Friday, April 23, 2010
The novel I am finishing now, SARAH'S GIFT, is about an Amish midwife, so I've been deep into research on that topic. Fortunately I have a friend who is a midwife, and through her I've been able to meet others, so it's been a fascinating trip.
In contrast to much of mainstream America, a high percentage of Amish women prefer to have their babies at home, and cite a variety of reasons for doing so. For one thing, having a baby at home can be much less expensive! But more importantly, most Amish regard childbirth as the natural process of a healthy body, not as a medical procedure. After all, they say, women have been having babies with a midwife in attendance for centuries. To them, unless a woman has risk factors that make a hospital birth preferable, having a baby at home is both comforting and comfortable.
Amish midwives typically come to the woman's home to assist in delivery, but there are a growing number of birthing centers in rural areas as well. One midwife I spoke with said that she would much rather go to the mother's home, but that it had become too difficult to do that, especially if two of her mothers decided to have babies at the same time fifty miles apart.
Mary, this particular midwife, now has a birthing center in a typical Pennsylvania farmhouse, which looks so much like a home that women are sometimes surprised to learn that she doesn't actually live there. The only concession she has made in the way of furnishings is to use hospital beds, which allow for greater ease is adjusting position.
Mary, also sometimes called Grandma Mary, has been delivering babies for 36 years. For her, this is the most rewarding thing she could do, and she remains close to the couples and the children, sometimes going on to deliver the babies of women whom she delivered. When I asked what her greatest disappointment is, she replied that it was when things went wrong and the patient required hospitalization. That happens rarely, but when it does, she has the patient quickly transferred to a local hospital.
Amish women typically become midwives--"catching babies"-- through their longing to help other women have the kind of birth they want. Though they may receive formal training, much of their education comes in apprenticing to an established midwife.
SARAH'S GIFT, the fourth book in my Pleasant Valley Amish series from Berkley, will come out in March, 2011.