Abigail's New Hope By Mary Ellis
"Come help us, mamm." The excited voice of her six-year-
old floated across the lawn. Abby grinned, watching her
daughter and four-year-old son chase lightening bugs
through the grass with open jelly jars in hand. Despite
the kinners' industrious efforts, the fireflies
successfully evaded capture to blink and glow on another
"Why are you two off the porch? You both were already
washed for bed." Abby walked back from the barn with her
palms perched on her hips.
She glanced up as a squeak from the screen door signaled
the arrival of the final Graber family member, her ehemann
of seven years. "I thought you were reading them a story,"
she said with a sly smile.
Daniel slicked a hand through his thick hair, his hat
nowhere in sight; then braced calloused palms against the
porch rail. "Relax, wife. That grass looks pretty clean
from where I'm standing. You won't have to start from
scratch. Didn't it just rain the other day?" His smile
deepened the lines around his eyes. With the setting sun
glinting off his sun-burnished nose, he looked as
mischievous as one of their children.
Abby watched the warm summer night unfold around her
family with no desire to scold. The young ones would have
the rest of their lives to have perfectly clean feet, but
the summers of childhood were numbered. Besides, it was
too nice an evening for anyone to go to bed on time.
Walking up the porch steps, she stepped easily into
Daniel's strong arms and rested her head against his
shoulder. Within his embrace, with her two healthy
offspring darting like honeybees in spring clover, she
savored the almost-longest day of the year.
Swifts and swallows made their final canvass above the
meadow before settling for the night in barn rafter nests
or in the hollows of dead trees. Upon their exit, bats
would take their place, swooping and soaring on wind
currents, gobbling pesky mosquitoes by the thousands. The
breeze scented with the last of the lilacs and the first
of honeysuckle, felt cool on her overheated skin.
"Everything all charged up for the night?" he asked
close to her ear.
Daniel's question, the same one he asked nearly every
night since she'd become a midwife, broke the idyllic
trance she had wandered into—that the all's-well-with-the-
world feeling one gets after a satisfying day. "Jah," she
murmured. "I ran the generator long enough to charge my
battery packs. And I put a fresh battery in my cell phone
for tonight, but I don't expect any middle-of-the-night
calls. After yesterday's delivery, no babies are expected
for several weeks."
"Harrumph," he concluded, nuzzling the top of her
head. "We both know how well babies stick to doctor's
timetables. I'm fixing a cup of tea and heading upstairs.
Yours will be cooling on the table for whenever you're
ready." He brushed his lips across the top of her kapp
before going inside, the screen door slamming behind him.
The nice thing about being married for seven years is
that a person gets to know someone very well. Daniel
Graber knew she enjoyed her beverages at room temperature—
not too hot and not too cold. And she knew he needed to
take mental inventory before going to bed to make sure the
family's ducks were all in a row. So she didn't mind being
asked about her cell phone charger each evening.
After all, a midwife, even an Amish midwife, needed to
be accessible twenty-four hours a day. The Ordnung, or
rules that govern their Old Order district, didn't
stipulate how Amish wives had their babies. A woman could
have an obstetrician deliver at an English hospital, or
she could go to a birthing center where a specially
trained, certified nurse midwife would bring her baby into
the world. But many Old Order Amish preferred to have
their babies at home, the center of their rural lives.
Unlike their English counterparts, they usually continued
to work during labor—washing dishes, picking beans in the
garden, even giving the porch rocker a fresh coat of paint—
until the baby made its grand entrance.
At twenty-seven, Abigail Graber was an experienced
midwife, having assisted the local physician or the nurse
midwife in hundreds of deliveries. Even though she'd
received training and apprenticed with a nurse midwife for
several years, she'd never set foot in college since she
was Amish like her patients. She understood how quickly
things could go wrong for either mother or child or both,
yet her time-honored vocation allowed Abigail to witness
the miracle of creation firsthand.
Ohio and Pennsylvania, the two states with the highest
population of Amish families, didn't license midwives who
weren't registered nurses under current guidelines.
Therefore her duties generally involved preparing the
mother…and father for the baby's arrival. She would give
the women back massages to loosen tight muscles or have
them soak in warm tubs to speed the delivery. Since rural
doctors refused to sit around people's kitchens waiting
for babies to be born, Abigail would monitor the mother's
contractions to keep him informed. Abby, however, loved
the waiting time while fathers debated possible names and
mothers crocheted last minute socks. Dr. Weller would
usually arrive just in time to deliver the infant, and
then return to his office patients or his own warm bed.
Abby would remain to wash the new mother, bathe the infant
in the kitchen sink, and finish paperwork at the table.
She never left a home until the newborn was comfortably
nursing at the mother's breast.
Home births were solely for healthy women with low-risk
pregnancies, not for women with diabetes, high blood
pressure, heart disease, or if a previous birth had been
difficult. Patients were to receive regular prenatal care
in the doctor's office to monitor their medical condition
and the baby's development. For that reason, Abby knew
none of the doctor's patients was due any time soon. But
as Daniel aptly pointed out, babies didn't listen very
And God often had other plans when a woman grew too
comfortable, too placid in the sheer flawlessness of her
life. On that June evening, as her own two healthy
children scrambled up the steps to bed—their feet
surprisingly clean—Abby almost felt smug in her
contentment. She rocked in the porch swing, sipping tea
and contemplating the planet Venus, sitting low and bright
on the horizon.
The ring of her cell phone jarred her senses. "Hello?
Graber residence," she said into the receiver; then sipped
lukewarm licorice tea.
"Abigail Graber?" asked an unfamiliar voice. "This is
Nathan Fisher. My wife Ruth and I rented the Levi Yoder
place here in Shreve after the elder Mr. Yoder passed on.
I'm calling you from the neighbor's house."
Silence ensued, as Abby wracked her brain. Fisher was a
very common name, but she didn't recall meeting someone
named Ruth Fisher in Dr. Weller's office. "What can I do
for you, Mr. Fisher?" She finished her drink in one long
"My wife wants you to come see her. She said that I
should call you and nobody else. She got your number from
one of the gals in our district."
Abby frowned, feeling annoyance snake up her spine. Her
Plain brethren maintained the old-fashioned habit of never
referring to a pregnancy directly, as though babies
arrived under blessed, but unknown circumstances. "I take
it your wife is expecting a boppli? She needs to contact
the doctor's office for an appointment, and then be
examined by him before—"
"No, you need to come over right now. She's crying out
and is in a lot of pain."
Abby's annoyance changed to fear. "Are you saying your
wife is in labor right now?" She tried unsuccessfully to
keep her voice calm as she stepped onto the back porch. No
sense in waking the rest of the family, since her kinner
had probably just fallen asleep.
"Jah, she is." His three succinct words conveyed none
of the same apprehension that tightened her stomach into a
"Who has she been seeing? Who is her doctor?" asked
"Nobody, she saw a lady doctor back in Indiana, but
then we moved here so I could find work. She heard at
Preaching service that the doctor who makes house calls in
these parts was a man." Nathan Fisher stated these facts
Abby's knuckles bleached white from gripping the porch
rail. "There are plenty of lady doctors at the clinic in
Wooster, plus they have a van that would pick your wife up
and bring her home afterward for a nominal charge." Daniel
slipped out the door behind her and put his reassuring arm
around her shoulders.
"I'll debate what my wife should or shouldn't have done
with you another day, Mrs. Graber, but right now my wife's
having a baby." Nathan spoke in a calm voice.