere, provide water-labor capacities, and serve the birthing women of our community!


  1. The food/drinking thing wasn't enforced with me at all until they knew I was going for surgery. Then, they absolutely wouldn't budge. But before that, all I told them was that "Dr. L said it was ok" and they all, universally said, "ok."

  2. Oh, I also know that several things we were told on the tour just aren't true anymore. I think they don't update their guides very often.


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