My sister (Crystal Fink) is a midwife. Last year our newpaper approached my sister about doing a story on one of her clients. The story was just released!!! I had to share! http://www.roanoke.com/extra/wb/316813
Crickets chirped as the soft, yellow glow of streetlights fell on the small group of people gathered in front of Jillian Huntress' home. It was 2 a.m. on Aug. 19.
Jillian, 25, sat on an exercise ball in her front yard, rocking slowly, back and forth. A black tank top stretched across her swollen, nine-month pregnant belly; she was in labor.
J.D. Riddle, Jillian's partner of nine years, came up behind her, telling her to breathe.
Less than four hours later, Charlize Lucille Riddle would be born in her parents' bedroom, weighing seven pounds, 10 ounces.
J.D. and Jillian are among a growing number of families who choose to give birth at home. According to a 2012 federal report, the number of home births in the United States increased by 28 percent between 2004 and 2009. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services records show that there were 29,650 home births in 2009, compared with 23,150 in 2004.
Often, home births are facilitated by midwives, and in this case, Crystal Fink and Wanda Smith, both licensed and certified professional midwives, assisted with Charlize's birth.
The women take on only low-risk pregnancies. Fink said risk factors such as pre-existing hypertension, epilepsy, breech, multiples and clotting disorders are outside her scope of practice.
"We are not 'do or die' home birthers," Fink said. "I would never want to risk a mom or risk a baby to have an experience."
Jillian had the added benefit of success: About two years ago, she gave birth to her second child at home.
Looking at options
Jillian and J.D. met through a mutual friend at a Hardee's in Roanoke, where Jillian worked when she was 16.
"I thought he was cute; goofy I guess," said Jillian.
They dated for about a year, but broke up when they went their separate ways after high school — Jillian graduated from Patrick Henry High School; J.D. from Cave Spring High. After graduation, he attended Nashville Auto-Diesel College in Tennessee (now Lincoln College of Technology) and Jillian joined the National Guard.
But the two kept in touch. Jillian would often visit J.D.
"[During] our breakup period, we might as well have been together," Jillian said.
They officially became a couple again in December 2005.
In February 2006, J.D. gave Jillian a diamond ring. They're not married, but Jillian said that probably will happen someday.
"We already know that we love each other, and we want to be together forever," Jillian said. "It's just not important to us to prove it to other people."
Now J.D., 26, is an auto body technician at Cave Spring Auto Body, and Jillian is a stay-at-home mother.
Their first child, Cohen, now 5, was born in a hospital. Jillian said she was left feeling unsatisfied and unhappy with the way she and her baby were treated. So she decided to look into other options.
Dr. Kimberly Dulaney, a family practitioner with Carilion Clinic Family Medicine in Rocky Mount, said that she is an advocate for assisted home births.
"For low-risk births, I think that home births are completely fine in the hands of a skilled birth practitioner," Dulaney said. But it's always good for the prospective parents to establish a relationship with a physician in case the patient needs to transfer care during the pregnancy.
Dulaney is a mother of three. Her first child was born in a birth center, her second was born at home, and her third was born at Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital, which stopped offering baby delivery services in 2011. All three, she said, were great experiences.
When Jillian and J.D. were expecting again, Jillian looked for safe birthing alternatives.
"It's more than just a baby coming out of a woman," Jillian said. "It makes a mother, and I feel like the birth process can affect a mother for the rest of her life."
That's how she came across Open Hearts Traditional Hands, which was a partnership between Fink and Smith. Now, Fink runs her own program, Breath of Life Midwifery, in an office in The bea-ing Center for Holistic Health, and Wanda runs Gentle Birth Roanoke; both are in Roanoke. The two often work together.
Jillian met with Fink and Smith and liked that they were willing to come to her Roanoke County house.
"We just got along really well from the start," Jillian said. "There was no doubt in my mind that's what I wanted."
A typical home birth with Fink costs roughly $3,000. A typical hospital birth at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital costs about $10,000, according to a representative in the hospital's billing department. Fink takes Medicaid and MajestaCare. But coverage with private insurance companies varies.
"I've had patients get anywhere from zero to 100 percent reimbursement," Fink said.
A family experience
Jillian had most of Levi's and Charlize's prenatal care visits in her living room, but some took place in their older brother Cohen's bedroom. Fink would measure Jillian's weight and fundal height (the size of the uterus) at each visit, take her blood pressure and collect a urine sample.
