When Eyonna Shubin of Silverton went into labor with her fourth child, she wasn’t sure if it was false labor or the real thing. After hours of steady contractions, she called her midwife to say, “I think this is it.”
Instead of driving to a hospital, Shubin stayed home.
An hour later, help arrived when a green minivan pulled up and a spry, little lady with a long, gray braid bustled up to the front door carrying two duffle bags full of equipment. Betty Griffith, a licensed direct-entry midwife, had already visited Shubin’s home throughout the pregnancy for prenatal exams.
She calmly talked with Shubin while unpacking her fetal heart monitor, watching and listening carefully to every detail. When it was time to push, some sheets, plastic and fresh towels transformed the bedroom into a delivery room, and little Isaac Shubin was born.
Profile of a midwife
In Oregon, 2 percent of births take place at home. Griffith’s practice, “Birth with Love,” has no clinic or office hours. Her office is in her Salem home and her delivery rooms are her patients’ homes.
A student nurse in 1967, Griffith was disillusioned by the way a woman’s maternity was managed.
“I just knew that I was being called to spend my career working with women in childbirth to find a better way,” she said.
In the ’70s, Griffith worked in a hospital’s labor and delivery rooms, but her philosophy of the birthing process was shaped while assisting a chiropractor with natural births. In 1980, she started attending home births, at first with more experienced midwives. Since then, she has delivered hundreds of babies at home with the help of an assistant midwife-in-training.
Licensed direct-entry midwives are certified by a state board after they pass written and hands-on exams and accumulate hours.
Griffith said childbirth is a natural process – not necessarily a medical emergency. Most home-birth midwives don’t use hormones to induce labor or medications to numb the pain. Instead, they may use herbs, massage, or an array of positions and exercises to keep labor moving and prevent tearing.
“As a Christian I believe that God created this process and designed our bodies [to do it],” Griffith said. “My job is to facilitate the process… I’m a safety monitor and a facilitator.”
After years of midwifery, Griffith has developed an intuition for the woman’s needs in labor. She said there are many reasons labor slows down. Fear is one of the biggest obstacles, as well as the absence of someone the mother wants to attend the birth.
Many home birth midwives emphasize the mother’s mental and emotional experience because they believe a comfortable and confident mother is more likely to have an uncomplicated birth.
The Harold family
Silverton residents Becky and Ted Harold chose Griffith to deliver their child when they learned their hospital nurse-midwife had resigned from her job. Their friends who had home births also recommended Griffith. Becky said some of her family members were nervous about her decision – only her father thought the plan was “the coolest thing ever.”
Griffith said many of her clients are conservative families with several children. The Harolds have five children. Griffith said some clients are “alternative to begin with, independent-minded,” and others are “natural-minded.”
“A lot of families just want to have a say in how things are done, how their babies are being treated right from the beginning,” Griffith said.
When it was time for Becky to deliver, Griffith said her intuition told her to give Becky some space.
In some previous birth experiences, Becky felt “like I had to perform, and I don’t like to be watched while I’m in labor… [Griffith] was good at fading into the woodwork.”
Becky said the birth of her fifth child went as smoothly as her others had been in a hospital. Now Joseph Harold is a year old, busy tagging after his four older sisters.
Although she had some good experiences giving birth in a hospital, Becky prefers being home because “it’s your own atmosphere.”
Ted Harold was initially nervous about home birth, but changed his mind. He missed the steak sandwiches and the milkshakes from the hospital cafeteria, but says he would prefer home birth for any future kids, especially because of the price.
Griffith said many of her clients, like the Harolds, choose home birth because of a special circumstance and then ask, “Why didn’t we do this sooner?”
The Shubin Family
Eyonna Shubin had wanted to try home birth. Her husband, James, finally agreed to have their fourth child at home for financial reasons.
An uncomplicated vaginal birth in a hospital may cost $9,000-$17,000, and a cesarean section can cost up to $25,000, according to costhelper.com, although what an individual pays will depend upon their health insurance status. With insurance, the Shubins had paid little to have their first two children in a hospital in California, but had to foot a $5,000 bill after insurance for their third hospital birth in Oregon.
Home birth is estimated to cost $2,000 – $4,400. The cost covers only the service of a midwife and assistant, not a facility, and midwives do not carry medical malpractice insurance. Griffith charges around $3,500 for her services. Some insurance companies will cover a home birth.
The Shubins’ friends and family had mixed reactions to their decision to give birth at home. Some were supportive, but overall Eyonna said, “Everyone was really hesitant. Nobody was jumping for joy.”
When Griffith arrived, Eyonna had already spent several hours in labor. Griffith suspected the baby’s head was not in the right position. She suggested Eyonna hug her belly and pull up during contractions to force the baby’s head downward. As far as they know, it worked. After a half hour of this exercise, Eyonna said the rest of labor was “very intense and very fast.”
There was a point during her labor when “you can’t think and you don’t know what you want or need, and in that moment, the coaching of a cool-headed midwife is most necessary,” Eyonna said.
Eyonna said she felt more peaceful and relaxed at home than she had in the hospital. Her experience caused some family members to change their minds about home birth.
Isaac Shubin is now almost 2 months old. His three older brothers had hoped for a sister, but decided that he was a keeper.
Eyonna said the home birth was, ironically, the “most painful but most pleasant experience.” She said it’s the little things that make home birth comfortable, like using her own bathroom and kissing her children goodnight with the new baby there.