My oldest daughter, Hana, is in her last year of nursing school and is currently taking her OB course, affectionately referred to as “Mama-Baby.” I’ve always been fascinated with midwifery so I love when her studies come up in conversation.
Hana was born at home, delivered by my husband and me 22 years ago. Yes, the labor was all of an hour-and-a-half and the midwife didn’t make it in time. Thank goodness we’d planned a home birth—otherwise we would have had a car birth. I’d already been fascinated with midwifery, but that experience sealed the deal.
It was actually midwifery that led me to write about the Amish. Years ago, when my children were babies, I read and reread A Midwife’s Story, by Penny Armstrong and Sheryl Feldman about Penny’s work among Amish families. That inspired me to write The Amish Midwife, co-authored with Mindy Starns Clark, which won a Christy Award in 2012.
In the last four years, I’ve researched the Amish non-stop, both during trips to Amish communities and through extensive reading. I’ve continued to write about mamas and babies in my novels, including the one releasing this month, Becoming Bea. The protagonist is a mother’s helpers in a household with triplets. Bea learns all sorts of things about mamas and babies and gets a chance to save the day, when another one of the characters goes into labor. (Bea also learns a lot about love and forgiveness, and not from the triplets! That comes from Ben…)
Here are a few things I’ve learned in my research about mamas, births, babies, and the Amish.
Hospital vs Home birth: Just like so many things concerning Plain people, there’s not one way Amish women “do” births. Some choose to have their babies at home, some in birthing clinics, and some in hospitals. It depends on what the mama feels comfortable with, the local options, her particular needs, and if the pregnancy is high risk or not.
Multiple births: According to Amish Society, by John Hostetler, the Amish have the highest incidence of twins of any known population, without the help of fertility treatment. Genetics plays a part in this, but as a woman ages her chances of conceiving twins increases. A woman’s odds of having twins also increases with each pregnancy, and if a woman has had twins once, she’s twice as likely to do so again. All of these factors contribute to the high number of twins among the Amish.
Postpartum recovery: Most Amish women have good support when it comes to recovering from giving birth. Chances are a mother, mother-in-law, or grandmother lives nearby. Husbands and older children are also a big support in caring for the mother, baby, and younger siblings, as are others in the community.
Adoption and fostering: Amish families do provide foster care and sometimes foster to adopt. Adoption of children within communities by extended family or church members after the death of the children’s parents is common. It’s not unheard of for the baby of a teenage Amish girl to be adopted by a family in another district (and probably in the girl’s district also, although I haven’t come across accounts of that). Unwed Amish mothers certainly keep their babies, too, and are usually well supported.
Birth control: Although generally the Amish frown on birth control, one in five women in a Pennsylvania study of the Amish said they’ve used some type of birth control. (“Health Status, Health Conditions, and Health Behaviors Among Amish Women,” Central Pennsylvania Women’s Health Study, 2007.)
Other pertinent information: The same Women’s Health Study cited that Amish women, compared to the general population, were less likely to have underweight babies, more likely to welcome pregnancy, were in better health before pregnancy, were treated more fairly by men, and had less stress and depression.
That’s good news for Amish mamas and their babies and fascinating reading for me!
Do you have any insights to share? Any personal experience with the Amish and birth? I’d love to know—please leave a comment!
Leslie Gould is the #1 bestselling and Christy Award winning author of 19 novels. She and her husband, Peter, live in Portland, Oregon and are the revolving-door parents of four children, three who are young adults, and the owners of three cats. Leslie loves researching church history, seeing Shakespeare plays, and traveling with her hubby, mainly on research trips. Her latest release is Becoming Bea. Find out more at www.lesliegould.com.
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