Summit Hospital Birth Stories


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Archived Q&A and Reviews

May 2004

Re: Natural Birth Dr Thomas @ Alta Bates (May 2004)
If you want a low or no intervention birth, I would recommend Summit vs Alta Bates. You will have to have some interventions when you come into the hospital, such as some monitoring and basic nursing care but you are more likely to get those at Summit than at Alta Bates. An experienced doula

April 2004

I am preparing to deliver my first baby at Summit, with midwife Hsiu-Li Cheng. I have read the archived postings about Summit, and I'm now hoping for your comments on more recent experiences. I am planning to have a natural birth, and I would love any ideas about how to best work with the facilities and the staff to have the support I need. I have my husband and two other (sensitive but inexperienced) helpers, but no doula. Thanks for your suggestions!

I had a natural birth at Summit in June 2003. This was my second child and my midwife was Debbie Coleman. In general, my experience at Summit was great. Great nurses, a lot of attention and very relaxed feeling. I was a bit worried going in because I had heard they have a low natural birth rate (10%?) So I had my husband, sister and a Doula in the delivery room with me. My advice is to make sure you communicate your desire for no medication with the nurses in a friendly un- demanding way. I did not have a birthplan to hand them and I felt that they appreciated that. My nurse, who I loved, did make some smart remark about it being her job to offer me drugs if I was in too much pain and my husband just diplomatically deflected that and asked that she consult with him first and she was more than happy to. In fact, it never really was of issue after that and I ended up having to request advil after the delivery myself - even then she was not offering anything! Jennifer

We had an unmedicated birth at Summit last April that went very well. I had a short written birth plan that I had discussed with my OB (Isenberg) beforehand. I asked that I not be offered drugs, and this request was honored. When I first was checking in and having to sign all the forms, they included a consent form for an epidural, and started to explain that they ''always'' have people sign it ''just in case,'' but, as I recall, my doula (Jones-Mixon) gave them a look and the form was whisked away. I had one nurse the whole time, and she was very supportive; I'm not sure she ever left the room, although she must have at some point. She did strap on the external monitors for an initial 20- minute period, but after that I only remember her using the monitor handheld from time to time until the very end, when we ended up with a vacuum assist after four hours of pushing in every position I could comfortably get into (including on the toilet). The room was very nice, with a jacuzzi and rocking chair, although I arrived at 7 cm with membranes already ruptured (I highly recommend staying home as long as possible) and, despite my intention to move around a lot during labor, found that mostly I wanted to curl up in a ball and moan. That was just how my labor was, and I certainly had the impression that had I wanted to walk around, sit on a birth ball, whatever, the folks there would have been supportive of that. The few unasked-for interruptions I remember (an initial internal exam, a blood draw) were quick and smooth. Neither Dr. Isenberg nor ''my'' nurse gave me any worry over the long pushing phase, and encouraged different positions, etc. Overall, what stands out is that everyone there treated my desire for an unmedicated birth as completely normal and unremarkable. Can't ask for more than that! Best wishes for your birth. anne

I had my third son at Summit with Hsiu-Li Cheng, a year and a half ago. I did not feel supported, in any way, with my choice of having natural childbirth. At the last few appointments I made a point of saying I did not want to use any drugs to which Hsiu-Li responded by saying we'll see . . . After waiting 42 weeks I agreed to have my water broken and was encouraged to stimulate the hormones by rubbing my nipples. After 2 hours of that Hsiu-Li told me I was not progressing quickly enough and started the Pitocin. By ten that night I was in the emergency room for a C-section. I know Hsiu-Li felt all the decisions where right and I do have a beautiful boy- but I was incredibly disapointed at the lack of support of my desires and feelings. anon

I delivered 4 months ago at Summit, with no interventions. Although there's a large element of luck involved in the birthing process, it definitely helps to be informed. Here's what I learned:

* Don't go to the hospital too early. Follow Hsiu-Li's instructions.

