PORTLAND &

They say life imitates art, and apparently that includes the funny pages.




Comic strip creator Jan Eliot didn't realize what she was getting into when she decided that Joan, a character in her comic strip "Stone Soup," would be having a baby at home.




But then came the e-mails. Eliot has received more than 100 e-mails from people in the past two weeks or so, the vast majority were positive &

thanking her for bringing the issue of home birth into the mainstream.




"Stone Soup" is syndicated nationally, appearing in about 175 papers across the country. Eliot, who is based in Eugene, says this topic has drawn some of the largest response to date.




"It wasn't really about making a statement, but it was a conscious decision to portray a viable option for some people," Eliot said.




Home births are a touchy issue. Proponents say that with the help of a midwife or doctor, it is a safe, comforting and more beneficial environment for mother and baby. But others, including some medical professionals, prefer that births take place in a birthing center or hospital in case of possible complications.




According to the most recent numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics, less than — percent of all births in the nation are done at home. Approximately 23,150 births of the more than 4 million births in the United States in 2004 were conducted at home.




The popularity of home births has ebbed and flowed throughout the years but it appears to have some staying power.




Some figures suggest the percentage of home births is much higher in Oregon. The most recent state statistics show that more than 2 percent of births in Oregon took place outside of the hospital.




But it's unclear how many of those were at home because it does not distinguish those births versus births at other non-hospital facilities.




Eliot says the response has been overwhelmingly positive from readers across the country. Some were concerned that she might make the home birth go wrong. But she's only gotten one e-mail, which she says was very kind, that asked her to consider all the issues surrounding birth and risk.




"I expected to hear from more people that it was too risky," Eliot said.




But many readers echoed a similar sentiment as a woman with a doctorate from Georgia who thanked her for showing that mothers who give birth at home "are not living in a hippie commune or in the dark ages."




"It's been really fun," she said. "People are so happy that I have legitimized it in my own little way."




A mother herself, Eliot has never had a home birth but has witnessed several, including the home birth of her grandchild which took place about the same time she wrote the plot twist in.




"People take their funnies very seriously," she said. "It doesn't surprise me."