The Suite Life

the suite life

Wave buh-bye to sterile smells, hideous lighting and the cramped, charmless delivery rooms of old — for modern mamas birthing their babes in PDX, gentler, more customizable birthing suites are fast becoming the rule.

Whether mom picks a World Health Organization-certified Baby-Friendly hospital, a tranquil birthing center, or opts to labor right at home, she’ll have options, from super-sized birthing tubs to an array of alternative pain-management choices.


We checked out the birthing rooms at five popular local facilities, then checked in with local moms to learn what it’s really like to deliver there. Step inside, and see what’s on offer.

Birthing at Home

The Vibe: That’s entirely up you! Home births afford mamas maximum control over their birthing environments, says Heather Wilson, a certified nurse midwife with Vivante Midwifery & Women’s Health: “She can wear what she likes, eat and drink as she feels hungry or thirsty, snuggle into her own bed, or crouch on her toilet, or walk in circles around her backyard.”

What Moms Say: Giving birth can be an intensely empowering experience, agrees two-time home birther Madison May of the Salmon Creek neighborhood in Vancouver, Wash.

For May, this meant laboring in her bedroom and delivering in a tub in her living room. Moving through the process at home, with its familiar sights and sounds, kept her centered and self-assured, she says: “I wanted to follow the innate intuition all women possess, and let the birth happen and progress on its own, with a supportive and competent team at our side . . . Home births allow for labor to unfold with a quiet confidence.”

You’ll Love: Labor at home, and your chances of an intervention-free birth skyrocket. Vivante’s rate of transport to hospital is only 10 percent, notes Wilson, with just 4 percent of home birth hopefuls ultimately delivering by C-section. And when babe has been safely placed in your arms, you can lie back and enjoy the tranquility — home birth teams typically clean up (thoroughly!) and leave within three to five hours.


But Bear in Mind: You’ll need to gather a list of birthing supplies and keep a clean house in advance of baby’s birth, so organization is key! Complicated pregnancies may preclude the possibility of home birth, and pharmaceutical pain medications and certain emergency equipment won’t be on hand during your labor.

Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center Maternal-Child & Women’s Health Unit

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The Vibe: A certified Baby-Friendly hospital, Kaiser Sunnyside has 14 private, spacious labor-and-delivery suites. Each room within this calm, quiet unit has a tub, (sizes vary) as well as a daybed for birth partners.

What Moms Say: Kaiser’s well-appointed rooms make labor a far more comfortable proposition, says Grace Saad of Gladstone, who gave birth here in May 2014. Saad and her husband loved having the freedom to tailor their birth environment by dimming lights, playing music, and taking advantage of the many labor aids on hand, which include birthing balls and gliders.

“Overall, it was a very calm space,” says Saad, “They let me lead and didn’t force me to make any choices I wasn’t comfortable with.”

After delivery Saad had access to a host of lactation resources through the extensive Kaiser mother/baby program, in which new moms check in for breastfeeding help, postpartum depression screenings and baby weigh-ins. And the food menu was incredibly tasty, she adds, with portions large enough to share around.

You’ll Love: Anxious about C-sections? Kaiser Sunnyside boasts a lower-than-average overall C-section rate of 24.1 percent and supports TOLACs (trials of labor after cesarean section), which stacks the odds of a successful vaginal birth in your favor. And in keeping with the Baby Friendly designation, you’ll get plenty of bonding time, plus access to a vast array of breastfeeding and lactation supports and resources.

But Bear in Mind: If laboring or delivering in water is important to you, take note: only two of Kaiser Sunnyside’s birthing rooms have oversized tubs, and water births aren’t available.

Legacy Emanuel Medical Center Family Birth Center

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The Vibe: This certified Baby-Friendly hospital has 12 birthing suites and postpartum rooms decked out in a decidedly unhospital-like aesthetic. Birthing moms enjoy a private shower (tubs available upon request) and a stereo system for cranking those labor anthems, with daybeds on hand for birth partners.

What Moms Say: Legacy Emanuel’s nurse-midwife team came highly recommended to Holly Stauss, who wanted to deliver her first child in a hospital whose staff took a more hands-off approach to birth.

