Kid Stuff

No Place Like Home Birth

locals reflect on their home birth experiences

Kinzy Janssen, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

Paula Bernini Fiegal has helped 400 hundred women give birth since becoming a Certified Professional Midwife in 1993. (That translates to having witnessed 4,000 tiny fingers and 4,000 tiny toes for the first time!) Seventy percent of those births happened at Morning Star Birth Center in Menomonie, where Paula is director, and 30 percent have taken place right at home.

Though hospital births have become the norm since the 1950s, approximately 1.4 percent of Wisconsin babies are born at home, a percentage that is double the national average.

But why is the number still so low, compared for instance with Netherlanders, who opt to give birth at home 30 percent of the time? It isn’t because it is any less safe. In fact, Paula notes that a 2003 study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that, for low-risk women, homebirth with a qualified attendant is safe, or safer than, hospital birth.   

Paula’s philosophy is that a woman will birth best where she feels most comfortable and safe. For some women, that place is home. “A woman will be “imprinted by … what she’s led to believe about her body and her innate capabilities,” Paula says. “Giving birth is the quintessential feminine act. It pays to find a midwife who will celebrate and respect that from start to finish.”

    Rebecca Gorski
    When Rebecca Gorski of Eau Claire was ready to give birth to her first child, Mason, she couldn’t proceed because her doctor wasn’t there yet. Later, Rebecca had to get out of the bathtub (a taxing task for a woman in labor) because the doctor hadn’t been trained in water birth. “This was an experience I did not want to repeat,” says Rebecca of her hospital experience.

After her second birthing experience, which happened at home, Rebecca wants people to understand that midwives are highly trained professionals who are well-equipped with a sterilization kit, among other tools. “I didn’t do it just to say I had a natural birth. It’s actually safer!” she says.

Rebecca gave birth to Silas Robert Gorski, on Aug. 3 of last year. “It went very smoothly,” Rebecca says. “Our first meal as a family of four was in our bedroom and it was wonderful,” she says. Though opting for a midwife can be more expensive than going through a physician, Rebecca knows it was worth it.

    Stacey Bounk
    Stacey Bounk was in the 33rd week of pregnancy with her third child, Aiden, when, she says, “I knew with every fiber of my being that I could not deliver in a hospital.” Having had two previous caesareans due to fear and labor-inducing drugs, Stacey wanted to be able to delivery naturally. Stacey says it was not an easy task to find a physician who would support her in this decision. It was then that she switched care providers.

“The United States has one of the highest cesarean rates in the world! It’s not because cesareans are safer for either the mother or the baby. Women are starting to realize that they are not broken, that their bodies do work.” 

Stacey describes the actual experience of labor as surreal. “Everything was quiet except the sound of Janis Joplin’s Greatest Hits. We just let my body do the work it had to do,” she says.

Stacey says she and her family still share a close relationship with Paula.  They consider her part of their family.

    Danica Rich
    Danica Rich describes her experience of giving birth to her daughter Karina last November as peaceful, comfortable, and gentle. “Labor is hard work no matter what, obviously, but there was no unnecessary stress or tension involved,” she says. 

Though her first childbirth at a local hospital was a good experience, Danica sought a home birth because she figured it would be less disruptive to family life.

During the actual labor, Danica was amazed at the techniques Bernini Feigal implemented. “She didn’t just say ‘it’s not working.’ She said, ‘why isn’t this working?’ and helped me find a different position.” 

Danica loves being able to share the story of her birth with those who ask. At the same time, she’s cautious. “It’s important not to make anyone feel guilty or bad about their past experiences. My own hospital birth was a good experience, but I want people to know that it can be even better.”

    Jevon Rich
    When Danica expressed interest in a home birth, Jevon, her husband, asked lots of questions. “I was mostly concerned about the safety of a home birth, but my concern disappeared when I understood Paula’s ability,” says Jevon, who took an “eye-opening” class at Morning Star that addressed these issues.

Jevon’s role during the birth was much more active than it had been at the hospital. When Danica’s labor started, he set up and filled the birthing tub, gave Danica a massage, and supported her physically while she was birthing. “It was more work, but it was probably the most fulfilling work I’ve done in a long time,” he says. 

“Birthing in a home where we do life everyday … brought a specialness to the place in the living room where Karina was born,” says Jevon. To parents who are even slightly interested in home birth, Jevon – the former skeptic – says, “Go for it!”