* When you check in, request a nurse who enjoys attending natural births. My first nurse was not sensitive to my needs at all. She left me on the fetal monitor and forgot about me, knowing that it caused me a lot of pain (I was particularly sensitive to touch during contractions). Luckily, I only had her for a few hours before the next nurse came on. My second nurse was sympathetic and laid back. She read my birth plan, helped me ease the discomfort caused by the fetal monitor, and left me alone for most of my labor, which is exactly what I wanted.

* Try every position in the book. I spent most of active labor kneeling with my elbows resting on furniture. It was the only position that made the pain tolerable (of course, it's different for everyone). During the pushing stage, I lay on my side and rest in between contractions. I asked my husband to lift up my top leg to allow the baby to move down the birth canal during contractions.

* Use the shower or bath tub as much as possible. I rented a deep water tub (for about $250) and spent several hours in it at home. In warm water, I didn't feel the pain as much because my muscled were relaxed. Staying in the bathroom at the hospital will also help you avoid interventions such as vaginal exams and fetal monitoring.

* Know the rules of the hospital. It's helpful to know, for instance, that a certain amount of fetal monitoring is mandatory. However, if the strap bothers you, you don't have to use it. Someone can hold the device against your belly. While you're on the monitor, you don't have to lie on your back. You can assume any position you wish. If the cold gel bothers you, ask someone to squirt a small amount into a paper cup and warm it up in the microwave.

* Remember to drink plenty of liquids during labor. They will have juice at the hospital, but bring your own broth. Homemade chicken broth worked for me. Bring about 6 servings.

* Keep your voice low when you moan. It will help you relax and regain a sense of control over your body.

* Take a Bradley class and watch videos of births with your partner. Birth is gory, but also empowering. It helps to be emotionally prepared.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Bonnie

Hello, I work in labor and delivery (I used to work at Summit), and even though Hsiu Li is GREAT, it is likely that you will need more support. I really suggest you get a doula. You can find one by contacting (Doula's of North America). Having a doula will increase your ability to have a natural childbirth. previous birth with doula

Don't worry... you won't have any problems having a natural childbirth at Summit. Hsui-Li was my midwife for both of my children (now 1 and 2.5 yrs old) and I had my husband and a friend there but no doula. All the labor nurses seem to know Hsui-Li very well and her approach to things. They also had a lot of respect for her. If she is your midwife then I think they automatically assume you want things to be as natural as possible. They let me know to just ask if I ever felt like I needed an pain relief and then left it at that. Feel free to email me if you have any other questions about my experiences. roxanne

You are asking about having a natural birth at Summit with Hsui Li Cheng. I had just this. It was the most wonderful, life-transforming experience. It was extremely hard work, too. It was not straight forward, and I really needed both Hsui Li's skills and my other helper's emotional support.

My labor was stalled a few times, and my dilation was anything but progressing, let alone linearly. Hsui Li didn't know why it was not progressing, but she gave me time and she had confidence. She tried various things and none worked, but then one approach had surprisingly sudden success. I doubt I'd have had a vaginal birth with a typical OB/GYN, let alone one without epidural, episiotonomy, vacuum, forecepts...

Hsui Li is not particularly involved into emotially support, though. That's not meant to be a critique, I think she simply cannot function as both the boss (bearing all the responsibility for the correctness and the decision of the medical part of the process) and the laboring woman's motherly friend at the same time. There are, unless you go for a home birth, unsurmountable contradiction between these two roles. That's why having other people playing this part is very beneficial for the whole birth process.

I had a truly amazing doula, but I would not necessarily say other people cannot do this sort of support. Her presence, mindfulness, and some practical help insured my labor to unfold gently, both at home and later in the hospital. I needed her most desparetely during the transition (which would have been easier to deal with if we had known I was already in transition... ). During this period, I was truly convinced that anyone in the world can give birth, but not me. Sounds strange, but is very normal. Labor brings you in a very particular mental state. Extreme sensations, awareness, changed sense of time, very existential thoughts, doubts, feeling distant from anyone else etc. I acted entirely normal, but was in a very intense state of mind. It was crucial that my doula was with me in this moment and in this spirit. She listened to my fears, acknowledged my very hard work, and encouraged me to keep facing the process. She did not try to comfort me or make predictions about the process - I would not have believed her any of this at this point.

