Through my last post in this series about my birthwork among the Amish, Midwife Life, Part Four: Secrets, I showed you what a prenatal visit looks like.
Today I’ll show you what it was like to be a real-live human with my own special set of frailties and flaws and foibles that had to be overcome in order to function as a midwife.
Robert pulled a tattered handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the tears that had begun to stream from his eyes when he heard his child’s heart beating for the very first time as we quietly gathered our gear and returned to the kitchen table.
Mary and I inscribed our findings upon the chart and cooperation card, then Mary repacked our things while I scheduled our next appointment.
“Okay, and by our next visit, you’ll be twenty-eight weeks, Emma. Time for your lab work.”
“Ah.” Robert blew his nose into his damp handkerchief. “And what does that involve?”
“Well, I’ll write up a requisition form for you, then you’ll make a trip with it to the lab in Kalamazoo where they’ll draw a few vials of your blood for examination.”
“Yes, that’s the nearest lab.”
“And you can’t draw my blood yourself?”
The mere question made the bottom drop out of my stomach and the edges of my vision swim.
Lancets. Needles. Scissors. Syringes. Sutures. IVs. Catheters.
Instruments of torture, all.
Couple that with the extreme aversion to pain and marked squeamishness regarding unnatural fiddlings and interventions I sprang into life with, and you’ve got a serious obstacle to success in the medical field.
My feelings per these issues very nearly cost me my apprenticeship. Why, they’d actually nearly kept me from pursuing an apprenticeship in the first place. They even almost cost me the marriage and children of my future.
As a child, I had panic attacks over shots, I fainted through a blood draw, I grabbed a doctor’s hand to prevent him from touching me with a wicked metal tool while the world spun around me, I had to lie down upon the floor after getting my ears pierced, I crawled to the bathroom soon after getting a wisdom tooth pulled, and I passed out when I donated a pint of blood.
I learned about the breaking of hymens during sex education and fainted, then I watched a highly medicalized hospital birth on film, fainted, and swore I’d stay a virgin till the day I died.
In my mid-teens, a doula apprehended me and described the remarkable differences between birth at home with midwives and births in hospitals. I was intrigued. The woman lent me the gorgeous book, A Midwife’s Story, which I read in a single sitting, and put down knowing without a doubt I was called by God to be a midwife.
When I announced to my mom (and, friends, my mom really is very wonderful – I just am not at all exaggerating my issues) that I’d discovered my purpose in life, her face belied a fascinating blend of surprise and mirth. “But, Honey – Sweetie – Darling – you fainted the only time you saw a birth!”
I was fairly concerned about that little detail myself, but I had a plan.
When I was eight, I’d cured myself of my irrational fears of spiders, bats, and sharks (I know, I lived in Michigan, why would I ever be afraid of sharks?) with a set of picture books. For days on end, I sat and pored over those books, swallowing and sweating, touching each picture and exploring the true nature of those unique creatures until my fears subsided.
I did the same thing with birth, borrowing book after book after book from that lovely doula, lingering over every story and photograph until an increasing admiration and appreciation for the process of childbearing overtook my trepidations. Mostly.
When I became an adult, I agreed to marry Brent Woodard and, though I panicked and nearly fainted during my first pap smear a month before the wedding, we somehow managed to have sex (fear not, I’ll spare you the ridiculous details surrounding that momentous event). By our sixth month of marriage I was carrying Hannah, and I’ll remember all my days the moment I realized with horror there was only one way out of that.
When I told Brent and my mother I wanted to give birth to my baby at home with a midwife, I was met with shocked incredulity. My mom was the brave soul of the two who dared remind me I couldn’t stub my toe without the whole neighborhood hearing my screams of agony. And even I was realistic enough to decline when my midwife, Jean, asked if I thought I’d like to watch myself give birth to Hannah with a mirror.
Around the time Hannah was six weeks old, my midwife asked if I’d like to embark upon an apprenticeship with her. I still had some serious issues with any sort of tool designed to alter a physique or that caused pain, but I felt a lot better about birth itself, so I accepted her invitation and plunged in eighteen months later.
On the very first day’s worth of appointments, however, I nearly hit the floor. We walked into a home tucked into one corner or another of Amishville, and there before us was a happy mama and her glorious new baby. All went swimmingly until Jean said, “Okay, Kim, how would you like to poke the baby for the newborn screen?”
My vision blurred, my stomach rolled, I broke into a sweat, and I said something along the lines of, “Uh – ah – well – I think I’ve changed my mind about becoming a midwife.”
Jean let me off the hook that day, but I spent the next nine years battling my way through injections and suture sessions and blood draws and baby pokes. Around my seventh year I’d found I could watch almost anything, but, unless the doing of a thing involved life or death, I still struggled mightily with the doing of things that involved sharp objects through the first couple years I was an actual midwife.
As a full-fledged midwife, I’d established a neat system to avoid performing most non-emergency tasks utilizing shiny instruments, namely, the drawing of blood.
