By Courtney Naliboff
I recently attended a three-year-old boy’s birthday party on North Haven, where I live. His family’s sloping lawn was overgrown with kids. One-year-olds rolled on the grass while toddlers bounced on trampolines. Slightly more sure-footed preschoolers bombed downhill on tiny bikes or climbed the tepee poles.
For those concerned about island communities, a scene like this is so much more than cute and heartwarming; it encourages us about our future. When couples have and raise children on islands, they are ensuring that there is a future.
There is more evidence than the birthday party that islands are fertile ground for the next generation. Both classes at North Haven’s Laugh & Learn Preschool are brimming with children. In fact, the one- to three-year-old class was started in March 2015 to accommodate what appears to be a Fox Islands baby boom.
“It does seem to me that more than any other time since I’ve lived here, young people are choosing island life deliberately,” says Christie Hallowell, Laugh & Learn Preschool’s director. “They like the qualities and aspects, the comings and goings of island life, especially as the world changes. They want to bring up their children in a place like this.”
Vinalhaven’s Island Village Childcare had 22 students enrolled in late 2015, ranging from six-week-olds to five-year-olds.
“It was a long winter. It happens every so often,” says Megan Day, director of the Vinalhaven child-care program. “It’s like a cycle.”
Calling it a baby boom might be hyperbole, but North Haven and Vinalhaven aren’t the only islands seeing babies and toddlers as new year-round residents.
Just north in Penobscot Bay on Islesboro, 18 babies were born in the period from 2011 to 2015, with two born on the island.
On Cliff Island in Casco Bay, there are four children, ranging from ages five to nine, in the one-room school, and on Long Island, three babies were born in the second half of 2015.
On the Cranberry Isles, which includes Great Cranberry and Islesford, two babies were born to islanders in 2015, three in 2013, and one in 2010. Swan’s Island, town clerk Gwen May joked, had a baby boom, with five born in 2011, three in 2012, four in 2013, three in 2014, and two in 2015. And on nearby Frenchboro (also known as Long Island), two babies have been born in recent years.
On Isle au Haut, just one child was born in the last few years, and it was to a family that had been seasonally on the island but may be moving out permanently this summer.
When island populations include children, schools stay open. When schools stay open, it’s easier to entice other young families to move to an island. Island leaders are thrilled when families with children choose to make an island their home.
GIVING BIRTH ON-ISLAND
There are no hospitals on Maine’s islands, but that doesn’t stop some from choosing to give birth at home. Sarah Poole, 34, gave birth to each of her three children in her own home on Vinalhaven.
“I was born here, and it was just something I always wanted to do,” she said. “The doctor here at the [Vinalhaven] medical center used to deliver babies,” she said. “I think for insurance reasons they stopped, and then people got in the habit [of going to the mainland] and thinking that you have to go to the hospital to have a baby.”
Poole worked with Morningstar Midwifery, a Belfast-based practice with two certified professional midwives. The midwives visited the house prior to Poole’s labor beginning, and left a birth kit at the house. They returned when she went into labor.
“They make arrangements and come to the house and hang out if they have to. With my first one, they hung out for two days because it was a long process,” she said.
As with much of island life, sometimes the best-laid plans go awry, Lydia Brown remembers.
When Brown’s daughter Rita was born, “the midwives didn’t quite make it in time,” she remembers. But in a way, that’s a family tradition. Both Brown and her sister Thena were at born at home on Vinalhaven and attended high school on North Haven. Both returned to the islands to farm and write after college.
When Brown had her first child, Cyrus, who is now seven, at home on North Haven, Morningstar’s midwives were able to attend.
Rita, born without the assistance of midwives, was small but healthy. Although the circumstances could have been frightening, Brown accepted it as part of the deal. “I felt like it was the risk you take living on an island. You could have a stroke or a heart attack, and it was a factor of island living I accepted,” she said.
“It’s a sense of pride thing, being born here,” Brown said. However, not being born on-island isn’t an impediment to being accepted.
This, happily, seems very true. My husband and I moved to North Haven in 2005, when Waterman’s Community Center was first opening its doors to preschool children. There was no day care available, but we hadn’t yet considered having kids.
We got married in 2012, and I became pregnant in 2013. My obstetrician sister and obstetrician father were insistent that I plan to have my daughter in a hospital.
Since I was determined not to be in labor on a boat, I went to the mainland a week before my due date. I assumed the baby would be fashionably late, but I went into labor two days early, prompting my husband, who was still on-island, to frantically run onto the ferry with our dog and his overnight bag, but without our car, which didn’t make it on, or my carefully packed hospital bag.
I labored at my best friend and doula’s parents’ house in Owls Head until I thought the baby might fall out onto their nice, clean floor, and we jumped into her car and took the longest twenty-minute car ride of my life. Once we arrived at Pen Bay’s Women’s Health center in Rockport, and it was determined that I was in transitional labor, we dashed across campus to the hospital, and within two hours, Penrose Claire Trevaskis was born. Her arrival was extremely normal, but I hemorrhaged after delivering the placenta and was grateful to be in a hospital and not facing emergency transport in a boat, plane, or helicopter.
Penrose plays every day with the five other kids in North Haven’s class of 2032. She can go outside every day in our yard or on the playground, can walk in the park or ride down quiet roads in her stroller. Everyone knows her.
Hallowell, director of Laugh & Learn Preschool, is cheered by the babies.
“One of my favorite moments is when we have our weekly community coffee hour where people come and have coffee at Waterman’s, and the toddlers come in and everybody’s interacting and enjoying each other’s company,” she says. “It keeps the community vibrant and healthy.”
Day, director of the Vinalhaven day-care center, agrees.
“It’s great! I love it,” she says. “I think it’s wonderful to have so many kids on the island. It’s great for the community, and we all work together to raise [our] kids.”
Courtney Naliboff lives, writes, teaches, and parents on North Haven. She writes a column for The Working Waterfront and Kveller.com, and recently completed two manuscripts.