Two years ago, Rebekah Furniss delivered her seventh child at her home in Stansbury Park. This past June, just two months after a move to Tooele, she gave birth to her eighth child, also at home.
This time, labor progressed too quickly for the midwives to arrive, and her eldest child, Brianna, caught the baby.
“It was wonderful,” said Roxanna Maurer, a midwife who arrived later. “Her daughter so badly wanted to be a part of the baby’s birth. I find it no accident that she was the one who caught the baby.”
Maurer said most home births she attends have a deeply spiritual feel to them, regardless of religion (or no religion) in the home.
“It is just beautiful,” she said. “There are no words for it. It’s heaven on earth for a moment.”
Furniss said she cherishes that spiritual emotion. For her family, home births are about bonding deeply with each other and their new addition. It’s also about preserving personal choices about the birthing process and newborn care.
“You can’t control everything, but there are some things you can control,” she said.
For Brianna and her sister Courtney, this adventure started with a late-night chat session.
“It was about 12 o’clock or a little bit later,” Brianna said. “Dad said the baby would probably be here the next day so we should go back to sleep.”
Shortly after, the girls heard their mother in hard labor and went to help. They called Maurer, who lives in Spanish Fork, and two student midwives (Christina Ashworth and Gloria Moore) who live closer. When they couldn’t get in touch with the student midwives, they arranged everything they could for the birth and called them again. Maurer was on her way, but she knew she wouldn’t get to the Furniss home on time. The student midwives in the Tooele area were still unavailable.
“My dad asked which one of us girls would catch the baby,” Brianna said.
Breanna stepped up to help with the birth. Ava Furniss, weighing more than 11 pounds, was born at 1:01 a.m.
Brianna loves all her siblings, but she admits she has a special relationship with the two children born at home.
“With Pyper and Ava I can really tell a difference,” she said. “They’re cuddlier, too.”
While the bonding process is important for every family no matter where the birth takes place, Maurer said sometimes interruptions in an unfamiliar setting and pain medication can take the edge off the enjoyment.
She explained bonding between mothers and newborns occurs partly because of an endorphin rush the mother receives when the baby is finally born. With no medication, the pain isn’t dulled, but neither are the side effects of that endorphin rush.
“The mom goes from agony to sheer joy and exhilaration,” she said.
“That bonding experience is oftentimes why moms go search out a home birth,” she said. “They realize there’s a different way to do things.”
“Notice that I didn’t say better,” she added. “I said different.”
A different kind of experience is exactly what Rebekah Furniss looked for in her home births.
“My journey started with Brianna, really,” she said.
Brianna was born by C-section in a hospital. After that, Furniss researched vaginal births and decided that was how she was going to have all of her other children.
“I don’t see how I could have had this many children if I had more C-sections,” she said.
With Joshua, her third child, Furniss declined pain medication.
She researched the Bradley method of natural birth with no painkillers. This included studying relaxation techniques and husband-coaching. She used the method again when Danielle and the twins, Ammon and Andrew, were born.
Then Pyper came along, and Furniss decided to give birth at home.
“I’m a baby steps kind of person,” she said, smiling at the direction her childbirth experiences took her. “I get overwhelmed by the big perspective.”
In spite of that, Furniss studied enough that she became a certified teacher for the Bradley method. She hopes to start teaching birthing classes again in the spring of 2015. For now, she’s focusing on her work as a breastfeeding peer counselor at the Tooele WIC office.
Maurer said women who give birth at home are usually well nourished, well supported and well educated, contrary to the beliefs of 20 years ago when women who had home births were considered backward and uneducated.
“I will say home birth is not for everybody,” she said, “But the caliber of these women who are looking into their personal power and intuition is incredible.”
There’s a wide variety of options for any expecting mother. Beside home births with midwives or traditional hospital births, parents can employ a doula to help in either setting. A doula acts a coach, birth attendant and mother’s advocate, leaving the mother free to focus on the baby.
In spite of the options, midwifery is still a small industry.
“I know of two students in the Tooele area, but I don’t know of any midwives,” Maurer said.
This makes it difficult to find a midwife to help with home births.
“That has been a challenge for me every time,” Furniss said. For parents interested in finding a midwife, she recommends attending a La Leche meeting.
“If you want a home birth, that’s where you will find someone who has had one,” she said.
The cost of hiring a midwife ranges from $2,500 to $4,000. Many insurances won’t cover home births. Furniss said it’s worth the price to get the birthing experience she wants.
And where else but at home could her eldest daughter have caught her youngest? Furniss said she bonded again with Brianna as well as with Ava.
“This connected us more,” she said.