Zen and the Art of Motherhood

Virginia’s newest maternity suites offer luxe, spa-like settings for a new generation of mothers.

One day after giving birth naturally to her second child, Jakob, in September, Jessica Pedersen, 33, an attractive woman with long, blond hair, sits in her bed in one of the luxurious new maternity suites at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond. (“My husband keeps saying it looks like a hotel,” she says.) She looks alert and rested. “I spoke with my mom [in Arizona] yesterday, 20 minutes after giving birth,” says Pedersen, “and she said I sounded like I had just had coffee with a friend.”

This spring, St. Mary’s completed the renovation of its maternity suites, redesigning them to meet the needs of a new generation of mothers like Pedersen. “I call them ‘the Whole Foods generation,’” says Mary Anne Graf, vice president of women’s services for Bon Secours Virginia Health System. Well-informed, and passionate about their health and that of their infants, these mothers carefully weigh their hospital choices and labor and delivery options. Like Pedersen, an increasing number are seeking out plush maternity suites like these that can accommodate their personalized plans.

Pedersen was looking for a natural birth, or as little medical intervention as possible, and wanted to be able to have her doula, a trained childbirth coach who had worked with her throughout her pregnancy, at the hospital during her delivery. St. Mary’s allowed her to do that, and provided equipment like a birthing ball, which resembles a giant ball from exercise class, to make Pedersen more comfortable during labor. Pedersen says when she sat on the ball in the final stages of labor, “Gravity took over at that point, and the baby started to descend. It was no more than 30 minutes on the birthing ball before I was to the point of pushing. It was a very fast delivery. I think we caught the doctors by surprise.”

Following the birth, Jakob stayed with Pedersen and slept beside her in a bassinette. The large rooms at St. Mary’s are designed for “family-centered care,” a prevailing concept in hospitals these days that allows baby, family members, doulas and other supporters to be together. St. Mary’s also promotes early bonding through “the magic hour,” the first hour after birth when visitors are prohibited, breastfeeding first occurs and immediate “skin to skin” contact takes place between mother and baby, helping to keep the baby warm and calm.

St. Mary’s is one of several hospitals in Virginia that have created luxurious new labor, delivery and recovery units—and all at no extra charge to patients.

When patients step inside the all-private maternity suites at VCU Medical Center, they find labor, delivery and recovery rooms decorated to create a natural, calming environment, not unlike a spa. Medical equipment and supplies usually found in cold, metal rolling carts or set out on counters in most hospitals are tucked away in attractive cherry cabinets with Corian countertops. Each suite has its own restroom, and three are outfitted with whirlpool tubs for mothers who wish to de-stress with a warm, relaxing bath. Aromatherapy is also offered, and the hospital even provides room service on demand for expectant mothers. They allow 24-hour visitation and provide access to Wi-Fi, so families can stay connected.

The 11 new suites are part of a $23 million renovation of the Richmond hospital’s labor and delivery unit, which opened Sept. 23. The space, re-built after extensive demolition, increases the unit’s size from 20,000 to 30,000 square feet and includes a new lobby, a state-of-the-art operating room, a staff workroom and six examination rooms. The old unit, built in 1982, “was designed for 1980s births, where people labored in one room and delivered in another,” says Dr. David Chemlow, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at VCU. The new rooms are more than twice as large as the old ones, so mothers can stay in them for the entire delivery experience. Each suite includes a bassinette, a sleeper sofa and a chair that folds flat to accommodate both baby and dad.

Designer cabinets contain the latest in medical equipment and technology—“high-tech, high-touch,” says Mary Ann Brock, the unit’s nurse manager, describing the inviting, well-equipped unit. Wireless fetal monitors and cardiac monitors for high-risk patients allow mothers to easily walk around, untethered to machines.

There are many amenities available to women today to help them make the leap from pregnancy to new motherhood smoothly. Like many forward-thinking Virginia hospitals, the Ladies Board Birthing Inn at Inova Loudoun Hospital—which is currently renovating its labor, delivery and recovery unit—offers lactation consultants to help mothers experiencing difficulties with infants latching on and other problems.

In addition, Inova Loudoun opened an on-site lactation boutique in May 2012, where mothers can buy items related to breastfeeding, from bras and other clothing to positional pillows and Oneida pumps, before they even check out.

Tracy Cross, a nurse who works as a lactation consultant at Inova Loudoun, has seen an increase in breastfeeding mothers. “We’ve kind of evolved into this era where people are focused on their health. People are exercising, eating better and [are responding to] research that really touts the benefits of breastfeeding,” she says.

Inova Loudoun also provides mothers with the free services of Cindy Andrejasich, a registered nurse who works as a birthing navigator. “I like to think of it as a concierge for women who have questions or concerns about the birthing process,” she says, explaining her unusual job title. “Cindy A,” as she is known, helps families create birthing plans to meet their expectations, whether related to pain management (about 80 percent of the hospital’s clients choose epidurals; the remaining 20 percent go natural), specific cultural and religious beliefs, or even technology. One mother transmitted her childbirth experience to her deployed husband via Skype; other families play delivery music on their iPods and Smartphones. “A lot of children are born to [Guns N’ Roses’] ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine,’” she says with a laugh.

 “I think we really see the women’s and children’s service line as one that’s critical to us. It’s been one of the highlights of our hospital for years,” says Lisa Valentine, chief operating officer of HCA Virginia’s Henrico Doctors’ Hospital in Richmond, which first opened its Women’s Pavilion in 1977. Like Inova Loudoun’s Birthing Inn, the Women’s Pavilion has its own building next to the main hospital. With large, elegant flower arrangements, the lobby of the Women’s Pavilion looks more like a posh hotel than a hospital. The same thought and care extends to the labor and delivery unit, which Henrico Doctors’ recently expanded to keep up with demand: 3,600 babies were delivered there last year, the most in the state, outside of Northern Virginia.

As part of a five-year, nearly $5 million expansion of the Women’s Pavilion that was completed in late 2012, the hospital added three new maternity suites and renovated 11 existing ones to make them larger and more appealing. In each of the private rooms, family space is separated from clinical space, following a design suggestion made by the nursing staff. Half the room is devoted to sleep (there is a sleeper sofa) and Wi-Fi/desk space for the family. The other half is a working area for hospital staff. “Everything that could be put behind some nice casework has been, frankly … everything from medical gasses to supplies and equipment,” says Valentine.

“Our first priority is to provide excellent medical care, but in addition to that, we want to support the parents and the family,” says Dr. Vijay Dhande, a neonatologist and the medical director of Henrico Doctors’ Level III NICU.

“I think the more comfortable you can make a person’s stay, the more welcoming you can be to their family, the better [the] outcomes and the happier the mom you can have,” says Dr. Vienne Murray, an OB/GYN and the chief of staff for Henrico Doctors’. “We’re definitely striving at every turn to make the most calm, peaceful, family-centered environment that we can.” Richmond.BonSecours.com, VCUHealth.org,

Inova.org, HCAVirginia.com

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