Tucson is unique in many ways. And Tucsonans are blessed with diversity, rich history around every corner, and an independent spirit. So it should come as no surprise that for 35 years this community has been home to the only freestanding birthing center in Southern Arizona – also one of the oldest continuously operating birthing center in the United States – El Rio Birthing and Women’s Health Center.
Birthing centers are gaining popularity which is significant because it gives expectant mothers, who may not want what has emerged as the common birth experience – planned induction, epidural – the option of a natural birth.

Rhona, RN, meets with couple to discuss how to manage gestational diabetes.

The more things change …

The Center has gone through a few metamorphoses in its 35 years. But, what has stayed the same is the consistent and unwavering dedication to providing patients and families with a safe and nurturing space to bring new life into the world. “We honor the ancient rhythms of childbirth, with the benefit of current methods,” explains Olga Ryan, clinical manager at the El Rio Birth and Women’s Health Center.

“It’s very home-like … you could honestly give birth with the smell of baking bread in the air,” Ryan smilingly noted.

Our bodies, our selves

Yes, women have been giving birth naturally since the dawn of time and no one would describe the experience as a breeze. Having a baby is painful, but our bodies are equipped to manage the pain by doing what feels good – a bath, a foot massage, listening to music – making choices in the moment that feel right.

Not taking the patient out of the process is one of the cornerstones of a birthing center delivery. The idea is that the person giving birth steers the ship – she controls the lighting, noise, temperature, everything is up to her.

And there through the entire experience is the family and support system and your midwife. The midwife isn’t there to direct the process, “We’re hands-off unless we are needed,” says Ryan.

Midwives and nurses practice a simulation drill in on-site birth room


 Available for everyone … maybe not for everyone

The birthing center facility is not the only choice for giving birth, half of the more than 12,000 babies born since its inception came into the world in the hospital with an El Rio midwife. The hospital option opens up the possibility of various interventional pain control options as well as close proximity to a higher level of care.

Throughout pregnancy, your midwife works to keep you and your baby healthy while you decide what kind of a birth you want. Your birth plan is your choice, “Our patients choose what feels safest to them … the experience is theirs,” explains Ryan.

Honoring the old and embracing the new

Regardless of whether a new life is welcomed into the world at a birthing center or in a traditional hospital, it’s the patient’s decision. Thanks to advancements in technology and scientific methods, midwives are able to honor the body’s instinctive knowledge and utilize modern technology – the best of both worlds.

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About El Rio Community Health Center

Our Mission is to improve the health of our community through comprehensive, accessible, affordable, quality and compassionate care. Our Vision is to be a national model of excellent healthcare.
We are dedicated to serving all people. Since El Rio began in 1970, we have grown to be one of the largest, non-profit community health centers in the United States. We focus on positive health outcomes, treating the whole person and prevention. Our health care is delivered by compassionate, professionally trained integrated health teams who give from their hearts to provide you with caring, high quality, world class care.

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