By Elizabeth Leonard and Vicki Sheff-Cahan
Updated August 12, 1996 12:00 PM

LIKE AN OLYMPIC MARATHONER entering that final lap around the stadium track, Georgiana Thomas, 36, is in agony. Her husband, actor Richard Thomas, 45—once known to the world as John-Boy on the famed CBS series The Waltons—cradles her in his arms, dabbing her forehead with a cold cloth, whispering, “You’re doing great. You’re doing great.” Gathered in a semicircle around the wooden sleigh bed in the couple’s five-bedroom Los Angeles home, their six children from previous marriages—his son Richard Francisco, 19, and triplet daughters Pilar, Barbara and Gwyneth, 14; her daughters Brooke Murphy, 16, and Kendra Kneisel, 11—alternately smile and sob. At one point the six spectators throw their hands up in a mini-wave. The next moment they hold up handwritten placards reading Come On! and Love You! But childbirth is a grueling, if blessed, event. “Oh, God, help me!” Georgiana cries, as a midwife coaches her through labor. “I want my mommy!”

Then, in a moment, the pain is forgotten: At 10:19 p.m. on July 28, a son, Montana James Thomas, 8 lbs., 14 ozs., enters the world. “Hi, sweetheart,” Georgiana coos a short while later to the newborn, bundled in a white cotton blanket. “You’re home.”

Which is exactly where the Thomases always wanted their baby to open his eyes to life. Doctors say home birthing is by and large a safe and soothing choice—though a hospital staff, says obstetrician Paul Crane of L.A.’s Cedars Sinai Medical Center, offers assurance against “unplanned hazards.” When she learned she was pregnant last November, Georgiana, whose other children were born in a medical facility, wanted a home birth for feminist reasons. “The power of women is taken away in a hospital,” she says. She got no resistance from Thomas, whom she wed two years after the pair met in 1992 in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Thomas (then separated from his wife of 17 years, Alma Gonzales) was acting in a play and Georgiana Bischoff (who’d been married twice) was managing her brother’s southwestern goods store. Having done “the guy thing, sitting in the hospital lounge” during the births of his other kids, Thomas says he was eager to participate in a delivery that “recaptures birth as a natural event.”

Georgiana did take some commonplace precautions, such as having an ultrasound exam and amniocentesis. But most prenatal care was handled by nurse-midwife Leslie Stewart. The Thomases found her listed in the phone book under Midwives, but Stewart came with star credentials, having helped Baywatcher Pamela Lee deliver a baby boy, Brandon, in June. To prepare for the home birth, Georgiana took yoga classes and, with Thomas, studied the Bradley birthing method—a technique, Georgiana explains, that involves “visualizing the uterus contract and total relaxation.” Still, the idea of a home birth made some family members tense. After the kids watched a video of an actual delivery, Georgiana recalls, “Brooke said, ‘I love you, Mom, but I think I’ll stay at a friend’s during the birth. It’s so disgusting.’ ”

In the end, Brooke changed her mind—and is glad she did. “If I missed it, I’d have been totally bummed,” she says. Instead, with her siblings, she marvels at her new brother—who is named for Thomas’s great-grandfather—and his tiny fingernails, his lopsided yawns and his first sneeze. “He looks like Genghis Khan,” jokes Thomas, who last month began filming a Waltons reunion TV special in which John-Boy becomes a father. Of his own son’s birth, he says, “It was wonderful. The most extraordinary moment was when I cut the umbilical cord. It’s like, ‘Okay, it’s your life now!’ ”

But one of the family’s younger members offers the wisest perspective. “The baby is the tie that binds us,” Brooke says. “There’s Richard and his four kids, Mom and her two—and now there’s Montana. He’s got all of us in him. We have the same little brother.”