By Gina Duwe The Janesville Gazette, Wis.
The business side of Matt Lovell kicked in after he and his wife, Melissa, spent about $300 on a birth tub to deliver their third child at home last year.
Add in a water pump, hose and other supplies, and it turns into a costly expense for items that might never be used again, he said.
"I thought, 'There's got to be a rental market out there," said Matt, who also has a business called RV Butler, which rents camping trailers and camping equipment.
His national research led to a couple places that rent birth tubs, which are similar to an inflatable kiddie pools but more accommodating for laboring women.
"We've got a tub here, sitting here doing nothing," he recalled. "We're going to start a business and see if it works."
The couple started Ma & Me Home Birth Supply out of their Edgerton home.
They have three tubs available, and rentals have been sporadic--they had two out at once, then none for a while, Matt said. "I think it may pick up once we get more midwives in the area to recommend people," he said.
All their rentals have been to area families who arranged a pickup of the supplies, but Matt said he would love for the business to ship supplies nationwide to customers. Ma & Me offers birth kits, which is "basically us doing the shopping for them," for items needed for home deliveries.
WATER BIRTHS Those in the home birth community say they've seen an increase in water births in recent years.
"I think moms are just hearing more and more stories of moms' success and overall comfort," said Bobbi Thompson, a doula and natural childbirth educator in Orfordville.
Water naturally relaxes a woman's muscles and provides a natural transition for the baby, she said.
She's pregnant with her ninth child, and six of her eight babies were delivered in water. The other two births happened too fast, she said.
She's been teaching for 14 years and has seen "a lot more water birth and natural births and parents educating themselves in regards to all of their options."
Most women who give birth at home want to use a tub at some point during labor, said Linda Bentz of Milton, a midwife apprentice.
In 2012, Rock County recorded 26 home births, or 1.39 percent of all births in the county, according to statistics from the state Department of Health Services. Walworth County had 11 home births, or 1.02 percent of all births.
While Walworth County home birth numbers remained nearly the same from 1995-2012, according to state data, the number of Rock County home births more than doubled from 12 to 26.
Bentz attributed the increases to the rising C-section rates among hospital deliveries and women wanting to be in their home environments under the care of midwives.
"I've always said I'd give birth 10 times in a pool versus one time in the hospital," said Melissa Lovell, who described her first birth at the hospital as "traumatic."
She delivered her first child naturally in a hospital until she could get Matt on board with a home birth for their second child.
She said she wasn't comfortable at the hospital, which affected her body, and her doctor was not supportive of a natural birth.
At home in the water, "I was able to block out a lot of the stuff that was going on and really focus on what my body was telling me," she said.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a March joint opinion that underwater delivery has no proven benefit to women or babies and "may even pose a risk of serious health problems for the newborn." Early stages of labor in a birthing pool, however, may offer some advantages to pregnant women, the opinion said.
MA & ME RENTALS Renting a birth tub from Ma & Me requires signing off on a waiver and use of a disposable liner, which covers any surface that comes into contact with bodily fluids.
Jessica Hefty of Janesville knew she was going to deliver her son at home last June. Her 2-year-old daughter was born at the Madison Birth Center, which is now closed.
As a registered nurse, she's "seen every side of birth" while working with a nurse midwife at the Madison Birth Center and as a labor and delivery nurse at Mercy. At the birth center, which had a tub in each room, women ended up in the water naturally, whether they thought they were going to or not, she said. It's soothing, like a drug in itself, she said.
"I always thought that would be nice, to have that pain relief option," she said.
Her midwife had a tub she could use, but she wanted to have one set up ahead of time because her first delivery was very quick.
She and her husband, Dave, had considered buying a tub to throw away later before hearing about Ma & Me rentals.
She decided to rent because the tubs are made for the task--deep, equipped with handles, sterile and easy to take down and set up with a pump included. A rental includes a one-month window around the baby's due date.
They started filling the tub once she was in labor, emptying the home's water heater and adding more warm water after it replenished, she said.
"I remember just as I was saying, 'I really want to get in the tub,' it was almost full," she said. "And that was for a fast delivery."
The water shouldn't exceed 100 degrees during labor, and a cover for the tub can help in the preparations, Matt said. A 10-by-10 room is big enough for the 118-gallon tub, he said. After the birth, the water is pumped into a toilet or outdoors through a window.
HOSPITAL WATER BIRTHS Meriter Hospital in Madison is the only area hospital to offer water births for women who meet requirements.
The hospital started offering water births in 2011 after its midwife team expressed interest based on patient requests, said Kathy Kostrivas, assistant vice president of women's services at Meriter. Last year, the hospital had 78 water births, which is about 2 percent of total deliveries there, she said.
The program is limited to low-risk patients with no complications during pregnancy or with their baby, she said. Only a limited number of physicians allow water births, too, she said, because special training is needed.
"Patients love it," she said. "They really have a great experience."
All water-birth patients are included in a quality improvement effort, which has shown no difference in outcomes for the low-risk patients who deliver in water versus a regular delivery, she said. The hospital has had no incidents related to water deliveries, she said.
Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville does not offer it, but staff members are looking into the option at Mercy's Walworth hospital in Lake Geneva, said Gretchen Finley, director of maternity services.
Mercy now has a midwife working at its Walworth hospital, where Finley said patients are asking about water births.
"We are considering it," she said.
Staff is investigating if the floors will support the weight of tubs and other logistics.
They haven't looked into it in Janesville "just because we have not heard from providers that we have an interest," Finley said. Janesville has laboring tubs for women to sit in, but they have walls on three sides, making them unsuitable for delivery, she said.
St. Mary's Janesville Hospital, which has showers in its labor and delivery rooms, declined an interview for this story and provided the following statement:
"St. Mary's Janesville Hospital supports a family centered birthing experience that is safe and can be tailored to a mother's individual birth plan. At this time, we do not offer a water birth option, however, our hospital and physicians work closely with each family to discuss birthing options, parents' preferences and ensure the best outcome for mother and baby."