The soft lighting and Willamette River views made the place feel more like an inviting retreat than a sterile medical environment, she says: “I could sense that they had the mama’s best interest in mind when they were setting up the labor and delivery ward.”

When delivery day arrived in late 2015, Stauss, who lives in outer Southeast Portland, says she and her team were anything but cramped in the birthing suite: “The room was large and comfortably fit the nurse, two midwives, my husband and doula — I never felt crowded.”

Emanuel’s advanced technology came in handy when Stauss was unexpectedly transferred out of her suite for a forceps-assisted delivery. Post-delivery, she turned her attentions to the diverse food menu, slurping down what she bills as the world’s most delicious chocolate milkshake.

You’ll Love: Emanuel supports TOLACs and also offers tubs for water birthing. Nitrous oxide is available as a pain-management alternative. In keeping with the Baby-Friendly certification, lactation consultants are close at hand, and mother-baby bonding is prioritized.

But Bear in Mind: Plan ahead for your birth partner’s comfort: Birth partners order food off a smaller menu, Stauss notes, and should pack a pillow and blankets to spruce up the foldout beds in the recovery rooms.

Canyon Medical Center

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The Vibe: Mamas seeking a happy medium between home and hospital birth will find their groove at Canyon, whose peaceful bottom-floor birthing center (the top floor is a naturopathic clinic) has two suites with adjustable lighting, huge tubs and top-tier sound systems.

What Moms Say: Canyon’s sedate atmosphere, presided over by a fleet of naturopathic doctor-midwives, fit the bill perfectly for Hannah VanLom of Arbor Lodge, who delivered here in 2014.

VanLom’s modern, spotless room gave her a pleasant sense of seclusion from the world outside, enabling her to focus deeply during labor. And their midwife gave VanLom and her husband plenty of space to go through labor at their own rhythm, with minimal interruptions. “I was able to find a peaceful place and not have to worry about anything,” VanLom says. “It was a worry-free environment.”

Her very favorite part? Canyon’s on-site doulas — a perpetual source of support and advice throughout labor, delivery and post-partum. “They are waiting on you the entire time,” says VanLom. “I was blown away at how cared for I felt.”

You’ll Love: Water births and TOLACs are welcomed here, with nitrous oxide, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments and many other pain-relief options on hand to help you through. And after baby is born, there’s no need to switch practices; Canyon offers whole family medicine services.

But Bear in Mind: Epidurals are not available at Canyon, and high-risk births aren’t accommodated. And the center has just two birthing rooms, so you’ll want to establish care early if you’re interested in delivering here.

Oregon Health and Sciences University Labor and Delivery Unit (OHSU)

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The Vibe: The labor and delivery unit at this world-class health and research university includes 12 large, stocked rooms whose sizable windows let in scads of natural light. Jacuzzi and water-birth tubs are both available to laboring moms.

What Moms Say: The delivery rooms had lovely views and ample space for attendants and visitors, says Sheri Thorburn of Garden Home in Southwest Portland, who delivered at OHSU in late 2014.

Thorburn was impressed by the unit’s unhurried atmosphere and the flexibility she was given to move about the room, laboring in positions that felt best.

“It almost did not feel like I was in a hospital,” she says. “I labored and pushed on my feet, on my hands and knees, bent over the bed, on my back.”

Having the same nurse on hand throughout her delivery also proved a great source of comfort and support for Thorburn and her husband: “She [the nurse] coached me through it and was very hands on.”

When her son had trouble moving down the birth canal, OHSU’s team kicked into high gear. Quick-thinking doctors were able to avoid using forceps, and her baby’s safe delivery was greeted by a round of applause.

You’ll Love: Mamas will dig OHSU’s holistic, family-focused approach. OHSU boasts some of the country’s highest success rates for vaginal births after C-sections (VBACs), limits separation of mother and newborn after birth and provides prompt post-delivery breastfeeding supports. Available alternatives to traditional pain management include hypnobirthing techniques and nitrous oxide.

But Bear in Mind: OHSU’s campus is large, so you may face a trek in from the parking lot — not fun if, like Thorburn, you arrive in active labor. Have your birth partner drop you out front, she suggests, and bring a good inflatable bottom donut to ease the winding ride home. 

Erin J Bernard
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