Longform

Indra Lusero's pitch to help Colorado midwives is catching heat in the legislature

It was nighttime when the contractions started to come.

Indra Lusero wandered from the bedroom to the living room to the bathroom as she labored in the Highland bungalow she shared with her partner, Allison Lusero Hoffman. The birth had been carefully planned: A portable hot tub was set up so Indra could immerse herself in warm water to soothe the pain of natural, no-drugs labor. Luminarias — candles in paper bags — glowed outside. Allison and Indra's friend LuAnne was there to offer encouragement and massages. Geoffrey Bateman, the baby's biological father, tended to a ham cooking in a crockpot. And Indra's midwife, Flame, kept a watchful eye on all of it.

Later, as her labor intensified, Indra's brother, Jimmy, thumped out a rhythmic beat on a drum, while her sister Laura repeated a passage that Indra had selected by lesbian poet Audre Lorde: "This is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe."

There are some who would say that what Indra was doing wasn't safe at all. Home birth has long been a controversial issue. Doctors and nurses say it's unnecessarily risky, and they criticize the midwives who deliver babies at home as amateur and insufficiently trained.

But to Indra, giving birth in her own home, with her trusted friends at her side, felt nurturing and awe-inspiring and secure. Which is why, very soon after Eliot Indigo was born, she vowed to become an advocate for Colorado's tiny midwife population. It's also why, eight years and a law degree later, she's launched herself into the middle of a tense battle between midwives and the medical establishment that's been simmering for decades.

The next round takes place this year, when the law that legalizes midwifery will expire unless the state legislature renews it. Senator Morgan Carroll, an Aurora Democrat, is sponsoring a bill to renew and revise the hard-won law. There are several changes on the table, including one that would allow midwives to administer drugs such as vitamin K to newborns, which they're trained for but prohibited from doing. Another provision would lift a ban on simultaneously being registered as a nurse and a midwife.

Indra hopes to have a say. She's started a coalition of people who support home birth — from moms who hired midwives to those who wish they had — to advocate for what they see as common-sense revisions to the law. A few of the changes they're pushing for, such as the ability for midwives to suture women who experience tears during childbirth, are ones that the Colorado Midwives Association has been willing to forgo this round in an attempt to play nice — which has put Indra at odds with the CMA leadership.

But while some midwives wish she'd leave them alone, others applaud her. And many are simply watching and waiting to see if this 36-year-old home-birth-mom-turned-lawyer can make a difference for the age-old, often misunderstood practice of midwifery.

"It was an incredible journey," Indra says of the day her son was born. "There were no special tools. There was hot water and there was a drum and there were loving hands...What are we doing that more people can't have this?"

Although her labor lasted through the night and carried over into the morning, Indra knew when it was time to push. Up until then, labor had felt like something that was happening to her. Now, she had a role; more than that, she had a job to do.

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One of Indra's earliest memories is the day her brother Jimmy was born in her parents' ranch house in Longmont. It was 1977, and Indra (whose given name is Lisa; she changed it to Indra as an adult) had just turned three. Her parents, Rick and Sue Lusero, were high-school sweethearts who'd met in Longmont, gone to college together outside of Chicago and then moved back to Colorado, where Rick earned a law degree and became a municipal judge.

"We were conservative hippies," Sue explains now. "We wore jeans and flowered shirts, but we were hardworking kids and good students."

Sue had given birth to both Lisa and her younger sister, Laura, in hospitals, but hadn't liked the way she was treated the second time. When she showed up at Longmont United Hospital, fully in labor and ready to push, the nurses told her not to because the doctor wasn't there yet. It was dinnertime, and the hospital requested that Sue wait until afterward to deliver her baby. She did, but she was furious.

After that, Sue says, "there was no way I'd consider going back to the local hospital." So when she and Rick learned they were pregnant with their third child, they decided to have the baby at home. They began attending how-to home-birthing classes held at night in the foothills of Boulder; midwifery was illegal then, thanks to a 1941 law, and Sue recalls feeling somewhat cloak-and-daggerish. "It was this illegal thing we were learning about," she says now. "But the class was very informative and very empowering. I remember the moment, the fear of realizing the responsibility we were taking on."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar