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For some rural mothers, there’s no place like home (births)

In homes on back country roads and small-town streets across a broad swath of the northern Lower Peninsula, midwife Laurie Zoyiopoulos comes when called.

Over nearly a quarter century of practice, Zoyiopoulos calculates she has delivered more than 1,200 babies. That can mean three-hour drives through rain or snow from her home near Cadillac.

“The mothers will call or text to let me know so we can time it contraction-wise. The further away they live, the sooner I go. My husband is good at loading my gear and off I go,” Zoyiopoulos said.

“The further away they live, the sooner I go. My husband is good at loading my gear” — Laurie Zoyiopoulos, midwife

She’s one in-the-flesh alternative for expectant mothers in rural areas of Michigan that lack a nearby hospital with an obstetrics ward.

“It makes sense, especially for low-risk women,” Zoyiopoulos said. “It seems like a good idea for someone who lives a long way from a hospital to have someone come to her.”

But home delivery isn’t for everyone.

Expectant mothers with risk factors for birth complications are advised to deliver at a hospital with an obstetrics unit. And the vast majority of mothers with normal pregnancies still choose hospital delivery.

According to state records, there were 1,283 intended home births in Michigan in 2017, about 1 percent of 111,507 total births. About 450 of those were attended by a nurse, nurse midwife or midwife. Just under 8,400 hospital births were attended by a nurse, nurse midwife or midwife.

Zoyiopoulos is a certified professional midwife, a standard for home-birth midwives set by the North American Registry of Midwives, which includes education, training, supervised clinical experience and passage of a written examination. Nurse midwives are registered nurses with a specialized graduate degree in nurse midwifery. They deliver the vast majority of their babies in hospitals.

Under Michigan legislation signed into law in 2017, certified professional midwives will soon have to be licensed by the state, with final rules for licensure expected to be put in place this year.

Zoyiopoulos’ long list of deliveries over the years includes four of the five infants born in the home of Autumn and Adam Cordes, who operate 360-acre organic dairy farm in a sparsely settled area some 25 miles west of Alpena.

Their children, Steven, 7; Taavi, 6; Jacob and Bennett, both 5, all came into the world with Zoyiopoulos at Autumn’s bedside. She missed the birth of Zoe, 2, who had a two-hour labor, by about 20 minutes. A midwife apprentice she trained attended the birth.

After careful consideration and meeting with Zoyiopoulos, the couple decided upon home birth as their best choice for privacy and greater control over the delivery.

“I would recommend this to as many people as I can. It gives you another option,” Autumn Cordes said.

“A lot of women say they consider me brave. I don’t consider this brave at all. I really appreciate being cozy with my babies inside my home. I feel like it would be more brave to go to the hospital.”

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