The Salt Lake Community College Miller Conference Center had a significantly different feel Saturday than its young student vibe on normal weekdays.

But some of the most important learning transpired in those studious halls, as hundreds of women, quite a few of their husbands, and almost as many newborns, babies, and toddlers filled the Conference Center with laughter, excitement, and a lot of questions. They were all there for the annual Empowering Fearless Birth event.

“We focus on education and helping women find the best options for their birth and to be empowered with those decisions — whether it is a planned C-section or a vaginal birth. We want women to know all the options and how to plan their ideal birth. We also aim to help educate so that if a birth does not go as planned, women know what they can expect and we hope that this information helps reduce or eliminates birth trauma,” said Sarah Asay, a Provo resident involved in organizing the event.

One might question the need for an entire conference on giving birth. But organizers, and their joyful attendees, felt much differently. Asay said this type of conference was essential here in Utah, and especially Utah County.

“As a nation, we are 49th in the world for maternal mortality rate. This means a woman has more of a chance of dying in childbirth or from complications of childbirth here in the USA than in 48 other developed nations,” Asay said. “Many changes need to occur to make childbirth in the USA safer, but we believe part of the solution is educating women to make choices that will impact their health.”

Karina Robinson, a birth doula from Centerville, said more parents need to know their birth options. 

"Many parents go into it picking a care provider because their cousin's cousin liked them, but that care provider may not be the right fit for you and what you are wanting for your birth experience,” Robinson said. “This event is designed to help parents know that they have options and to explore their options, regardless of where or how they choose to give birth. “

And the options were plentiful at the conference. From classes and vendors focused on natural water births, to connecting with midwives and birth doulas, to hospital birth information, all forms of the birthing experience were shared. Classes also included preparing women and strengthening them for birth through healthy lifestyles, exercise, yoga, art therapy, even emotionally and mentally.

“I feel passionate about fearless birthing and how empowering it is for women. I think it's important to put low risk births back in the power of women's bodies and out of the hands of doctors and technology,” said Bryanna Lee, a Pleasant Grove mother. “I have had a home water birth and plan to have home births with all my future children. The labor and delivery of my daughter was calm, relaxing, and 100 percent done by my own body with the support of my husband. I honestly can't wait to have my next baby and experience it all again.”

The vendor room was filled with all things organic, natural and holistic, with products not necessarily found on Amazon or at Walmart. But as young mothers and many husbands carried their babies in a variety of positions — on the front, the back and the hip — from table to table, the options available for enhancing the birthing experience and child-rearing went way beyond the crib, car seat, and changing table essentials.

There were cloth diaper displays, organic cleaning supplies and multiple ways to carry a baby. Julie Schurman, an Eagle Mountain mother and owner of Jublii Creations, was one of those. Her carriers are for carrying a baby upright, and are all custom designed and handmade, but different from a soft carrier found at a baby store.

“My carriers are soft-structure ergonomic carriers with a waistband. That waistband takes the weight off your shoulders and back, so you can wear your baby longer,” Schurman said. “I wanted to make baby wearing accessible and affordable.”

In addition to selling her wares, Schurman just came for the atmosphere.

“I love to interact with people, and share the benefits of wearing your babies. And I like just being around babies,” she said.

Faith Hofer is a Springville mother who was also there as a vendor for her Trades of Hope business, a group that helps women escape poverty and sex slavery in 16 countries including the USA, through selling their handmade fair trade artisan products.

“As a mother who moved from a traditional hospital birth, to a natural hospital birth, to two natural home births, a fearless birth conference is like a large meeting with all the like-minded best friends I never knew I had,” Hofer said.

Many of the women there echoed Hofer’s sentiments, and were very excited to be in a place that supported their own strength as a woman able to do an extremely unique thing — bringing life into this world.

Salt Lake resident Rebecca Bartholomew is currently pregnant with her third child, and still feels she wasn’t knowledgeable enough about birth before getting involved in events like this. Because of this, hours of reading, connections with friends and others, she is planning to birth her third vaginally, even though she has C-sections with the first two.

“We have been installed with fear from horror stories from other women or even our own mothers. I have been empowered by several friends and these books I have been reading to forget about having another C-section and have my baby naturally,” Bartholomew said. “I know this doesn't come without risk, but I also know with the right support system and the right doctor/midwife that it can be done!”

For organizers of the Empowering Fearless Birth, this sentiment is exactly what they hope to achieve, so that women can feel stronger and more capable of making solid birthing decisions.

Karissa Neely reports on Business & Community events, and can be reached at (801) 344-2537 or kneely@heraldextra.com. Follow her on Twitter: @DHKarissaNeely