"The Walk of Shame"... and Other Myths About Spectrum's Natural Birthing Rooms

September 7, 2017

It was October of 2016 when Spectrum Health Butterworth opened it's first natural birthing suite. A second suite became available for use in December and since then, hospital staff tell us 74 babies have been born in these rooms!


Considering the hospital is the birthplace of about 8,000 babies annually, these special rooms have been used by very, very few women in the Grand Rapids area.


As we work with our clients, especially during early pregnancy when they are making their choices about where they will birth, and who will catch their baby, we've heard some interesting rumors about these rooms! Because we believe in women, and believe they make the best choices for their families when given accurate and credible information, we're here to bust some myths about these rooms!


MYTH #7: You have to take a class, and therefore extra time out of your day, to be approved to use the room. Not anymore! At conception of the rooms, it was required that an in-person tour and "class" needed to be completed to be able to use the room. Since then, Spectrum has added the option of just watching an orientation video in lieu of the class. Watch it here.


MYTH #6: Apart from a cold wash cloth and a stick to bite on, your pain relief options are zilch. Women utilizing the low-interventions rooms have goals of just that: LOW-intervention. While an epidural is not an option in these rooms, IV pain medications, like Stadol, as well as Nitrous Oxide are available. The option of hydrotherapy is available in the jetted tub, as well as sterile water papules, depending on your provider. Other non-medicated pain relief options you can use in the rooms include your own aromatherapy and/or essential oils, your doula, a rebozo, massage, counter pressure, visualization and meditation. In the picture to the left, Andrea Gunnett uses a rebozo and gets some hip pressure from GR Doulas' Megan Michelotti during a contraction. Hear from Andrea about her experience here. Oh, and by the way, if you DO want a stick to bite on, you'll have to bring your own, but they do have plenty of wash cloths and water!


MYTH #5: Everything is the same except for the bed. 

The biggest physical difference is likely the bed: in place of a hospital bed, the rooms have a regular queen-sized bed that's great for movement and position changes if you decide to birth in the bed. It's also ideal for postpartum full-family cuddling! We see the natural birth room beds as tools, really that encourage women to birth in the position they feel most comfortable.

Sam Offringa and her husband found this position to be a benefit to her labor, one that would not be possible in a standard room.

Photo Credit: Kiss Me Kate Photography, LLC


The standard room beds tend to get broken down into two parts, which does not always accommodate a birthing woman's desires for flexible pushing positions. But the bed is definitely not the only difference!


 We love the addition of bedside lamps, instead of just the overhead fluorescent lights of the standard rooms. These rooms also have medical equipment, which would be used largely for baby after birth if necessary, stored out of sight so the room feels much more "homey". The rooms are also some of the largest on the floor and have black out shades the windows. 

That being said, these small things pale in comparison to what we consider the biggest benefits to these rooms: the care provider and staff who will attend your birth. The nurses who work in this room are a self-selected group who have gone through specific training to support women through a low-intervention birth. You might get one of these nurses in a standard room, but you might not. Choosing to birth in the low-intervention rooms may be your best ticket to ensuring your birth team includes a nurse who enjoys attending physiologically birthing women, and will understand your preferences and wishes. This. Makes. A. Difference. Which leads us to...


MYTH #4: You have to be seeing a midwife to birth there. There are OB-GYNs who have chosen to provide care in these rooms, in addition to several Certified Nurse Midwives who work in collaboration with one of more OBs. A conversation about a care

Midwife Sarah LaGrand, with Advanced OB-GYN, applies hip pressure for a laboring woman in the natural birthing suite at Spectrum Butterworth. Photo Credit: Kiss Me Kate Photography, LLC


provider's decision to work in these rooms or not could help you decide if you are with the provider who is really a good fit for you, or one who is more familiar, and therefore more comfortable working with the mainstream population planning a to use an epidural in a standard room.

Andrea Gunnett and husband welcomed their first baby into the world in one of the natural birthing suites at Spectrum Butterworth.  


