Jennifer Kelleher had a lot of chutzpah for a 21-year-old. While in the hospital to give birth to her first baby 19 years ago, she says she was unhappy with being “treated appallingly.”
So she took the I.V. out of her arm, left the hospital and went home to have her son under the care of a midwife. “It was a beautiful, perfect birth,” Kelleher said.
She herself became a midwife seven years later, long before that profession became anything like acceptable.
“For the most part people are very positive now - not so much that appalled look as a dubiously skeptical look, which is an improvement!” Kelleher said, laughing.
Although she estimtes that still less than 1 percent of Kendall County babies are born at home, between her offices in Boerne and Bexar County and her work with the San Antonio Birthing Center, Kelleher has a busy practice.
In fact, she says she has to redirect as many as four clients each month to other midwives.
“Currently I have 41 clients,” she said, “but in nine months I won’t have 41 clients. It’s a business with a high turnaround!” she laughed again. “My practice, though, for the most part is full.”
As a Certified Professional Midwife and Licensed Midwife, she doesn’t see demand diminishing either, not with home births becoming more and more preferred. Kelleher estimates that between 12 and 17 babies were born in the Boerne area during the past year. And she recently finished training another midwife who will also be practicing in the Boerne area.
The reasons that mothers and fathers choose home birth aren’t complicated according to Kelleher.
“The World Health Organization says it is actually safer for 85 percent of low-risk mamas to birth outside of a hospital, so it’s a safety issue for one. It’s also your own environment - you have the freedom to do what your body calls you to do as opposed to conforming with hospital protocols.”
Another factor, Kelleher said, is the individualized care.
“On average a woman giving birth in a hospital has 14 to 21 providers who interact with her during a hospital stay. On average my clients have one.”
Since she became licensed, Kelleher has delivered well over 500 babies and about 3 percent of those clients ended up going to the hospital. Of that 3 percent, only a small fraction ended up in a surgical birth.
Compared with the more than one-third conventional hospital births that end in Caesarean sections, the numbers are remarkable, however, Kelleher is quick to point out that midwives do not accept high-risk pregnancies, that this, to some extent affects her practice’s impressive non-surgical birth rate.
Which is not to say that Kelleher doesn’t deliver multiples. She has delivered four sets of twins with more on the way.
The key to her work, the midwife says, is information and knowledge. Everything she does happens with the informed consent of the parents. And because of this informed consent Kelleher says she doesn’t even have to carry malpractice insurance.
Another important element in the midwifery field is state oversight.
“We are fortunate that the State of Texas dictates the safety value, the safety elements and the educational aspects. The State really regulates us and is in agreement that this is a viable, safe avenue for families.”
Although Kelleher says that many people imagine that, like in movies, she’s only called when mothers go into labor, she actually provides full prenatal care, including lab work, and traditional testing and monitoring. She is prepared for emergencies, including oxygen and I.V.s - anything that would be in a labor and delivery room. Her care includes the birth, of course, and up to six weeks of postpartum visits as well. Most insurance companies pay for midwife services.
Not surprisingly, Kelleher is enthusiastic about a profession that developed out of her own experience, and out of her subsequent experiences with other pregnant women.
Apparently, even before she decided to train as a midwife, Kelleher was a natural.
“They just wanted me to sit with them during labor, be with them during labor,” she remembers of her own young pre-midwife experiences. “And when I wanted to know why, they said, ‘Well, because you trust the process. And because I really want to have a natural birth.’”