Tucked away in a tiny lane near Kochi’s busy Vytilla junction is BirthVillage – an alternative birthing centre led by midwives, where many women are choosing to have their babies.
Though it sounds a bit unconventional, over 200 babies have been delivered at this one‐of‐a‐kind facility.
For Priyanka Idicula, the director of the centre, midwifery wasn’t her first career choice. “After working in the field of diagnostics for eight years, after acquiring my masters in life sciences, I came to Kochi to have my baby. That’s when I realised there is a gap in our maternity care system. It was following that, that I felt a calling to the field and moved to the US to study,” she says.
The beginnings of BirthVillage
After becoming a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, Priyanka returned to Kochi with a determination to work in maternity care.
She started out by providing Lamaze classes that focus on healthy birth practises for safe labour and childbirth. These classes are held in eight or nine sessions and typically last one to two hours.
During the sessions, the couple is taught about essential birth practises, stages of labour, breastfeeding, etc.
BirthVillage evolved into what it is today as a response to the needs of women. “Indian women may have tonnes of degrees, but we have very little idea about our bodies. After I started the classes here, I realised there are women who are actually looking to have birth the natural way, without unnecessary medical intervention.”
In 2011, Red Miller, also a trained midwife, joined the facility as director.
BirthVillage has grown into what it is today solely because of the strong community it has fostered. The facility is usually referred to people by others who have attended classes or have had babies here.
There are couples who come in for preconception care, to prepare themselves for a healthy pregnancy. Then there are the people who come in halfway through their pregnancy, sometimes after being unhappy with hospital‐based check‐ups.
There are also others who come towards the end of their pregnancy, after getting to know about the facility last minute.
Though they get a lot of enquiries, not everyone is cut out to undergo a birthing process that doesn’t involve sedatives or surgical interventions.
Currently, the facility can accommodate seven to eight births a month. Priyanka also only accepts clients who are healthy and don’t have pre‐existing medical conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes.
From an urban educated couple from Delhi to a farmer couple from Wayanad, the midwives at BirthVillage have dealt with every type of client you can possibly imagine. Each pregnancy is different and the process is tailored to suit the individual’s requirement.
“For instance, I don’t need to talk to the farmer from Wayanad about exercising. She already swims across the river, 40 times a day. She is more connected to her body than her urban counterpart,” says Priyanka.
How does the birthing process differ
The woman has the choice to give birth in any position that does not defy gravity. There is a U‐shaped birthing stool and a tribal‐inspired batik rope, both of which facilitate birthing in the squatting position.
There is also a tub in the balcony where water births take place. What sets this place apart from a hospital labour room is the informal vibe and the freedom that the woman gets in deciding in which position to have the baby.
The delivery is based on the midwifery model of care, which is also endorsed by the WHO as the recommended model of care for low-risk women. In rare event, when the labor doesn’t progress for a long time, the client is moved to a hospital.
The stories of their clients are a testimony to the passion of these midwives. “Instead of strange faces and machines, it was my favourite people, my hubby and my midwives saying ‘we are going to have a baby’.
Instead of getting hooked to machines and an enema, it was a warm water pool and food. Instead of inducing labour, it was patience, trust and support,” says Meera Balakrishnan, a client of BirthVillage.
As per 2015 statistics, BirthVillage has had a 97.9% natural birth rate. It also has a 100% Vaginal Birth after Caesarean rate, something that is not common, according to popular belief.
When it comes to having a baby, it should be about the right choice. And though a natural birth isn’t a higher form of birth, it is a healthier option both for the mother and baby and is definitely an option for women who want to follow what their body tells them.
All photographs courtesy of BirthVillage