Jameson and Suzanne Lingl hang on to every word the midwife says, nodding intently as she explains what labor will feel like.
“Do you know the number to call when you are ready to come in to the birth center?” midwife Nancy Loewen asks.
They nod their heads but Jameson whips out his cellphone and enters the digits as Loewen says them anyway.
The anxiety, excitement and hunger for information the Goshen couple felt as they approached the birth of their first child isn’t much different from what many first-time parents probably feel.
But what’s different for Jameson and Suzanne is that they are a part of a growing percentage of U.S. parents who want to have their babies somewhere other than a hospital, according to a 2014 report from the National Center for Health Statistics.
In 1900, most U.S. babies were born outside a hospital.
By 1969 just one percent of U.S. babies were born outside a hospital.
Starting in 2004 U.S. parents starting choosing out-of-hospital births more often, and interest steadily increased between 2004 and 2012.
In 2012, 53,635 U.S. babies were born outside a hospital — representing 1.36 percent of all births.
Source: Trends in Out-of-Hospital Births in the United States, 1990-2012 (March 2014)
Their reasoning was simple: Suzanne was healthy, strong and at low risk for complications during pregnancy.
"We just thought, if you are healthy, it seemed like (birth center birth) would be best, really,” Suzanne said.
The couple chose the Goshen Birth Center because it was minutes away from both their home and the nearby hospital, where Suzanne worked as a nurse.
Although a birth center birth would be different than what they would experience at a hospital, that’s exactly what Jameson and Suzanne wanted.
The lack-of-fuss, natural approach fit them — they’re self-described “minimalists” who aren't worried too much about “The Top 10 Things to Put on Your Baby Registry.”
Suzanne laughed as she told Jameson about a article she’d read online about a country where parents don’t get cribs for their babies — they just put them to sleep in a box.
"I was thinking, yeah, that could work...” she trailed off, “but then reading the comments at the end, everyone was like ’No, how could you do that?’ So I thought, well, maybe that’s not a good idea.”
They’re also concerned with raising a child who shares their desire to challenge traditional gender roles. Jameson said he’s making sure he changes most of the diapers.
“Suzanne is handling the input, so the least I can do is handle the output,” he said.
Prior to their daughter’s birth, the couple dutifully attended the child birth classes offered at the birth center, joining other couples with their questions about breastfeeding or natural herbs to use to help labor along.
Suzanne was 37 weeks pregnant when she and Jameson saw midwife Nancy Loewen during one of their weekly visits.
“Do you have ... tincture?” Suzanne asked, not sure she was correctly pronouncing the name of the herbal remedy she’d heard could encourage labor.
Loewen told her there were many such tinctures and she’d get some for Suzanne.
“Can I take some of it?” Jameson asked, pulling a serious face.
“Well, you can ... but I’m not sure what it would do to you,” Loewen replied, glancing indulgently at the eager father-to-be.
She and the other midwives were used to hearing questions like these when they stepped into the small examination room to meet with Jameson and Suzanne.
Both asked plenty of questions, trying to frame the upcoming experience of meeting their daughter with everything they’d read and heard about child birth.
They tried to reconcile child birth with what they knew about other experiences where they’d been required to do a lot physically.
When midwife Betsy McCanse advised Suzanne to stay hydrated during the birth and starting listing what she should drink, Jameson quickly interjected.
“Will she need Gatorade?” he asked, scooting forward in his chair as if he was ready to leap up, run to the nearest convenience store and stock up on the sports drink. McCanse said no, Suzanne probably wouldn't need to replace electrolytes. She should stick with water, although a sports drink wouldn't hurt anything.
But this close to the birth, they felt like everything was going fine. Like many of the parents who explore out-of-hospital birth, Jameson and Suzanne had done their homework.
They researched child birth and parenting, reading books from the birth center’s library and articles online.
While waiting to see the midwife during their prenatal appointments, Jameson and Suzanne often discussed articles they had read or videos they had watched about the benefits of swaddling babies, what type of crib is best and many other topics.
The couple’s prenatal appointments were simple.
The midwife usually checked the baby’s positioning and asked Suzanne a series of questions about how she was feeling and whether she could keep working her 12-hour shifts as a nurse at the hospital.
During one appointment, midwife Betsy McCanse tried to guess, based on feeling the baby through Suzanne’s midsection, how much the baby would weigh. She guessed about 7 pounds.
Suzanne’s due date, June 26, came and went with no signs that the baby was ready to arrive.
If she went more than two weeks over her due date, she would not be able to give birth at the birth center — being more than 42 weeks pregnant would mean her risk for complications during the birth could be higher, and she might need the extra support a hospital could provide.
On July 3, about a week after her due date, Suzanne started feeling some contractions but was scheduled to be induced at the hospital on the following Monday.
Since Suzanne was still hopeful her baby could be born at the birth center, midwife Beverly Lowther met Jameson and Suzanne there around 5:30 p.m. July 5 to break Suzanne’s water. Suzanne spent about 10 hours at the birth center, but her labor wasn't progressing very quickly.
The couple decided to head to the hospital with Beverly so Suzanne could get pitocin, a drug used strengthen contractions and speed up labor. The pitocin caused more discomfort for Suzanne, and her labor was still slow. By Sunday evening — after almost 24 hours of labor — Jameson and Suzanne decided to get a C-section.
Athena Elise Lingl (21 inches, 9.4 pounds) was born around 6:30 p.m. July 6.
Two days after Athena was born, Jameson and Suzanne sat in their hospital room and laughed about the fact that nothing had gone the way they planned.
“We kind of got the best of both worlds, I think,” Suzanne reflected. “We experienced the natural way, the semi-natural way and the total other end of the spectrum, all within 24 hours.”
The couple is relieved to be holding a happy, healthy baby and said they’d try the birth center option again with their next child.
“Even if the same exact thing happened next time, I would probably do it the same way,” Suzanne said. “There’s something awesome about being flexible and going with the flow and saying, ’Okay, we gotta do what we gotta do.’“
(The Lingls moved back to California, where they are from, soon after Athena was born.)