Your helpers need to be able to support you in an extreme situation, respond to you in this unknown state, and being practical and very reliable. While birth experience is a plus, I would not say that it cannot be replaced by other life experiences or qualities of your helpers. It must be clear to them, that they are there to *help you*, not to watch a baby being born. It would be good, if they prepare themselves for this and talk to you about it during pregnancy. The book ''Birthing from within'' helped me to understand the emotional part of labor and birth. I also like the books by Sheila Kitzinger.

The rooms in Summit are okay. The most useful thing I brought was some sort of sport bottle I could drink from in any postion. Juice was helpful for energy for the pushing (honey might have been better). If I were to do it again, I would bring a big and thick blanket to spread over the floor. I didn't feel comfortable on the narrow and unusually high hospital bed. Instead, I moved around the room. It would have been good to take short spontaneous breaks on a blanket.

Get in touch with me by email if you would like to ask more questions. All my best wishes for your birth and for your life with your new baby, Julia

I had my son at Summit a year and a half ago - with birth plan, doula, and lots of family and friends around. I was supposed to have Hsiu-Li as well, but she had a family emergency and was in China at the time of my son's birth.

The birth was fine, all things considered (I had no drugs but did have interventions because the cord was around his neck), and I don't feel particularly bad about how it went. He was born healthy with loving family and friends around, and I feel very lucky to have had a non-medicated birth experience.

BUT... it was much less natural than I wanted, and I have a suspicion that it would have gone smoother if Hsiu-Li were there. I have tons of confidence in her - she's wonderful. My suggestion to you would be to get a doula, and make sure that your support system (doula and family and friends) know what your birth plan says and are willing to ask for a change of nurse, or remind the hospital staff about the contents of your birth plan. For me, the hospital staff didn't even look at it. My one regret is that he wasn't brought to me to nurse right away, and they didn't delay the bath, etc. (as stipulated in my birth plan). We had lots of trouble learning to nurse for the next month or so, and I suspect it would have been much easier if he had nursed right after birth instead of falling asleep before he was able to.

I also had, for the first few hours, a nurse that was not to my liking (she had me in uncomfortable positions, refused to let me get into better positions, insisted on an IV, and seemed unsympathetic to my hopes for a non-intervention birth), but I felt weird asking for a different nurse to be assigned. Next time, I'll ask for another nurse without any qualms. After the shift change, my labor went infinitely more smoothly and the baby was in less distress because they let me get up, squat, etc.

Feel free to contact me if you have more questions... Jen

Hi - Hsiu-Li was our midwife for both of our sons at Summit in 2000 and 2003. Other than a bit of pitocin here and there, I had medication-free births both times.

You may be pleasantly surprised to find many of the nurses and other staff at Summit to be very supportive of natural birth. We adored our main nurse from the first birth so much she was our doula for the second. Let them know you want a natural birth from the start and ask them for suggestions if things get rough (walking around, the birthing balls, the shower or tub, etc). If the nurse you get doesn't click have your helpers ask sweetly for another.

My older son's birth was very long and difficult, with many hours of pushing. Hsiu-Li told me later that she only let me push that long (no c-section) because I wasn't complaining - she said that she has no way to know what a mother is experiencing other than what we tell her and so her decisions are very much influenced by how we seem. This is not to say I didn't get discouraged, weepy, feel very tired, make lots of noise, etc.

