Ready to return

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Pahoa midwife Roxanne Estes displays a quilt at her clinic that was saved from the Kilauea eruption.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Pahoa midwife Roxanne Estes stands inside her clinic.
  • Roxanne Estes stands with children born at the Luana Gardens birth home that was destroyed by fire from the Kilauea eruption. Courtesy photo

  • Lava flows from fissures near Pahoa on May 19, 2018. (U.S. Geological Survey/via AP, File)

HILO — Sitting in her Pahoa midwife clinic, Roxanne Estes recalls the loss of her home in Leilani Estates with the same soft, steady voice that her clients admire.

But with her eyes gazing at the floor, she acknowledges the past year has been anything but stable.

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“We’re almost at 365 days of the loss of our home,” Estes said. “And there is not one day I don’t remember — oh, that thing — oh, yeah, I don’t have that anymore.”

It’s not the first time they lost a home to the volcano.

In 1986, lava flows from the long-lasting Pu‘u ‘O‘o eruption destroyed her residence as it slowly consumed the Royal Gardens subdivision.

That experience couldn’t fully prepare the 40-year Puna resident for what would come last year when magma migrated down rift from the now-extinct vent and erupted in Leilani Estates almost under her feet.

This time, Estes and her husband, Sam, only had minutes to leave with essentially the clothes on their back as a string of fissures ripped open across the lower Puna subdivision, starting May 3, 2018. In a few weeks, their property on Luana Street would sit under the fissure 8 cone.

“We thought we could come back, but it just got worse and worse,” recalled Estes, 59.

The loss of their house, along with an ornamental plant farm on the same property, would be compounded by the destruction of Luana Gardens, a birthing home Estes, a certified nurse midwife, opened in 2014 just down the street.

Still, her own tragedy and loss didn’t stop her from helping women who opted for a birth outside a hospital. The next birth she oversaw occurred just two weeks after the eruption started.

“What did keep me moving forward is this practice here,” Estes said.

Some babies were born inside hotel rooms or wherever evacuated women could find housing. A few mothers decided to give birth in a hospital.

“It affects everybody,” Estes said. “But women are strong, and they kind of pull it together. They know they have kids, and they have to do it.”

She added, “I had to put my life aside to ensure that people I work with were feeling safe and they were listened to so they had good births. We just had a baby in Leilani two days ago.”

Estes said she was hit by depression like many of those who lost their homes. But she hasn’t had much time to think about it.

Closure

Estes said she has overseen more than 1,500 births in her midwife career, including about 250 at Luana Gardens, where she also held classes and hosted gatherings for mothers.

For months, she would drive up to the ruins of the birth home and cry. She got some closure last February when she and mothers who gave birth there gathered to say goodbye.

“It’s not just special to me, but to a lot of people,” Estes said. “This is where they became mothers, where they shared their greatest fears and conquered their greatest fears.”

Luana Gardens was located at the edge of the lava flow, and was destroyed by fire.

The only thing to survive the fire was a stained-glass window. But that was later stolen.

Stacey Breining, who gave birth at Luana Gardens four years ago, said she misses it, but also marvels that the same spot she gave birth could have so much “creative energy.”

“I can’t help but say it’s beautiful and awe-inspiring,” she said.

Breining, who is pregnant and plans to do a home birth with Estes, said Luana Gardens also became a gathering spot for mothers in the rural area where homes tend to be secluded.

“It facilitated and created this community of women and families and young children who have these same core values with how we desire to birth and raise our babies,” she said.

While the eruption was ongoing, her partner, Demian Barrios, went in with his truck and a gas mask to grab some supplies and a cradle from the birth home. It was surreal for him to be back there in those conditions.

“I turned into a room where we had breakfast the next day” after the birth of their son, he said. “I was reliving that moment. I was seeing posters on the wall with photos of me and my son. It was a super emotional moment.”

Like many others, Estes said she is still recovering, and the business is struggling after a year of losses.

But that and the loss of two residences and the birth home to Kilauea hasn’t deterred her from living in Puna, or from being a midwife there.

“I felt it was really important to have a midwife, to have options,” said Estes, who became a midwife after giving birth to three children at home.

The Esteses, who are renting a home in Nanawale Estates, also plan to move back to Leilani, though in the upper part of the subdivision that was spared from the lava.

The volcano isn’t shaking her off just yet.

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“We looked all over,” she said. “Nothing was as comfortable to us as where we were in Leilani. So that’s why we are going back.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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