Susan Johnson refused to head to the hosptial when her water broke during her first pregnancy until her husband fed their horses. Less than a year after that baby Allorah was getting to know Faith, one of those horses. Credit: Courtesy of Susanna Johnson

When Susanna Johnson’s water broke at home signaling the imminent arrival of her first child in 2017, she knew she had to get to the hospital. But the Oxford homesteader refused to leave until she was satisfied the family’s horses had enough hay and water for at least a day.

“I was doing every breathing exercise I knew to keep from pushing and telling my husband, ‘Wait, you need to feed the horses as much hay as possible before we leave.’” Johnson said. “He still teases me about that.”

Johnson and her husband arrived at the hospital with just 27 minutes to spare before their daughter was born.

Having a working homestead or farm is a 24 hour a day, 365 days a year job. There’s little time or opportunity for vacations or weekend getaways. The chores, after all, still need to be done everyday.

For homesteaders like Johnson, homesteading while pregnant can mean taking as little time off as possible.

Just ask Elena Beal. She spent her first trimester of her first pregnancy raking blueberries on her family’s Josh Pond Farm in Whiting and said she would not have had it any other way.

“It was intense, but I loved it,” Beal said. “I love farming and how the seasons change with each month bringing a new harvest and when I think back to that first pregnancy it’s the seasons that really pop up for me.”

What does not stick in her mind are the times she may have experienced the nausea and other morning sickness that can accompany a pregnancy.

“I was so busy then, I did not have time to think about nausea or tiredness,” said Beal, who is currently pregnant with her second child. “The seasons are so important for the farm and my family and if I was sick at all, it’s a tiny blip of a memory.”

Some homesteaders, though, may have the option of planting a smaller garden so there’s less harvesting, canning and freezing to do during pregnancy. But for others, the work simply continues.

“My first baby came right before kidding season,” Beal said. “So that year I got to bring her along for the birth of 24 goats.”

For this pregnancy, Beal’s first trimester coincided with the annual kidding season.

“We truly love and care for our goats,” Beal said. “It’s really special knowing I am going through their birthings while I am carrying my baby — I think they know and they are showing more kindness and love.”

Still, there are risks working close to animals on a farm. Kimberly Young, who homesteads and teaches horseback riding on her farm in Union, was exposed to the parasite toxoplasmosis that can cause serious health issues for pregnant women and their babies.

Toxoplasmosis is a condition caused by a common parasite most often associated with cats, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They and other animals can become infected by eating infected rodents, birds or other small animals. But exposure can also come from eating raw or undercooked meat or unwashed fruit or vegetables.

For most people, their own immune system is enough to prevent them from becoming sick. But women infected with the toxoplasma parasite during or shortly before becoming pregnant are at greater risk for serious health complications including miscarriage, stillbirth and damage to the baby’s organs or eyes.

Young is currently trying to find a medical specialist for care, but before she can be referred to one, she needs specific blood tests not offered in her area. She remains optimistic.

“We are still sorting through what is the right thing to do and how to manage it,” Young said. “It’s not the ideal situation, but it’s OK.”

Young is due in December and said her plan is to work as close to giving birth as possible and then get back to work as soon as she can after delivery.

“That’s the game plan,” she said. “I’m the only employee here.”

Beal said she was back in the cheese making room and tending goats about a week after having her first child.

“I was nursing my baby every two to three hours while milking goats and making cheese,” Beal said. “That was actually a lot more difficult than being pregnant.”

Johnson didn’t even have a full 24 hours to rest up after giving birth before she was having to deal with farm work.

“The next morning after I had my baby I get a call from my hay supplier,” Johnson said. “Our hay was ready and we had to take it right then, so while I’m in the hospital with my day-old baby, I’m making arrangements to find people to help my husband get hundreds of bales into our barn.”

Beal said her family would be more than happy to take on extra chores to give her some time off before and after she gives birth, but as long as she and the baby are healthy, she’s not interested.

“I know what farming is like and I know what it’s like when they need help,” Beal said. “Plus I love farm life and being a farm mom.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.