It Takes a Valley childbirth series: Small-town approach to care |

It Takes a Valley childbirth series: Small-town approach to care

Kirsten Dobroth
Special to the Daily
Dr. Kent Petrie with a baby in Tanzania. Petrie has been an integral part of delivering babies in the Vail Valley since the Vail Valley Medical Center opened its maternity ward in the 1980s, including being present for the hospital's very first birth.

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three-part series about the evolution of childbirth and related resources in the Vail Valley.

While it may take a valley to raise a child, it takes trust and patience in Vail Valley’s countless medical providers when it comes time to deliver. And while there are some familiar faces still bringing little area residents into the world, much has changed for new moms heading into the hospital for a new addition to the family.

The first birth

Vail Valley Medical Center’s first birth, on Jan. 10, 1980, was an exciting event. Not only was the new electronic fetal monitor a presence during the birth but the local radio station covered the birth, offering periodic updates over the air.

To add to the excitement, an episode of “Hart to Hart” was being shot in Vail’s emergency room, and the stars, Stephanie Powers and Tom Wagner, were some of the first on the scene to offer congratulations — and autographs — to the new mom and dad. (As a side note, the mother of the “first baby” was also the mother of the first set of twins born at Vail Valley Medical Center two years later).

While nowadays some of this might be in violation of medical policy laws, it resonates with Vail Valley residents who have always known this place is special, personal and, no matter who is in town, will always be a small town at heart. Although the times have changed, and Vail Valley Medical Center now sees around 500 births per year, much of the intimate nature of the process has come full circle.

Medical changes

Dr. Kent Petrie has been an integral part of delivering babies in the Vail Valley since the Vail Valley Medical Center opened its maternity ward in the 1980s, including being present for that first birth.

While much has changed, especially as far as access to different specialists — and not having to drive to Denver or Glenwood Springs for delivery — some aspects of the birthing process resonate with the earlier days at the hospital. In particular, while pain management during the birthing process has greatly improved, doctors at the Vail Valley Medical Center have seen numbers lower than the national averages for epidurals and cesarean sections.

According to Petrie, epidurals were not available at Vail Valley Medical Center when Petrie first began practicing delivering babies in Vail, and cesarean deliveries only accounted for 7 percent of deliveries, but times have changed. He said currently in the United States, two-thirds of women in labor receive epidurals, with 35 percent of births being performed via a cesarean section. The statistics for mothers who deliver in Vail are lower, with more of an emphasis being put on the natural aspect of the process.

“No one feels these statistics are reasonable, and there is a move nationally and locally to increase the rates of normal vaginal birth by empowering women and their partners through natural childbirth education, encouraging labor support through the use of doulas, using intermittent rather than continuous monitoring, discouraging induction of labor and trusting the process by waiting longer for labor to progress,” Petrie said. “We are actually turning back to the things we did in the 1980s.”

Carol McGee delivered her children at Vail Valley Medical Center in the 1980s (Petrie was her doctor) and said that watching her daughter, Megan Bonta, go through the process at the same facility offered some insight into how things had changed over the years.

“We delivered as naturally as possible,” McGee said “Part of opening the (Obstetrics) Center was having the surgical center come in so we could do cesarean sections if needed. We delivered on the same med/surgery floor, but there was only one room dedicated to obstetrics with two beds. Having been with Megan in the Woman and Children’s Center, it was totally different.”

Her daughter, who also had one of her two children delivered by Petrie, agreed that the process has changed since her mother went through it.

“I certainly had a lot more pain-management options than my mother,” said Bonta.

Developing a bond

While Eagle County has more choices as far as pain management and developing a unique birthing plan, the choice of health-care providers in delivery has also created the opportunity for more of a personalization in the birthing process. In particular, access to a wider selection of doctors means mothers have more of an opportunity to choose a provider that fits with their needs and personality and to develop a strong bond between doctor and patient.

Marisa Selvy had her first child at the Vail Valley Medical Center in September and said that the ability to find a doctor that fit with her birth plan was crucial to the experience of having her daughter.

“I was very fortunate to find a local OBGYN who I really clicked with, Dr. Rochelle Bernstein. My general practitioner actually referred me to her based on our personalities being a great match,” she said.

“She was insanely supportive of me during the prenatal care and really took the time during my appointments to explain scientific things to me and make me feel like she cared about my health and the well-being of the baby. She even came in on her day off to deliver my baby; that’s what a strong relationship we had.”

The bond between Bernstein and Selvy was one that was particularly important after hours of labor, and the trust between patient and doctor helped Selvy get through some of the harder parts of labor.

“The level in which we clicked was immeasurable; she made the whole pregnancy and birth experience the best it could have been for me,” Selvy said.

“I pushed for two hours after being in labor for 19 hours already, and I was exhausted mentally and physically and I literally felt like I couldn’t push another time. I was at the point that I could not go on any longer, and it was my special doctor who motivated me to make it happen naturally.”

It might not always take a series of radio announcements and television stars, but it almost certainly takes a valley to create the memorable experience that comes from bringing a new person into the world.

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