A birth that began it all

In 2008 my life looked very different than it does today. 

I was about to close my retail shop that I'd had open for  3+ years, and was busy with my three young girls - with our 'surprise' baby on the way.  It was painful for me to close that chapter of my life - feeling I'd failed with my store, left with debt, but ready to focus on my home and family.

There was no compost pot in the kitchen, no grow lights in the basement, no sauerkraut on the counter or mucking boots by the back door.  We were a pretty 'normal' American family.  Then, In an unexpected turn of events - I found myself making the choice to have a home birth.

I wrote out my birth story recently for a friend.  It was fascinating for me to reflect back on how making this one unconventional decision really did open up a whole new world of possibilities and 'out of the box' ideas for me.   

When I think of what sent us on this journey into Urban Homesteading and Simple Living - I usually think of our health issues, and how we began to learn about a more holistic way of healing our bodies.

I now see that it was through the birth of Gia - (whose name means 'God is Gracious' in Italian) that this new chapter of our lives was born as well.

My home birth taught me about COURAGE & EMPOWERMENT.   I now see that it gave me the confidence later, as we chose other unconventional lifestyle choices like homeschooling, growing our own food and raising animals in an urban setting.  

Gia's birth story was recently published in the  Autumn edition of Midwifery Today magazine, so I thought I'd share it with you here:

Gia and Momma  - first look

Fourth baby birth story - Gia Rose -  

By Sarah Sailer

After having three healthy baby girls, my husband and I felt that our family was complete.

Due to a mixture of procrastination and passion, we found out that, NOPE! We were in fact, NOT done having children. Positive pregnancy test in hand, shocked and tearful... we came to grips with the fact that we would be heading into one more pregnancy and childbirth...this time, without any pregnancy insurance coverage.

Our shock and dismay switched into mild embarrassment. We endured all of the 'you DO know how this happens, right?' jokes from friends. We read the concern on family faces. Our already tight finances would be squeezed even tighter.

Acceptance, excitement and joy soon followed. I loved being pregnant. We would be a large family. We'd need a bigger car. And our children would grow up in a household of sharing, tight quarters, noise and love.

Home birth had never entered my mind as an option. After my firstborn delivery, my uterus wouldn't contract on it's own - and the hemorrhaging got scary. I passed out twice just getting out of my hospital bed. They gave me Pitocin which did the trick. This experience had convinced me that I would have been one of those mothers out on the prairie who would have bled to death after childbirth. My idea of a homebirth was stereotypical. I pictured a hairy legged woman bearing hot towels and a stick (to put in my mouth). The afterbirth making a mess of the mattress... and none of it sounded appealing.

With just three weeks left in my fourth pregnancy - we'd done the research. We were prepared to be saddled with $8k - 10k in hospital debt. I'm always obsessed with watching birth stories while pregnant, and when the documentary 'The Business of Being Born' came out on Netflix, we watched it. I saw midwives in this film who were quite normal. They were equipped with medical bags (Pitocin included). No sticks in mouths. I was educated on the reason why hospital births often went the way they did. I saw why the typical 'legs-in-the-air' pushing position was not necessarily natural, or ideal. These home births I watched on film were beautiful, not just messy. Then came the realization that perhaps we could have a beautiful experience and save some money as well, if we chose a home birth.

I had delivered all three of my girls naturally in the hospital, two with the assistance of midwives. It seemed to make sense that we consider this option. I phoned my nurse midwife whom I really loved and asked 'so, would it be possible for you to deliver my baby at home?' "No", she said. "But you should talk to my best friend and next door neighbor. She is a wonderful home birth midwife."

And so it was that just three weeks before my due date, we dove into the natural world of midwifery. I hadn't had an ultrasound at all with this pregnancy, and there was so much about those three weeks of appointments that were new and different.

When my labor started and these two midwives arrived in my home, it felt peaceful and exciting. We had candles lit and relaxing music on. The midwife would check the baby's heartbeat every little while, but she never checked how dialated I was as I was laboring. She reassured me that she could tell I was progressing well just by my breathing, and the intensity of contractions. The contrast to my other experiences was huge. During my hospital births, the regular 'checking' would always interrupt the flow of labor - as well as send me into discouragement to find out I was never as far dialated as I had hoped.

My sister in law was there in my home, taking video and supporting me. My husband massaged my back and let me lean on him while I labored. Being able to rock and sway, move from room to room or sit and rest in my own environment was wonderful. When I felt the urge to push while sitting on the toilet, they gently moved me to my knees in the bedroom (just steps away). I kneeled and leaned on the baby cradle for support. I was just minutes away from delivering our baby - and the intensity at this stage meant that I didn't want to move far. During a previous hospital birth, I recall being told 'LAY DOWN!' at this stage, and it was always awful to have to lay on my back after being so close to delivery in a vertical position.

A few intense moments later, gravity as my helper, kneeling in our bedroom, Gia Rose was born. My loud moans turned to tears, and deep relief flooded me. Feeling supported and cared for by my midwives, having the comfort of my home and family around me - I was full of joy to see my healthy, crying baby girl.

Being at home after the birth was new and wonderful, too. All of the measuring and checking of baby happened right in front of me, on my own bed. The sweet, stork-like scale held by hand above the bed, the waiting to cut the cord, letting my baby nurse on my chest before the final severing of that tie that physically connected us... all of this made me feel like I was one of those women on the prairie, but for all the best reasons.

