The Grand Isle town clerk was a little nervous when Marada Cook and Ryan Redmond brought their infant to the town office to be registered July 23, 2007.
“Seems we were all three a little nervous,” Clerk Marie Sirois recalled recently. “It was a first-time experience for me.” In her years as clerk, she had never been asked to record the birth of a child born in the town.
“I called Augusta to guide me,” she said. “They were very helpful in Augusta, guiding me on what documents to use, what forms to fill out.” Marie gave the appropriate forms to the new parents to look over while she called Augusta again for the answers to their questions.
It’s no wonder the procedure was unfamiliar. The couple learned later that their firstborn, Eli, was the first child born at home in the town of Grand Isle in 40 years.
“We wanted to do the birth ourselves,” explained Marada, who was 25 when Eli was born. “The decision to have the baby ourselves is one we made together. [Ryan, who was 29 at the time] is a confident man and wanted to be the birth attendant. It was kind of his idea in the first place.”
Eli’s birthplace was a 12-by-16-foot wood cabin his mother had built herself on a hill behind her family’s farmhouse on Route 1 where she and her four siblings grew up helping their parents, Kate and Jim Cook, manage Skylandia Organic Farm.
“Our family had a lot of nurses,” she said, adding that her grandmother had seven children and her mother had five with two sets of twins.
She said her baby’s birth in the cabin was close to the way she imagined it would be. Every time she thought about it, she saw herself walking into a hayfield and squatting. The “completely peaceful birth at the edge of a hayfield” was close.
The couple had notified the nearest hospital in case of an emergency, and they had phone contact with a midwife when the contractions slowed down. They had read “a few great books,” and found “Spiritual Midwifery” by Ina May Gaskin most helpful.
“We were a little naive, but not totally in the dark,” she said, acknowledging that a 45-minute drive to the nearest hospital would have been a bit long in an emergency, and that they could have had a better backup plan.
“Ryan and I are always adamant that living in fear of what might happen shortchanges what does happen,” she said, adding that she was extremely healthy.
And so “on a clear, cool night in July we had ourselves a baby after six hours of labor — a perfectly healthy little boy.”
It would be the first of three home births for Ryan and Marada. The second occurred March 3, 2009, in a dome 15 feet in diameter that Ryan had built himself in Litchfield. It was 10 minutes to the closest hospital, and Ryan’s parents lived next door. When contractions began, he took their son to the grandparents. He had just returned and walked through the back door when Marada called, “This baby is coming out right now.” And there was Ivyn, a healthy baby girl.
“He literally had time to reach under me and catch the baby,” she said. The birthing was over within a span of three hours and they entertained visitors for the rest of the afternoon.
When Arthur was born Aug. 7, 2011, the family had moved to an apartment in Hallowell to accommodate Ryan’s and Marada’s work commitments. He repairs and restores Volvos; she and her sister Leah own and manage the Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative, which buys and sells organic products for Maine farmers and food producers. A midwife attended Arthur’s birth, and even though he was three weeks late, he arrived after only two hours of labor and “the birth was very peaceful,” Marada said.
“A midwife gives more support than just at the birth,” she said, describing Arthur’s birth as a great experience. “A midwife thinks about your well-being in ways you don’t.”
She described home birth as an empowering experience, but affirmed “there is no wrong way to birth, as long as the mother is confident [her choice] is the right way to birth. Mothers should be respected for how they want their births to go.”
Home births have a way of bringing people together in strange ways. On one of their trips back to Aroostook County, Marada and Ryan had stopped at the scenic view overlooking Mount Katahdin when a trucker approached them.
“Your baby and I have something in common,” he said. Responding to their questioning looks, he said he had read about Eli’s home birth in the St. John Valley Times weekly newspaper and realized that he had been the last baby born at home in Grand Isle 40 years earlier. He had arrived in the midst of a snowstorm that prevented a trip to the hospital.
“It was just one of those small-town coincidences,” Marada recalled. “I don’t think it was hard for him to guess who I was. I have red hair, and we had a rather distinctive beat-up Toyota truck we drove around.”
They couldn’t remember the man’s name, but maybe they will find out when this column reaches the folks in Grand Isle.
Kathryn Olmstead is a former University of Maine associate dean and associate professor of journalism living in Aroostook County, where she publishes the quarterly magazine Echoes. Her column appears in this space every other Friday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 626, Caribou 04736.