Through my last post in this series describing my time among the Amish, I revealed one of the ways I struggled with my calling. Join me this week as Emma’s labor begins.
And so Emma’s pregnancy matured as winter gave way to springtime. Icy roadways turned muddy, hints of green began to peek past patches of dirt-spattered snow, and a hazy rose spread itself over the forests lining the fields. Warmer breezes caressed our skin like the breath of a lover, and choruses of springpeepers wafted up from the marshlands through the delightfully milder eventides.
We paid the germinating couple six prenatal visits after we met Robert, including the longer visit we schedule for our first-timers. At thirty-six weeks, we allow for an extra hour together which we spend conducting a mini-birth class with a giant book of beautiful drawings, reading through the family’s birth plan, looking over their box of supplies, and answering questions.
Those fun visits usually come to a close with a palpable excitement over the soon-to-come birth, and Emma and Robert’s myriad queries made their milestone visit especially wonderful. I pulled away from their cozy home afterward knowing full well they still didn’t really know what birthing their first child would be like, but trusting they were as ready as they needed to be – ready enough to do it.
At eight minutes till four a few mornings later, my telephone rang. I’d snatched it up and nearly reached the door before I remembered that my bed was bereft the warm body of my husband, and so no longer held a reason for me to dash from the room when the wee-hour calls came through. The pang of remembrance twisted my perpetually too tight heartstrings tighter, but it also helped to wake me.
I returned to the edge of the bed and left my feet to dangle in the early morning chill.
“Hello, this is Kim.”
“And how is Kim this fine morning?”
An Amishman. Robert?
“Robert it is indeed! So, how’d you like to come meet the newest Hochstetler?”
My heartstrings nearly strangled me then as I remembered how Emma had told me at our first visit that she wished she and Robert could birth their baby alone together. The sentiment resonated with me, having been a birthing mother myself before I became a midwife. Still, I attended births because I love to attend births, and I’d had my heart set on attending their birth.
“Oh, Robert! Has Emma had the baby?”
Robert’s rich laugh flowed through the miles of line and filled my ears.
“Oh, no, not quite yet,” he finally said,” but I do think the child will soon appear.”
I tucked my feet back under the covers, drew a deep breath, held it a moment, blew it out, and relaxed against the headboard while Robert provided an animated description of the ebb and flow of sensations and fluids, pains and realizations he and his young wife had experienced together through the long night behind them.
“Okay,” I said when he’d finished, “it sounds like she’s doing it. We’ll pull ourselves together and start your way. Call if anything changes.”
I stretched and yawned and rubbed my eyes, then dialed Mary, still snug in my bed.
“Good morning, Kim.” Mary’s voice was sleepy, but I could hear the smile in it. “Emma and Robert?”
“Emma and Robert. Emma had contractions and bloody show and loose stools throughout the night. The contractions are stronger now, three to four minutes apart, lasting well over a minute. I’m not going to rush, but I’m going to head on down.”
“Then I’ll see you in a little bit.”
I yawned again, flung the covers from me, and made my way to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. I peeked at the thermometer. Forty-six degrees.
Nice! No need to start the car.
The pot began to gurgle, and I padded off to the bathroom, switched on the light, startled at my reflection, and set to work on my serious case of bedhead.
I returned to the kitchen feeling refreshed and thankful for combs, toothbrushes, cold water, contact lenses, indoor toilets, and that I wasn’t in a hurry. I fished the “gone to a birth” sign from the junk drawer for the kids, stuffed three green apples and a package of mozzarella cheese sticks into my lunch bag, and filled my thermos and water bottle. I donned a light jacket and shouldered my purse, my book bag, the appointment bag, the oxygen, the tote, and my vittles, and wrestled my way from the kitchen into the mud room, through the garage and out to my van. I reveled in the relative warmth of the morning as I slid the heavy door open and hoisted my things inside. Spring, it seemed, really had come at last. I was glad to see spring arrive for many reasons, one among them being I’d be able to stow my gear in the vehicle for a couple months rather than haul it in and out of the house at every trip from home – at least until the heat of summer descended upon us.
The engine growled to life, and I pulled from the patch of earth between the two giant oak trees in our drive, and began crunching along the half-mile, two-track easement. Something like a pilot preparing for lift off, I spent the first few minutes of my trip making sure things were in order. I zeroed out the trip miles meter, checked the gas gauge, and flicked on my brights. I glanced at my phone to make sure it was turned on and charged, dropped my rings and bracelets into a cupholder, slipped my watch onto my wrist and double checked the time. 4:14 a.m.