 MYTH #3: The natural birthing rooms are full often, so it's hard to ensure they'll actually be available when you come in during labor. The low-intervention rooms are coming up on one-year but have yet to gain popularity. According to Katie McNabnay, the senior project specialist for Women's and Infant Services in Grand Rapids, 88 women have used the rooms at the    

time of publishing this blog. That equates to roughly                                      .

1.8 women/week that the rooms have been open. Divide that by two rooms, and the conclusion, unfortunately, is this: these rooms are seldom being used in the busy regional hospital.


Only time will tell how their vacancy will affect their future. If you have any desire to vote with your dollars, and advocate for even more low-intervention options for future birthing women in Grand Rapids, using these special rooms is one meaningful way to support the cause. Use of these rooms could encourage hospital

administrators to invest more money into them for even more meaningful change.

Ashley Hanberry and her husband welcomed their first baby into the world in one of the natural birthing suites at Spectrum Butterworth.


MYTH #2: You can't use the room if you have any risk factors. Tested positive for GBS at 37 weeks? Developed gestational diabetes? Going into labor past 41 weeks? You could still be a perfect candidate for the low-intervention rooms! Talk to your midwife or doctor about how these risk factors, and others are managed in these rooms.


and finally...



the BIGGEST MYTH about using the natural birthing rooms:


If you decide you want an epidural after all, you'll have to do


"the walk of shame"

to a standard hospital room.


Laboring women who decide they'd like to utilize an epidural mid-labor will need to move to standard room, but the myth here is that there is somehow "shame" in making this choice.


McNabnay says 14 of 88 women have transferred out of the natural birthing rooms to a standard room, which is about 16%. We've made the transfer as doulas, and we've seen women being 100% supported and respected in their choice to make a hard decision that could very well be a needed benefit to their labor.


If you are interested in utilizing these rooms, but you imagine the potential of a shameful walk through the halls, with a big sign on your head that says "I failed", and the weight of judgement from the staff and other women lined up to witness this walk, we encourage you to explore where this fear is coming from. It is does not have any base in reality from what we've seen.


Yes, you might walk past the nurses' desk, depending on where your new room is located. They won't know what your purpose for a walk in the hall is (lots of laboring women walking the halls!) and they won't care because they're busy doing their jobs.



 Your care team, (your loving partner, your fully supportive doctor or midwife who understands your goals and encourages you and cheers you on, and your doula who is trained in caring for your emotions) will transfer with you and will support your decision to change course, and the bravery and strength it takes to make it. 

GR Doulas' Ginger Hollemans applies hip pressure in the natural birthing room at

Spectrum Butterworth. Midwife Sarah LaGrand, with Advanced OB-GYN looks

on.Photo Credit: Kiss Me Kate Photography, LLC


In Conclusion, GR Doulas' take on the subject: Well, our bias toward these rooms is overt, but for reasons of principal over practice. While we've attended beautiful, and amazingly supported medicated and unmedicated births in the standard rooms at Butterworth (as well as all West Michigan hospitals) we view the natural birthing rooms as a first step toward more low-intervention options for West Michigan women. We see it as an opportunity for consumers to say "We want this. We want even MORE than this!"


It's unfortunate that in many hospitals across the U.S., it's a battle to birth as one pleases in a hospital setting. At Spectrum Butterworth, what we now have is two rooms that, while physically not so different, represent an incredible amount of work by a core group of staff members who are dedicated to supporting women's choices to birth physiologically. We've come to know them through our work at the hospital, and also through quarterly meetings to which they've graciously invited us.


We encourage our clients always to self-advocate, and in the decision to use or not use the natural birthing rooms, we see an opportunity to not only do just that, but also to pave the way for women who will follow.





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GR Birth and Wellness is a collective of practitioners deeply committed to supporting maternal wellness in the childbearing year. Massage therapists hold current state licenses in good standing, while doulas are certified or actively pursuing certification through the respected third-party organization, DONA International.

We provide non-judgmental support to families with a wide variety of circumstances and preferences, including hospital & home births. 

GR Birth and Wellness serves families in West Michigan including Greater Grand Rapids, Holland, Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Muskegon, and Fremont.

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Grand Rapids, MI 

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