A sudden jangling startled me from the wonderful world of soot and orphans and redemption Charles Dickens had woven and lured me into. Mildly annoyed, I backed away from the sink and stripped the sudsy yellow gloves from my hands in order to shush Charles and fish the phone from the front pocket of my stained and aging apron.
“Hello, this is Kim.”
Ah, I had an Amishwoman on the line, and one I knew intimately.
Emma and I plunged into a lively renewal of our friendship and rendition of the goings-on of our lives and loved ones. I could scarcely believe a full hour had passed when I dropped the phone back into my pocket and returned to the pan of, now, chilly dishwater.
I kept Mr. Dickens at bay as I resumed my putterings, indulging instead in a reminiscence of my times with Emma and Robert and their children, both living and dead.
It was early autumn of our last year with Brent when I first heard Emma’s cheerful voice on the line. She introduced herself to me, sharing she was sister to Matthew and Ingrid, to Vern and Orpha, and to Adam and Nan – all families I’d served with joy. She told me she and Robert were newly married and expecting their first baby.
“And we wonder if you’d like to be our midwife, too?”
I wound my way to Emma’s farm along a maze of obscure roads littered with fluttering leaves, and down a two-track thick with mire from another morning shower – it had been raining nearly every day for a week – and a smile spread across my face when their old, but lovely homestead came into view.
The mooing of cows filled my ears as I exited the van, and I wondered at it a minute before I began to pick my way to the door through a yard paved with sticky mud and a flock of busy chickens. I made it upright and relieved my flimsy flats were yet on my feet, and knocked. It wouldn’t be too many more moons before I abandoned finer apparel for jeans and sturdy boots, but I was still enough under the influence of my always professionally clad preceptor to have donned a skirt that day.
I was “ha-loooed” through the entryway and caught up in the trademark, warmly stiff hug of an Amishwoman, then ushered into a trim kitchen sporting appurtenances and adornments from another age. Emma seated me at her table, served me a cup of steaming tea, and described with sparkling eyes how she dreamed of birthing her child with Robert alone – just as they’d conceived him.
“But I know we ought to have you out, just in case.”
I was enchanted with her vision of birthing, and promised her I’d do everything I could to make her feel it was just the three of them when her time came.
We accomplished only a part of our first visit that October afternoon. Around the time I planned to send Emma to the bathroom with a dixie cup and a chemstrip stick, we noticed the mooing of the cows that had welcomed me to her home had morphed into bellows. Emma leaned over her kitchen sink and parted a set of frilly, red-checked curtains.
“Oh! Gracious! The cows are out!
I joined Emma at the window and gasped at the sight of sixteen Holsteins, fifteen heifers and a bull, milling about her front yard.
“I guess our visit’s over!”
“Well, yes, I guess so, but, gosh, Emma, I can’t just leave you like this –”
Emma looked me up and down with doubt rising on her face. “You want to help?”
I swallowed and nodded and said I did indeed, though even as we made our dash for the door I began to tremble. I was generally terrified of ginormous animals with huge hoofs and sharp teeth, and I had no idea what to do, but the situation was desperate. The cows were all over the place and and getting into everything – the cornfields, the garden, the grapes, the neighbor’s flower beds – and a handful were heading for the road. Emma grabbed up a big stick, so I grabbed up a big stick. Emma ran toward the rioting cattle, so I ran toward the rioting cattle. Emma shouted and swatted and slapped, so, by golly, I shouted and swatted and slapped as I slipped about in my ridiculous shoes.
We managed to get the whole herd, one belligerent creature at a time, into the pasture next to Emma and Robert’s dilapidated barn. I was about to breathe a sigh of relief when Emma said, “Okay! And I guess we’d better see what happened to the fence before the stallion makes a run for it.”
I nearly wet my pants at that, but we patched the breach in the barbed wire fence with a pile of fieldstones and some mighty tugs and wrenchings before the stallion noticed he could’ve escaped. When we were finished, we laughed, folded one another into an embrace, and embarked upon what would become eight years of service and friendship.
Through the course of the next several weeks, I’ll share the highlights of those years with you. Years that include the births of their four bright-eyed children seasoned with two miscarriages, Brent’s death, a mid-pregnancy stillborn, a business venture, a barter of firewood and eggs, an icestorm, Hannah’s marriage to Jesse, and my marriage to Steven.
Join me next week as I introduce you to Robert, as well as share a bit about what my family and I were experiencing through the season I came to know Emma and Robert.
The names of the clients in this story have been changed, and some of the details of their lives have been altered or combined or exchanged with the details of other clients’ lives in order to adequately protect Emma and Robert’s identity.
Photographs by Kim and istock photo.
Thank you so much for the gift of your time!
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Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife and Author
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