I had been inspired by reading Ina May Gaskin's ''Spiritual Midwifery'' (highly recommended) to try to keep a loving and light spirit even in the midst of hardship and went into the birth with that in mind. Based on conversations with Hsiu-Li, in my particular birth that made all the difference (along with baby's heart rate, luck, support, etc.). This is not to say that all you have to do is have a nice attitude and you'll get the birth you wanted - I feel lucky it worked out this way for me and there were no adverse circumstances requiring serious intervention. - Charis

March 2002

Hello, I checked the archives for experiences delivering at Summit Hospital, but the most recent posting is from 1999. Any more recent experiences that folks would be willing to share? I'm especially interested in hearing about the level of openness to natural childbirth. Thanks very much! L. Mitchell

I had a wonderful delivery experience at Summit. My doctor was Dr. Magdi Girgis, but one of his partners delivered my baby. When we got to the hospital, my water had already broken, but my contractions were sluggish. They gave me pitocin (Sp?) to make my contractions more regular. I found out after the baby was born that they were preparing to deliver the baby via c-section, but they wanted me to try to delivery vaginally first. The prognosis wasn't great because I was not dialating fast enough. I started labor at 8 AM, and the pitocin was started at about 9 AM. I didn't ask for pain meds until about 4 PM. When I was given the pain medication, they increased the pitocin and I was able to deliver my daughter vaginally at 12:15 AM the following morning.

The staff was wonderful, and the nurse who tended to me was a doula. My only advice is that you speak with your doctor beforehand about rest. The nurses are overworked, so they insist that you keep the baby in your room with you during your entire stay. You will be EXHAUSTED. You should make sure that your doctor PRESCRIBES rest for you, and s/he must INSIST that the nurses keep your baby for one night so that you can rest. That is what Dr. Girgis did for me.

I also chose to stay as long as my insurance allowed (4 days) to make sure I knew how to breastfeed (not easy for me to learn). Make sure you ask to see the lactation consultant if you have trouble - she's excellent. This was my first baby, so I wasn't sure that my daughter was getting any colestrum because I didn't know how to help her latch properly. The nurses worked hard at teaching me, but the lactation consultant had specific techniques that made the whole process much easier. Best wishes for a pleasant delivery! Christina

I recently gave birth at Summit HOspital (December). I had also given birth there in 1998. I found the experience to be completely fine. I had easy labor/deliveries however, and didn't really test the system. Nonetheless, I found the staff to be pleasant and knowledgable. As to the natural childcare issue, I had both my babies w/o any type of intervention. This last time, I was a bit amused at how amazed my labor/delivery nurse was that I was doing it ''au naturale''. According to her best guess, only about 10% of the patients do completely natural childbirth. But she was very supportive, and did not push me or cajole me into anything I didn't want. They do have two rooms with jacuzzi's which I have been able to get both times, although I never needed them. As to other childbirth ''props'' to help with the natural childbrith, like balls or squat bars...I have no idea if they have them or not, as again, I didn't want them or need them. I might add that I think it depends who your OB/GYN is too...mine was very supportive of my natural childbirth, and heard him tell the nurse things several times to reinforce my decisions. So, while most people around here tend to deliver at Alta Bates, I did Summit both times and would do it again! Hilary

October 1999

My daughter was delivered at Summit this past February. I thought it was a wonderful experience. The midwife who delivered me was Debbie Coleman and I have only the highest praise for her, too. When I visited Summit prior to delivering there, I was a little concerned that it seemed a little too much like the old, antiseptic hospitals of the past. But when I actually arrived in labor, I found that I didn't notice any of those things, and instead was very impressed by the warm care provided by the nursing staff. All of the nurses with whom I interacted throughout my stay there were kind and accommodating. And my doula, who had helped with a delivery at UCSF in the fall, was also impressed by the staff. Piper

I delivered my daughter a year ago at Summit. I had a very good experience. I also had an easy labor/delivery, so I didn't really test it, if you know what I mean. The people there were all very nice/helpful. I would ring a nurse every time I breastfed to make sure I was doing it right..they didn't mind. It definitely is an old hospital though....I am tall and my feet hung off over the bed, the rooms were small and sort of dingy, and they were doing construction on the floor above me. But hey, you aren't there for the decor, and at the time, I hardly noticed it. I was skeptical beforehand, but would deliver there again in a heartbeat. Good luck. Hilary