On my way in twenty-four minutes. Not bad for not rushing.
I thought about the kids and, remembering it was Friday, let the furrow between my eyes melt away. Fridays were more relaxed days around our place. I usually spent them grading the kids’ schoolwork and planning the next week’s assignments while they tended to their weekly chores and laundry. We seemed to be adjusting to life without Brent, but it was already apparent that mothering the two alone while managing my business and being continuously on-call would require them to grow up more quickly and more thoroughly than they would have had their daddy lived, and that was a fact that often haunted my thoughts and disturbed my dreams. But this Friday, a friend with children Hannah and Paul’s ages planned to come fetch them in the early afternoon and keep them through Saturday evening, so I wouldn’t need to spend this particular time from home fretting over being gone and away for another indeterminate span.
All systems go!
I smiled as I pulled onto the road and settled in for the forty-minute drive beneath a bright splash of stars.
I kept my eyes peeled for deer as I flew south. Our two counties, Calhoun and St. Joseph, boasted the heaviest populations of deer in the state of Michigan. Up to that point, I’d killed three does and a massive buck with vehicles, and I knew I’d see and need to dodge a set or two of them before I reached the Hochstetler farm. In fact, seven years later, hurtling southward to attend another birth in that very home (albeit for a different family), a sixth cloven-hoofed cud-chewer would leap in front of me. Ultimately, I’d hit and kill seven of the beautiful animals.
Though I liked to listen to books when driving, I generally kept it quiet on my way to births. Even from my earliest days catching babies, I found myself unable to listen with adequate attention to anything once I’d seen to the practical aspects of getting out of the house and was on my way. Even while still many miles from my destination, my psyche would begin the process of tuning itself to the family that had called for me. I wouldn’t say I was tense, but a subtle tension did exist – some strange tension that heightened my sensitivity to all manner of nuance and idiosyncrasy and potential. It’s the sixth sense of a midwife – the thing that makes midwives take an unscheduled nap or go to bed uncharacteristically early a few hours before being called to a birth – the thing that makes us wake and look at our telephones mere seconds before they ring – the thing that makes us understand what a laboring woman said, though she said it in another language – the thing that makes us kneel just inside that woman’s bedroom door only a moment before she begins to grunt her child toward the light.
I drove the miles in silence as my soul tapped into and harmonized with the melody of the family I was summoned to serve, and the hush of the deserted roadways and shrouded landscapes did much to lend themselves to that work of attunement. Each antiquated Amish farm I passed, absent brazen mercury bulbs to scatter the light and song of the moon and stars, seemed to rest beneath a quilt cast by the night sky itself – the sense of which never failed to infuse my every cell with a rippling tranquility.
At last, I rolled from the road, past the barn, and toward the house – toward a solitary light agleam in the kitchen window. I cut the engine, and quietness swept in to fill the space. I stepped from the vehicle, and heard Robert’s Morgan-Standardbred cross stomp, shudder, and whinny lightly. I hauled open the side door of the van and wrangled my gear onto my shoulders while Molly, the scruffy Australian shepherd, snuffled at my tires and heels. I slammed the door shut and turned toward the house, framed by the slightest hint of eastern, pre-dawn glow. I glanced at my phone before dropping it into my jacket pocket. 5:07 a.m.
At that moment the loose-jointed mudroom door swung open, and beam of light flashed across my path. “Hall-ooo there, Kim! What can I help you with?”
The headlamp strapped to Robert’s brow blinded me as he approached, but he relieved me of the two heaviest bags and the birthstool, so I scarcely minded.
“No baby yet?” I asked only half-jokingly as I trotted after him up the path. Mary headlights swept the driveway just as the door slammed shut behind me.
“Nope, not yet.” Robert said, as a splash and a soft, but insistent groan issued from the depths of the bathroom. “We’re hoping it’ll be here soon, though. Emma’s getting tired.”
A little twang of concern thrummed in my chest at Robert’s remark. First-time labors really can be long and exhausting, and to launch into one of those labors after a restless night is never ideal. “Well, let’s see.”
I pulled the doppler and blood pressure cuff from the rear pocket of my backpack and tiptoed toward the bathroom.
“Emma? May I come in?”
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.
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Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife and Author
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