Soon after this, her sisters came in to meet her, and then Gia and I took a bath together. What a beautiful and different experience this was! Rather than a nurse washing off my child in another part of the room, I bathed her with me. My midwife had made an herbal bath soak which would aid in my body's healing as well. It was precious and beautiful to cradle my tiny newborn's head in the water and watch her little legs float right back into her fetal position, the warm water calming her cries immediately. We felt like we were watching what she looked like just hours before, in my womb.

first bath

That first night, sleeping un-interrupted by nurses or hospital sounds, with my husband in our own bed - was peaceful, just as it should be. My midwife would come back to check in on us the next day.

She would find us doing well, but we were not the same. We had just experienced something that had opened a door into a whole beautiful world of simple & natural living. Though we did not know it, our surprise baby had started us on a slow journey of simplifying our life, one step at a time.

Gia's birth family.jpg

Editor's Note: Sarah's article is an excerpt from the upcoming book by Midwifery Today's managing editor: "The small guide to a Happy Birth" by Nancy Halseide.


Peeling Chicken Feet - a homesteading adventure story

I am a first generation homesteader. Well, in a way.  The skills I am learning are not new skills.  This knowledge I am soaking up about learning to grow vegetables, save seed, preserve my harvest - and raise animals for meat - are all skills my grandparents and great-grandparents definitely had.

They knew the basics of how to store root vegetables in a cellar, of how to make their own bread, and probably ...

...how to peel chicken feet.  

But me?  Well, let me tell you my story.


We've been raising chickens since our firstborn was tiny.  Both  my husband and I had chickens growing up, so raising them for eggs was natural.  But neither of us had much chicken farming experience beyond egg production.

Once we made the decision to try and grow as much food as possible - we began to see the chickens as more than a hobby.  We wanted them to be put to use in every way.  As we learned more about soil health and composting, they became even more crucial to our homesteading success.  

Learning how to butcher our own chickens was another way to make sure we were valuing these animals.  You can read more about that process HERE.

So that is where we were last year.  We had spent a couple of years learning to butcher, process and prepare our own chicken and rabbit which we had raised.  It felt good knowing we weren't wasting anything. 

But were we?

We are big believers in home made bone broth.  We use our vegetable scraps and any leftover bones regularly.  (Here's a simple way to do it) One of the reasons bone broth is so beneficial, is because of the vitamins, minerals and gelatin that releases from the bones.  They are extremely healing to the immune system. (Read more details HERE.)

One secret to a really nutritious bone broth, I'd read, was CHICKEN FEET.

Chicken FEET?  Really?

Now .. it only takes a little observation to realize that chicken feet are... really......


They are the hen's best tool to scratch, dig and fling all sorts of things around in the compost pile.  And no matter how clean you keep your coop - those claws are going to be downright dirty.

Now, not having a relative to pass down this knowledge to me - I was truly mystified. How ON EARTH would I be able to clean those feet well enough to get them anywhere near our food? After burying many feet into the compost pile along with the feathers and innards (from butchering)  ... I finally got the courage up to save some for the pot.   The girls used a brush and we scrubbed them outside as best we could.

Once I got them into the kitchen sink, though - the problem became apparent.  These feet have scales, and the scales get dirt and junk under them - kinda like fingernails. (are you gagging yet?)  No matter how much I scrubbed, I coudn't get them clean enough.   

I'd seen chicken feet for sale in Asian markets and even at Natural Food meat counters before - but they didn't look like these.  They were clean.  What was I missing?

I picked up the phone and called my friend Will.   I'm grateful to have a few friends with some of this rare homesteading knowledge to share.  He tried not to chuckle while I told him I was nearly gagging trying to get these feet clean. What should I do?

BOIL THEM for a few minutes.  He said.  And the outer layer of the feet will peel off like a glove. 

 Well I wouldn't have thought of that.

We did as he said, and sure enough - the outer scaley skin layer peeled off - very reptile-like.  WEIRD.  What came next, Will forgot to mention.  The chicken's toenail popped off revealing a totally clean, new one underneath.   WHAT?!  

So here I am at my kitchen sink doing this bizarre thing  - calling for the girls to come look.  First it was 'EEW!' but it then turned to 'LET ME TRY!'.  The peeling and popping off toenails was strangely fun.  And true enough - we had some beautifully, without-a-doubt CLEAN chicken feet at the end of it:

I had to take a quick video.  Here we are peeling chicken feet for the first time - still in our GROSSED OUT/SHOCKED state:

Learning this new skill somehow warms my heart.  It makes me feel connected to the generations that went before me.  Sadly, we have about a 100 year knowledge gap in our society.  Since the rise of convenience foods, grocery stores, mass produced meat and factory farms, we have all but lost much of this important food knowledge.

 We did add them to our next batch of soup stock.  Gia helped me:

chicken feet in soup stock

In case you were wondering, the feet did not add any new or different flavor to our stock.  It tasted as delicious as always.

I'm wondering if this bizarre sight will become a bit more normal to us with time.  Not sure, really.

What I am sure of though, is that little by little - the homesteading skills and knowledge that generations past took for granted - are becoming important to many of us again.