36-Hour Adventure

26Oct09

Last Tuesday night I set my alarm for 0600 Wednesday, planning, as I do every Tuesday night, to head to Lancaster in the morning. :-)  I turned off my light, rolled over, and dozed off.  I was jolted out of semi-consciousness about half an hour before midnight by my phone loudly asking for attention.  Internally, adrenaline flipped “on.”  “Hi, this is Susanna,” I said, answering the phone – trying my best to sound as though I had not just been awakened.  “Hi Susanna, want to come to a birth?”  It was my mentor.  I swung my feet over the side of the bed and sat up quickly, reaching for a pen and paper.  I hastily jotted down the name and address of the couple in labor, said I was on my way, hung up, and then scrambled to throw together a few things for an overnight away from home.

Just before midnight, I pulled into “my” Wawa and ran inside for a cup of coffee (half hazelnut and half regular, drowning in two kinds of creamer and a lot of sugar!).  I made good time on the road, thankful I knew the way until just the last little bit.  I only made one wrong turn. :-)  And I was grateful there weren’t a whole lot of people on the road as I slowed down at several mailboxes, searching for the right one.  The thing about going to an Amish birth is that you know you’re in the right place when you get to a house and there are cars in the driveway but no lights on anywhere.  I pulled in, parked, got out, and almost forget why I had come so far when I looked up at the sky.  The moon had already set, but the stars were incredibly bright and seemed closer even then they’d been from a greater altitude.  With a sigh of contentment, I turned to the house.  When I reached the door, it opened from the inside and I was welcomed by the father.  I went inside and settled down to wait with the other two midwives.  We caught up on each others’ news, speaking in hushed tones so as not to disturb the laboring woman.  The faint glow of a kerosene lamp cast shadows around us.

About an hour after I arrived, our “patient” was feeling pushy.  At 0205 Wednesday morning, she and her husband welcomed their 8th child into the world – their 6th boy. :-)  We cleaned up, put our gear away, checked mom and baby out, made sure baby was breastfeeding well, fed mom, and got ready to go.  The midwives I was with – H and R1 – decided that H and I should go and try to get a few hours’ sleep before clinic began at 0800, and R1 would stay to finish the recovery.  I’ve stayed with the R’s in the past (R1 and R2 are sisters in addition to being midwives), so headed over to their pad.  R&R live in the dowdy house of an Old Order farm (even though they are not Amish), so they don’t have electricity. :-)  That, of course, is part of the adventure. :-)  At least this time I knew my way around in the dark!

After a bit of sleep under a pile of quilts (up in the attic of the dowdy house, as R&R had just repainted the bedroom ceiling and didn’t want to sleep with the smell of paint), we got up and had a delicious breakfast of fried brown eggs and home-made cinnamon swirl bread.  The clinic is less than five minutes from where R&R live (a much shorter commute than my hour drive!), and I was tolerably awake by the time I arrived. :-)  We had a steady day of prenatal and postpartum checkups.  I thoroughly enjoy doing “new repeats” or “new prenatals” and was thrilled to be able to do the first exam on a primagravida (we plan for those appointments to take half an hour – she had a lot of questions so I was with her three times longer than the allotted time).  I am so privileged to share such special moments with people – I love seeing the look a young pregnant woman and her husband share when they hear their baby’s heartbeat for the first time. :-)

So as the day was winding down, I was finding it increasingly difficult to remain on-task, alert, and oriented.  That is, until D (my mentor) came around the corner at 4pm and said, “Want to go to another birth?”  That woke me right back up. :-)  “Better get moving; this one goes fast.”  I tossed my keys to R2 (so she’d have a car) and jumped in the car with R1.  As we sped through southern Lancaster County, R1 told me about this mommy’s previous births.  “Three babies ago, she woke up in the middle of the night to care for a sick child.  She felt a contraction, so asked her husband to go call us [the Amish do not have telephones in their homes, but will often have a “phone booth” where their driveway meets the road so that they can make an outgoing call].  By the time he came back in – less than 10 minutes later – she was ready to delivery.  He caught that baby.  The next baby we [the midwives]  arrived three minutes before she delivered.  Then, her baby before this current one took six hours – she does not want to do that again.  I hope we make it…”

We pulled into the driveway a little bit before 1700, grabbed the birth bag and resuscitation gear out of the trunk, and headed inside.  We were greeted by a smiling mommy and her husband.  The other six children were down the road with relatives.  The smell of apple crisp baking in the oven hung deliciously in the air.  Delivery did not appear to be imminent. :-)  R1 and I got set up, and she checked our patient – 7cm dilated.  We didn’t have long to wait!

After some pacing, some contractions, and some transition nausea, our patient took the apple crisp out the oven and announced that she felt like she could push.  So push she did!  Five minutes later, she was holding her 4th girl – her smallest baby, weighing in at 7lbs 13oz.  In a short while, everything was cleaned up and we were sitting around chatting as the dusk deepened.  Eventually, a lamp was lit, and fresh apple crisp (or “apple goody,” as they called it) was brought in.  The delighted parents had homemade yogurt on top, and R1 and I had apple goody swimming in fresh goats’ milk.  And it was yummy!!  We hung around to make sure the baby ate (which she did, quite adeptly) and until the other children came home to greet the newest addition to their family. :-)  R1 and I decided that we’d had enough to call it a day, so headed back “home” for (hopefully) a night of sleep.  R2 was out at a church function, so R1 and I had a cup of tea and headed to bed.

I lay awake for a bit, savoring the cold that nipped at my nose and thinking over the events of the day.  When R2 got home, I crept downstairs to meet her (I’d taken my pillow and other stuff back out to my car that morning, unsure if I’d be spending a second night with them).  The two of us decided that quiet time was in order, so up in the attic we lit two lamps and pulled out our Bibles to read by the soft glow of flickering flames, our heads just barely peeking out from under a mountain of covers.  It was one of those moments that felt like it was right out of a book – a Little House book. :-) We both finished, I blew out the lamps, and the next thing I knew, it was morning.

A lovely breakfast was followed by a home visit to do some “midwife sleuthing.” Sometimes appropriately diagnosing a person’s condition requires going through a litany of questions – phrased just the right way.  So it was on Thursday. :-)  R2 did a great job, and I learned a bit about interviewing just by listening.

Once the home visit was over, the real fun began. ;-)  We headed over to an Amish farm for a “Sister Day.”  D, R1, R2, and I were warmly welcomed into the main farmhouse by three sisters, their mom, and three or four sisters-in-law.  I’m not sure exactly how many people were there, actually, because there were a LOT of people coming and going.  We sat down to lunch, and at one point, I counted 16 children under the age of 4.  Almost all of them were “caught” by either D or one of the Rs. :-)  Sister Day is apparently a frequent occurrence among Amish families – and this particular day was cheese day!  Sisters will get together, work together, talk together, and the children play together.  And at the end of the day, everyone takes something home, including good memories.

The conversation around the table was lively, and even though the sisters were in their dark dresses, black aprons, and white prayer caps, the whole experience made me think how life will be when I get together with my sisters a decade or so in the future. :-)

Like all good adventures, this one also had to come to an end.  36 hours after the adventure began, it was wrapping up.  I drove home, contemplating all I’d learned in such a short space of time.  And I’ve had more than enough to keep me thinking and writing since then…

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One Response to “36-Hour Adventure”

  1. 1 Ruth Rineer

    How exciting!!! What an adventure!!! Thanks for sharing that!


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