Home Birth Kaua`i
by Anne E. O’Malley
Being born can be a rude awakening for infants, but many on Kaua`i — and elsewhere — work to make it as beautiful, loving and bonding an experience as possible. Among those with such a goal are the partners in the five-and-a-half-year-old Home Birth Kaua`i, a center whose name describes its purpose.
By the time Certified Nurse Midwifery practitioner Claudia Brown opened the business and later offered a partnership in it to Sharon Offley, also a CNM, the two had a combined experience of working with over 10,000 births, most of them in hospitals.
“The first practice I worked out of was a busy hospital,” says Brown. “I delivered between 15 and 20 babies a day.
“There were high risk babies. We saw it all — twins, C-sections, breech babies — it was like playing junior resident, a lot of great experience.”
Both women personally had the experience of birthing their own children at home, and in addition, throughout her 28 years of experience, Brown had helped in the home birthing of several friends’children.
Today, on a serene 5.5 acres in Wailua Homesteads, Home Birth Kaua`i offers two birth suites, each consisting of a bedroom, living room, kitchen and a huge bath with hydrotherapy and birthing tubs inside and out.
“We now do between five and seven births a month, a far cry from the first year, when I did eight for the year,” says Brown.
Brown’s philosophy of midwifery, as stated on their website, is that “birth is a safe, beautiful and normal process. Midwives know that pregnant and birthing women are not sick, that birth is not inherently dangerous, and that their new babies are nowhere safer than in their mother’s care.”
Brown came to Kaua`i in 1992 in response to an ad for a position as a nurse midwife at Kaua`i Medical Clinic in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health. Eight years into it, she was about to enter private practice when a vacation to France resulted in an extended European stay. Working to increase condom usage and becoming a restaurateur brought connections to South Africa, where Brown next landed after a plea for help from a friend working with HIV-positive women raising money through their artistic projects.
In Swaziland – at the time it had the highest incidence of HIV in the world — Brown partnered to build six preschools and soup kitchens. HIV-positive patients had to walk all day to get to the clinic and needed food.
Continue reading after the following photo gallery.
In returning to her home on Kaua`i, Brown also returned to her true calling — home birthing. Opening an office at Makai Ola in downtown Kapa`a, she, Offley and eventually a third colleague, Colleen Bass, also a CNM, began to offer women’s health care in obstetrics and gynecology.
“We are advanced practice registered nurses,” says Brown.
In the Wailua Homesteads, in a little Garden of Eden burgeoning with fruit and offering an organic chef to prepare meals during a home birthing stay, Brown is busy with the business of birthing.
“The first visit is a consult,” she says. “Potential clients can ask all the questions they want, tour the property, meet us and see if it’s a right fit for them.”
She holds a reunion each Thursday from 2 to 6 p.m., when couples who had babies with Home Birth Kaua`i gather at the center’s saltwater pool with pregnant women.
“Anyone can come, and it doesn’t cost anything to sit and chat with us,” says Brown, who invites those considering home birth to check out the center.
She provides a birth list of what clients should bring, and a list for those birthing in their own homes.
Says Brown, “We offer professional care and also ancillary care. You can have all the bells and whistles of a medical practice here — or you can be as natural as you want.
“We are specialists and well trained and give very good care. We create a safe space —we’re there to shepherd the family, so to speak.”
Asked to share an anecdote, Offley and Brown smile — which one?
Offley tells about being present as three generations of a family hold hands, praying, surrounding a young husband and wife in water, the wife chanting, the husband holding her, and Offley sees a pueo flying. As the baby girl arrives, she slides easily into the water, another miracle of birth.
Says Offley, who had been away from the practice of childbirth for a time prior to witnessing this birth at Brown’s invitation, “When I had the opportunity to witness that passion I’d always had, it brought me back into this practice.”