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Home-Birth Midwives Increase Citywide, Stats Show

By Meredith Hoffman | January 31, 2013 6:59am

GREENPOINT — Samantha Huggins first became a mother on a sheet covering the earth-colored carpet in her Brooklyn apartment. After her water broke while in the shower, she stepped out to the living room and her midwife helped her give birth to her daughter Juniper on the floor.

It was then, some three years ago, that Huggins knew she wanted to assist other women in having their children at home.

"Being able to stand up and crawl into your own bed with your partner there is the most peaceful time," said Huggins, 36, now a trained doula — birth assistant — who plans to become a midwife. "I kept thinking about how glad I was I didn't have to go down the stairs while in labor. I had ownership of my environment."

 Samantha Huggins' 2-month-old son was born in their living room.
Samantha Huggins' 2-month-old son was born in their living room.
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DNAinfo/Meredith Hoffman

Huggins — who also had her second child, Jasper, in her living room a little over two months ago — is among an increasing number of women in the city opting for home births, causing a recent jump in home birth midwife practices, advocates said. 

The number of city practices increased 20 percent — from 17 to 21 — from 2010 to 2012, according to figures from the women's advocacy group Choices in Childbirth, whose executive director attributed the growth to clients' needs.  

"There has been a recent influx of providers to meet the growing demand," said the executive director, Elan McAllister. 

In 2010, 719 New York City women had home births, said McAllister, who added that she lacked statistics for more recent years. Anecdotally, however, "providers report that demand continues to grow," McAllister added.

Home births already increased 29 percent nationally from 2004 to 2009, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And for women like Huggins, who started the North Brooklyn group Carriage House Doulas after giving birth to her first child, home births seem like a popular choice in certain circles of women. 

"Especially in Brooklyn, there are more home births happening. It's cultural, it's the Brooklyn mentality...we're crunchier," Huggins said. "It takes a sprinkling of courage and a dash of self-empowerment."

Her organization is renaming itself "Carriage House Births" this month and is opening a new pregnancy support center in Williamsburg.

The majority of home births in the city are likely concentrated in both Brooklyn and in Manhattan, said Grace Rice, a staff member at Choices in Childbirth. She noted that white women 35 and older are more likely to give birth at home, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's figures. 

When a woman contemplates a home birth she should consider her health and her likelihood for birth complications, advocates said — as well as her living situation.

"They may not have a nice enough home or they may live on a seventh-floor walk-up," said Catherine Clark, who has worked as a midwife for 18 years and has her own practice Bluebird Midwifery in Carroll Gardens. "Home births are not for everybody."

Certified midwives — who must have completed a New York State midwife licensure program or another certified master's program in nursing or midwifery, according to the state's website — work in many of the city's major hospitals, Clark said. Those with private practices have the chance to meet frequently with their clients during their pregnancy, she said.

"We do our best to recreate a home-like atmosphere," said Clark, who delivers babies at Long Island College Hospital after seeing her clients every few weeks while they're pregnant. "We talk about their plans for birth, their fears, their relationships with their mothers. You're their counselor, and their sister and their mother...and their good friend."

Huggins agreed that finding the right midwife match is like "meeting the person you know you're going to be friends with."

And she said that she has finally found her own calling, by aiding other women through their pregnancies.

"Having a baby is like getting on a rollercoaster when it's pitch black outside and all you can see is the beginning [and] the end," she said. "You know if you're really tense and you don’t trust the rollercoaster you're going to have a terrible time. But if you let go and let the ride take you it's going to be really fun."