While she was pregnant with Charlize, the visits were also a chance for Jillian's two older children to observe and learn from the experience. Fink asked the children questions, let them listen to the baby's heartbeat and measure their mother's stomach.
"If you draw them into the process, that makes them part of the pregnancy," Fink said. "It helps them adjust to the fact that they're going to be a big sister or a big brother."
J.D. admits that he was nervous about birthing Levi at home. He asked what would be done in an emergency. He slowly became comfortable with the idea.
"You can 'what if' all you want," J.D. said. "Sometimes, you just gotta go for it."
The couple's second child, Levi, was born at home in 2010. The experience brought Jillian and J.D. closer.
"It was him and I, and nobody else," Jillian said. "It made me more attracted to him; it made me appreciate him more."
When Jillian found out she was pregnant with their third child, she said there was no question she would have her baby at home again. This time, J.D. was on board 100 percent.
The final moments
"Momma, before you start pushing, you might want to take your pants off," Fink said at about 3:15 a.m. Aug. 19.
Jillian moved from the living room to the shower, and finally, her bedroom. A wall separated the birthing scene from two sleeping children.
Fink and Smith had already prepared the bed for birthing. A plastic sheet covered a clean sheet on the mattress, with a clean sheet on top. Instruments were nearby: a blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, Doppler monitor, thermometer, sterile gloves, Doppler gel, underpads and an amnihook (in case the midwives had to break Jillian's water). A small stack of towels and blankets sat on a corner of the bed.
It was 4 a.m. Jillian and J.D. were left in the bedroom alone, while the other four women — including Jillian's best friend, Savanah Songer, and her sister, Katie Huntress — waited in the living room.
"Charlize's birth was like a birth party," J.D. said.
Jillian lay in a froglike position on her stomach, while J.D. put on country music to help get her mind off the pain. As the contractions intensified, Jillian sat up on the edge of the bed.
"Here she comes, here she comes," J.D. said, and Smith rushed back into the bedroom. He knew it was time because Jillian's water broke.
Smith crouched next to the bed and coached Jillian through the final seconds. Jillian's birth plan stated that she wanted a hands-off birth. She wanted to do this herself.
"OK, just slow it down," said Smith. "You're doing fine."
J.D. leapt onto the bed to get out of the way, as Smith moved closer.
"I got a cord, honey," Smith said. "Now you go ahead, you do your baby."
Katie Huntress and Songer were now in the room, standing against the far wall. Huntress shot video on a handheld camcorder, and Songer took photos with a camera.
When Charlize was born, Jillian reached down and pulled her baby's slippery body up to her chest, making sure the umbilical cord didn't get tangled.
The baby took her first breaths of air as she let out a small cry. It was 5:02 a.m.
J.D. clapped his hands softly as a huge grin spread across his face.
"You look so little," Jillian said to Charlize. "I thought you were big."
Smith swathed the baby in two blankets and put an infant cap on her head. Jillian pulled her baby even closer and kissed the top of her head as she used her body heat to keep Charlize warm.
"I feel like she came flying out," Jillian said.
"She did, she did," everyone said at once.
Meeting her brothers
Levi woke up only a few minutes after Charlize was born. He looked at his new baby sister with tired eyes, then moved to the living room. Jillian sat on the bed and snacked on hard-boiled eggs, bacon and grapes as she nursed her newborn.
One hour later, Charlize's measurements were taken. She lay flat on a clean, blue towel as Fink stretched a measuring tape around her torso and head.
It was then J.D.'s turn to bond with his daughter. He stood in the steamy bathroom with Charlize in his arms as Jillian took a shower. The warm air helped clear the baby's nasal passages and ease her lungs. Meanwhile, the midwives cleaned the bedroom. They finished their paperwork by about 7 a.m., checked in on Jillian and the baby, and left to get some sleep.
Then Jillian, J.D. and Charlize snuggled up in bed, and let their heavy eyes close.
Later that morning, about 9:30, Jillian and J.D. woke up and found Cohen awake in his bedroom.
"Hey, do you want to meet your baby sister?" J.D. asked.
Cohen said he was surprised his sister had arrived while he was sleeping. He started to get dressed when J.D. stopped him. He didn't need to get dressed to meet Charlize — she was just in the next room.
"He was pretty excited," Jillian said. "He had a shy face on, like he didn't know how to react."
Cohen walked into his parents' bedroom cautiously and said hello.
He thought Charlize was cuter than Levi.
"Cuz Levi's the one who's grown up now," Cohen said. "She's not grown up yet."