EAST MACHIAS, Maine — Eamon James Mather — 10 pounds, 2 ounces — was born at 6:25 a.m. on the Fourth of July in the living room of his mother’s East Machias home.
His mother, Anna Mather, 34, had prepared for a home birth but even as she labored she asked, “Is this all a dream?”
Mather called for the midwives at 2 a.m. and the duo of Suzanne Brown and Pam Dyer Stewart arrived with boxes and totes filled with the necessary supplies. Three friends arrived as well, and together with Mather’s 9-year-old daughter, Adiya, they began the early morning vigil.
It was a quiet time in the dark, a time of lowered voices and soft laughter punctuated by Mather’s breathing and straining through childbirth. As she rested between contractions, Mather reflected. “Home birth is such an incredibly vulnerable experience, which is why some women are afraid of it, afraid of the openness,” she said.
Home birth is a natural option sought out by many women nowadays. Brown said she and her partner, who operate out of Harrington, perform about 12 to 13 home births a year. Many women feel a greater sense of security in a hospital setting, but others, like Mather, want minimal intervention and choose a home birth for every delivery. Two of the three friends supporting Mather had also experienced home births.
The percentage of home births is still small — between 1 and 2 percent of all births nationwide — but home births across the country are increasing, according to the latest statistics released earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 1 in 143 births was at home. That is up from 1 in 179 four years earlier.
Home births have often been labeled unsafe by the medical profession, but many studies offer conflicting conclusions. Some argue that hospitals present their own dangers of infection and sometimes unnecessary medical interventions.
CDC researchers found that home births involving medical risks became less common from 2004 to 2008. Home births of infants born prematurely fell by 16 percent, so that by 2008 only 6 percent of all home births involved pre-term births. That’s less than half the percentage in hospitals.
Although some women require hospitalization because of emergency or problematic conditions, many healthy women opt, like Mather, to give birth at home.
On the morning of the Fourth of July, night slowly turned into day and the women supported Mather with whispered words of encouragement and gentle massaging.
“Great work, Anna,” midwife Brown cooed. “You were born to do this.” Mather’s sounds became deeper, more urgent and primal.
And suddenly Eamon’s upturned face was sliding into the morning. Once the umbilical cord was unlooped from his neck, his slick body arrived quickly. Tears were flowing all around and, as Eamon let out his first cry, Mather cradled him and said, “I don’t blame you.”
A newborn assessment was completed. “OK,” said Dyer Stewart. “You’re beautiful. That’s the conclusion.” Eamon was measured (22.5 inches) and weighed and sister Adiya counted all of his fingers and toes.
Mather was attended to, plumped upright with pillows, and while Eamon began nursing at just 10 minutes old, Adiya was feeding her mother melon, eggs, English muffins and walnuts.
Despite the beauty of the surroundings, the awe and wonder of his simple birth, Eamon James could have a hard road ahead of him. This may be 2011, but the stigma of having children outside of marriage still runs deep. Mather, who is not married to her newborn son’s father, had friends turn their backs on her when they discovered she was pregnant. Her daughter was mocked at school.
It was strangely poetic, then, that Mather gave birth on Independence Day — independence being something she thrives on.
“Being judged was hard,” Mather said in a series of interviews several days before the birth. “The fact that people were judging me for being a single mother taught me how incredibly varied our perceptions are.” Mather, who is a seamstress and radio show host, said it has taken her years to embrace single parenthood.
When she became pregnant with her first child out of wedlock, her church asked her to leave the choir. She was asked to apologize to the congregation.
“I’ve lost many friends and my family is still uncomfortable, but I’m looking at this birth as a healing,” she said.
“It is hard to face judgment from people who don’t know the pain,” she said. “But part of my progress through life is to listen to myself and give myself value. This pregnancy was a decision. I had been thinking about having more children but was so wary of the stigma of unmarried mothers.
“Yes, ideally, I’d like a child with a partner that will stick around and share our lives, but that didn’t happen. Does that mean that I don’t have the right to have children, because I have no husband?” she said.
Speaking about both issues — raising children alone and giving birth at home — Mather said, “I’ve had so many people tell me, ‘Oh, you are so brave.’ No, no I’m not. We all are. As women we have forgotten that.”