I sent everybody to the lab in Kalamazoo.
And then along came Emma and Robert with their unlooked-for request that I draw Emma’s blood myself.
“You can’t draw my blood yourself?”
I felt the damp break out upon my forehead, and my insides lurched. I swallowed. I could feel Mary looking at me, but couldn’t exactly see her as the periphery of my sight had narrowed.
“Well…” Oh, gosh, my voice has a tremor to it.
I swallowed again.
“Well, I can draw blood. I mean, I learned how to draw blood and I’ve done it. But, listen, I’ve only done it twice, and one of those times was just for my husband.”
I didn’t mention that I’d nearly fainted when I drew Brent’s blood.
“So, you know, I can do it, but wouldn’t you rather have someone who’s good at drawing blood do it for you? The folks at the lab, why, that’s what they do all day long! It only costs ten dollars more, and, hey! You could go shopping for your birth supplies while you’re over there by all those stores, and you could even have dinner out! That sounds fun, doesn’t it?”
Emma and Robert glanced at one another. I looked at Mary. Mary looked – surprised? Confused? I felt the heat creep up my neck. I looked back at Robert in time to see him raise an eyebrow at Emma.
Emma shook her head.
Robert turned back to me. “We’d prefer you just do it, Kim, if you don’t mind. We’re a little on the tight side of the budget these days.”
A line of sweat tickled my side and the taste of salt filled my mouth.
Kim! Geesh! Pull yourself together!
“Oh, sure. I see. Yes, sure, I’ll draw your blood for you then. No problem.”
We left then, and I fretted over what lay ahead of me for twenty-eight days straight, but I steeled my nerves, and arrived at Emma’s the next month armed with phlebotomy materials.
I decided I ought to get the draw done and over with right there at the start, so, while Emma drank a glass of water, I unzipped my bag and laid a tourniquet, a pair of gloves, a butterfly needle, a tube holder, a red top vacutainer, a lavender top vacutainer, two alcohol swabs, a 2″x2″ piece of sterile gauze, and a bandaid on a paper plate.
So far, so good. I wasn’t having fun, but I wasn’t nauseated either.
I examined Emma’s forearms, and decided her left arm looked best. I had Emma recline on her sofa, and I put a small pillow beneath her elbow. I placed the tourniquet, realized it wasn’t tight enough, replaced it, and winced at the way it puckered her pale flesh.
No, Kim, nope. Don’t start.
I shook my head and asked her to pump her fist. I swept the first alcohol pad in widening swirls over the delicate, cornflower blue protrusion of vein that rose to the surface of Emma’s inner elbow, and then I did it again with the second pad.
Ew. What a smell.
I reached for the butterfly, screwed the tube holder in place, removed the needle cover, and a layer of moisture sprang out upon the back of my neck and across my forehead.
Steady, Kim. Steady.
“Now, make a fist…”
I found the spot I considered ideal for the cruel steel and said, “Okay, here’s the poke, Emma.”
The needle slid right in, though Emma flinched and a shiver rippled up my spine and tingled down my thighs. Thankfully, I was rewarded with a flash of blood.
Oh, praise the Lord.
I reached for the red top vacutainer. My hand was trembling slightly, but I managed to press the stopper firmly enough against the needle to send stream of dark red blood spurting into the tube. My stomach took a little lurch.
Ahhh, easy now. Settle. Almost done.
I set the red top tube aside and pressed the lavender top into place. It, too, filled rapidly.
“Alright, relax your hand, Emma.” I said as I twitched the tourniquet from her arm.
I set the second tube aside and placed the square of gauze over the needle. I shuddered, and slipped the needle free and told Emma to press the gauze over the wound I’d inflicted. I handed the paper plate with the vials of Emma’s priceless blood to Mary with my, now, badly shaking right hand, and was suddenly soaked, blind, and overcome with a wave of nausea.
I lowered myself gingerly upon the floor and curled onto my side and sank into a blissful nothingness.
An eternity later, a distant, tinny voice began to summon me to the surface.
“Kim! Oh my goodness! What’s the matter?”
It was Mary. She was kneeling beside me Emma’s floor. I groaned.
“Kim, what do you need?”
“Wash cloth…” I waved my hand weakly in the direction of my purse. “Peppermint oil… ”
Soon enough I was seated again at Emma’s kitchen table, feeling too well-pleased at the vials filled with blood to do anything but admire them. As haggard as I’m told I appeared, I was victorious! Emma might change her mind about having me attend her as midwife, and Mary might change her mind about “apprenticing” with me, but, by golly, I’d just conquered three decades’ worth of misgivings and extracted a measure of life blood from a fellow human’s veins!
Fortunately, Emma retained me as midwife (and even gifted me with a fresh baked pumpkin roll), Mary remained with me through another year, and I decided to tackle all future blood draws myself.
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 by istock photo.
Many thanks to Steven Osterholzer for allowing his finger to be pricked and his veins to be punctured in order for Kim to obtain the photographs she desired to illustrate this post ♥
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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