My daughter was born at Summit in 1992, and I did not have a good experience there. The nurse in my delivery room did not speak English, and she was filling out a form that needed input from me and my husband. It was like a game show - with both of us trying to figure out what she was asking us (and me in labor at the time). When I asked her how I was doing, or if there was anything else I should be doing, she looked at me and said: You took the class didn't you? It was pretty amazing.

Fortunately, everything went smoothly and my labor was not a long one. I love my doctor and Summit was/is the only hospital where she delivers, so I didn't have much choice. Also, this was 7 1/2 years ago, so I'd pay attention to the comments of people who have had more recent experiences there. Ann

March 1998

After all the reports on deliveries at Alta Bates, I thought I should mention that Summit in Oakland is a good nearby alternative. We had our delivery there. We didn't have a choice: my wife's obstetrician only delivered at Summit or somewhere in Walnut Creek. The delivery room was large and pleasant. We had a private recovery room, with an armchair that folded out into a bed, which I used. I don't think they had any non-private recovery rooms.

The nurses were all fine and accomodating. We didn't have to insist too much for an epidural. The only complaint is that too many nurses came in and out of the recovery room for all sorts of reasons, even when we were trying to sleep.

The delivery was by unplanned (but non-emergency) C section, and we had to leave the hospital less than 48 hours after that. But that was a problem with the insurance, not the hospital. In any case, we probably slept better at home. Luigi

This is in response to the woman requesting an OB/midwife recommendation for twins, as well as some comments regarding a delivery at Summit hospital in Oakland.

We just had our first baby (a girl) 2 weeks ago at Summit, and overall had a very positive experience there. We got one of the good rooms for L huge room with a jacuzzi tub and a great view. The L nurse was very good, checking on us frequently but unobtrusively. We wanted to go without meds if possible, and although she offered them several times, she never tried to push them on us. The key for us was our wonderful midwife, Hsiu-Li Cheng, whom we cannot recommend highly enough. We love her, she is a genius. The moment she walked into the room, the atmosphere changed--she immediately took charge, and we all felt better and more focussed, and the delivery went spendidly from there. She visited us several times in postpartum as well. Our postpartum experience was pretty good also. The rooms are almost all private, so my husband and our baby and I all roomed in together. The nurses were a mixed bag, but I think that is probably true of any hospital. We got mixed advice regarding breastfeeding--one nurse insisting we wake up baby every 2 hours to nurse regardless, another telling us it was OK to let baby tell us when to nurse, as long as 4 or more hours didn't pass by, etc. We just listened to all of it, then followed our instincts (which is what Hsiu-Li encouraged us to do). All of the nurses were very supportive of our efforts to nurse, though they all had different methods of doing it. One nurse in particular (her name is Mary Jo) was wonderful--she stayed with us for half an hour at a time, and made sure to stop by every few hours to check on our progress. There were a lot of people coming in and out, but they were usually respectful about it--knocking first, and postponing routine procedures if we were in the middle of nursing. Even though the ward was full, we were encouraged to stay for more than one day if we wanted, which we did.

In summary, we had a very good experience at Summit. I think it's a great place to have a baby, particularly if you have a good support team of your own. I also feel that having a fantastic midwife made the difference for us. We didn't have a doula, but I think they are a great idea as well. And in response to the woman asking about twin deliveries, Hsiu-Li is probably the most experienced practicing midwife around, having delivered something like 4000 babies, several of which must have been twins. She also has OB back-up through East Bay Perinatal Medical Associates. Karin

I too want to second the good things I've heard about Summit. My sister delivered at Summit in Fall 1996 and had a great experience, private room and helpful staff - she highly recommends it. Dylyn