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Midwives: Mom Jen Johnson's home-birth story

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This week's cover story, "Special Delivery," tells the story of Indra Lusero, a home-birth-mom-turned-lawyer who has thrust herself into a legislative battle between midwives and doctors. After giving birth at home with a midwife eight years ago, Lusero became an advocate for the age-old profession. And she's not alone.

In her quest to build a coalition of consumers to push for changes to Colorado's outdated midwifery law, Lusero has met with dozens of moms. Many were inspired to get involved because they had successful, happy home births themselves and they want to spread the word. Others would like to fight against the misconceptions and controversy that still surround midwifery.

Take Jen Johnson. In late 2008, the now-33-year-old Fort Collins mom found out she was pregnant with her first child. But when she called her doctor's office to make a prenatal appointment, she was told she'd have to wait three months to be seen.

"I was terrified by the prospect of giving birth, because everything we know in our culture is that it's painful and it's scary," says Johnson, who works in the community service office at Colorado State University. She wanted to see a birth expert right away, and one of her friends suggested a midwife she knew named Beth.

"I called Beth and she was like, 'Oh, come over! You can do a free consultation,'" Johnson says. "I felt this sense of relief, like someone is going to give me information and they're not talking about my insurance -- they're talking about my life."

Johnson and her partner, Chris Leck, decided to hire Beth to be their midwife. "As soon as we met Beth, I was sold," Johnson says. "She is so badass and really smart... That's the kind of person I want in my corner when I'm giving birth."

Johnson's pregnancy was normal, and she had regular appointments with Beth. On the night of June 18, 2009 -- a week before her due date -- she woke up at midnight with the feeling that something was happening. Beth had advised her to rest, so she went back to sleep until contractions woke her up again at 5 a.m. She e-mailed work to tell them she was in labor, and she and Leck set up the birthing pool they'd rented.

Beth showed up in the afternoon, and around 3:30 p.m., Johnson climbed into the pool. Half an hour and five pushes later, baby Rigley was born, weighing eight pounds.

But something wasn't right. "Beth could tell that the baby's coloring was kind of blue," Johnson says. So Beth administered oxygen to Rigley, which is one medical intervention that's legal for midwives to perform under Colorado law. "Whenever the baby was on oxygen, she was doing great. When the oxygen was removed, she turned blue almost immediately," Johnson says. Eventually, Beth suggested they go to the hospital.

Rigley was diagnosed with pneumonia, a common problem that occurs when the baby inhales fluid during the birthing process. The hospital started her on antibiotics and the pneumonia cleared up after a week. Today, Rigley is a healthy one-and-a-half-year-old.

But though the story has a happy ending, Johnson isn't pleased with the way she and Leck were treated by some of the hospital staff when they arrived with Rigley in distress.

"They wrote on her chart, 'failed home birth,'" Johnson says. "I was so pissed. Number one, this was a pretty damn beautiful birth. It's not a 'failed home birth' because this kid aspirated some fluid. That could have happened anywhere."

At no point did Johnson lose faith in her midwife. "I think we're an example of where things didn't go exactly perfectly as planned and it still is fine," Johnson says. Throughout the process, she says, Beth remained calm -- which helped her stay calm, too.

But Johnson's story illustrates that tension still exists between doctors and midwives. Many doctors think midwives are uneducated and homebirth is dangerous. Midwives, who care only for healthy pregnant women and have emergency backup plans for when things go wrong, have been fighting to overcome those long-held beliefs for decades.

And they're continuing to fight this year as the hard-won law that legalizes their profession is up for a review in the state legislature. Like always, the doctors are opposing efforts to expand the midwives' scope of practice. We'll keep track of the latest. Stay tuned.

More from our Things to Do archive: "Stock show apologizes for gay jokes, Brokeback Mountain banter at Saturday rodeo."

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