Mothering a Midwife

3:49 a.m., Saturday morning, October 27th

The jangling of my telephone jolted me awake.

“Mom—I just hit another deer.”

I’m incredibly proud of my daughter, Hannah Simmons, one of southwest Michigan’s handful of wonderful homebirth midwives.

Hannah tagged along to a number of births through her girlhood—invited by expectant mothers in hopes her presence would be of comfort and of use to each family’s variety of sisters and brothers.

In February, 2007, at the age of fifteen Hannah once again came with me to serve at a birth in such a role.

The baby we were looking for made his way into life only six weeks past Brent’s death—Brent, Hannah’s father and my husband. The laboring family was one close to our hearts, one we held very dear, one who held us very dear, rendering the birth of the baby both sweet and sad and a catalyst for tears as we’d each fervently hoped Brent would live long enough to meet the family’s newest member.

And I was without a midwifery partner at the time, also a recent and grievous loss.

Because the baby came through the wee hours of night, the children Hannah was to tend were asleep, so Hannah and the baby’s grandmother sat quietly together in a corner of the room, basking in the magic.

The baby, a hefty nine-pounder, slipped easily into his father’s hands toward morning. His placenta followed soon after, slipping easily into mine.

Then his mama startled us with a brisk bleed.

I desired an extra set of hands to help me stem the flow and, glancing behind me, caught sight of Hannah, and decided her hands would have to do.

I set her to work, she surprised me with the quality of her work, and she worked with me from then on.

Hannah moved through the next seven years, transforming from girl to woman, from student to midwife, from my child to my friend and partner, and the sweetness of those transformations surpassed anything I could have dreamed of when she herself was a mere babe at my breast.

In that seventh year, I married Steve, packed up my belongings, turned my practice over to Hannah, and moved to Colorado.

The five years that followed have been brimful. Hannah, newly a wife at my departure, became a mother twice over, and has experienced every extreme of life while attending hundreds of births and a few deaths—triumph and defeat, rejoicing and betrayal, opposition and accolade and disparagement mingled with all manner of challenge and adventure.

The way Hannah’s risen to face and facilitate the rapidly shifting moments of her life fills me with awe and a profound sense of pride.

And, strangely enough, it also fills me with sorrow and concern.

When Hannah and her brother, Paul, were little—when their father was alive, and even when he was a police officer—I was never one to worry.

Now, though allow me to say I refuse to indulge in worry, worry tends to rise first to the surface of my consciousness when I think of Hannah. Then along with that worry comes a longing for her life to be simpler, to be easier.

The reason for this came clearly to me in the aftermath of her call this morning.

Whenever she calls, whenever she tells me about her days, even when she uses few words to describe them, I always know exactly what lies behind and within her words.

The rewards of our work are indescribable, but sometimes the toll it takes is, too.

I know what it is to spend night after night after night away from husband, children, adequate sleep, enough food, and a hot shower.

I know what it is to race down dark and lonely roads—obliterating deer and damaging vehicles as you go.

I put it this way at the back of my book and in the letter I crafted for potential apprentices:

“Homebirthing is first and forever about the vulnerabilities and incredible potentials of transforming families and their irreplaceable moments. We feel the way these transforming families experience their incredible, irreplaceable moments irrevocably establishes the foundation and springboard for their physical, psychological, and even spiritual lives.

Homebirth midwifery is about, is ever and always about, the reverent nurture and facilitation of these amazing transformations. There’s nothing in all the world like homebirth, and nothing in all the world quite like the sacred calling and charge of homebirth midwifery.

Homebirth midwifery… is an apprenticeship to life. It’s an apprenticeship to death. It’s an apprenticeship to nuance and inconvenience and idiosyncrasy. It’s an apprenticeship to wisdom and common sense. It’s an apprenticeship to every single priceless mom and dad and baby you’ll serve while striving to learn. It’s an apprenticeship to each family’s absolutely individual event. It’s an apprenticeship to the depths of the apprentice’s own heart and soul, where all her motivations and aspirations and desires and dreams, both noble and otherwise, will be dragged into the light and examined.

Homebirth midwifery apprenticeship is a revelation.

Yes, a homebirth is one of the most significant, most intense, most gorgeous, most magical things a person will ever experience on earth, but homebirth midwifery isn’t for the romantic or the easy-going. Though a homebirth midwife may radiate tenderness and embrace nature and unleash passion, homebirth midwifery itself isn’t any of those things.

Homebirth midwifery is a stick-note on the bathroom mirror reminding your husband he’s home alone with the children and, no, there’s nothing besides peanut butter available for breakfast. Nor is there fresh laundry, though you don’t bother writing that.

Homebirth midwifery is long drives at odd hours through inclement weather.

Homebirth midwifery is sleeping under tables or curled up on chairs or along lonely roadsides while waiting for tow trucks—if sleep is to be had at all.

Homebirth midwifery is feeding and watering while neglecting to eat and drink.

Homebirth midwifery is peeing in a back yard during an ice storm because Mama’s been in the bathroom for eons and there isn’t any sign she plans to come out. And then it’s discovering the paper you used while relieving yourself—that was sitting right there on the kitchen counter next to the door—had been a recent casualty of a plugged and overflowing toilet. Why it was there on the kitchen counter, no one will ever know.

Homebirth midwifery is unbrushed teeth and flyaway hair and grungy underwear attempting to appear professional during a transport.

Homebirth midwifery is finding that delicate place between necessary intervention and deleterious interference. A midwife of yesteryear… once called it intercession.

Homebirth midwifery is sharp wits and thick skin and gentle hearts and steely nerves.

Homebirth midwifery is looking death right in the eyes and defying him to the uttermost—usually managing to snatch our charges from his clutches though, occasionally, his unthinkable demands must be surrendered to and accepted after all.”

I’m proud of my daughter and it thrills me to share this amazing call with her.

But sometimes my mother heart—now my grandmother heart—just wants her to stay safely at home, baking cookies and making beds, enjoying her man and cuddling her babies and rarely, if ever, dodging deer.

Still, I know…

“There will be challenges. There will be obstacles. There will be opposition. There’s no way to pause life a second while you just quick knock this thing out. But if this is what you’re called by God to do then, with your sweaty hand squeezing His, you’ll learn to do tomorrow yesterday already and dive on in.”

I know many of the best things in life come to us through trial.

And more than anything, I’m so very proud of my daughter, Hannah Simmons.

Cover photograph: Hannah filled with her daughter Elyse, cuddling her hours-old nephew, Brenton Moses

Kim Woodard Osterholzer, Colorado Springs Homebirth Midwife and Author

Books by Kim:

Homebirth: Safe & Sacred

Homebirth: Commonly Asked Questions

A Midwife in Amish Country: Celebrating God’s Gift of Life

Nourish + Thrive: Happy, Healthy Childbearing

One Little Life at a Time: Recommendations + Record Keeping for Aspiring Homebirth Midwives

One thought on “Mothering a Midwife

  • I’m so incredibly proud of Hannah too! She’s strong. Skilled. Tough. Capable. Yet filled with tenderness, joy, compassion, and love. Well done, Hannah Simmons!

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