The purple of dusk still cloaked the sky as Fanny Lapp lifted her five--month--old son from the infant seat in the buggy and cooed to soothe him. “I know, I know. It’s too early to be awake. You can sleep when we get inside.” Shifting the little one onto her shoulder, she walked the small path bordered by red and yellow pansies and knocked on the door.
Today promised to be a warm one, with the wonderful good blessing of a new baby for Lizzy and Joe. Seeing a child into the world was the sweetest delight a person could know—-though it came with its inconveniences. When she had agreed to cover for Anna Beiler for a spell while the midwife went to visit her family in Florida, Fanny had not imagined herself traipsing through the night with her own baby in tow. How quickly she’d forgotten that babes came into the world on their own schedule, whether it be stretched over three long summer days or as quick as a teapot comes to the boil.
First--time mothers could be a trial, not knowing what was to happen, but Lizzy King was different. Maybe because Lizzy knew about the dark patch of sorrow and grief Fanny was working through. Or maybe because it had taken this couple longer than most to be blessed in this way.
The door was opened by Lizzy’s husband, Market Joe, a young Amish man with a broad, friendly face and thick black--framed glasses. “It’s Fanny,” he called to his wife, opening the door wide. “Come.” With the excitement and nervousness of a first--time father, Joe scampered over to his wife, who stood, leaning over a chair, breathing through a contraction.
Stepping inside, Fanny smiled at the young man and his wife. Ah, how dear they were to her heart! Although Joe and Lizzy King were not family, Fanny felt a special attachment to the couple, who had shared her family’s fears and grief after the tragic car accident six months ago. Joe and Lizzy had been in the van with Fanny’s husband, dear Tom, who had been taken by Gott.
The house smelled sweet, of cinnamon and sugar. “Someone’s been baking,” Fanny said.
“Lizzy made cookies, in the middle of everything,” Joe said. “And you brought little Tommy this time. Come. We’ve got a place for the boy.” He scrambled back behind Fanny to close the door.
“Lizzy.” Fanny rocked Tommy back and forth as she made a quick assessment of Lizzy, who wore exhaustion on her pale face. A midwife had to learn much from the first look at a mother, especially since a husband often did not pass along details of his wife’s condition when he called in a fit of jitters. Instinct told Fanny that the baby was still a good two hours away. “Looks like you’re coming along fine.”
“You were right about staying on my feet.” Lizzy gripped the top of the ladder--back chair so firmly, her knuckles were white. “I baked a batch of snickerdoodles. That got things moving along.”
When Fanny had come out last night around ten o’clock, Lizzy had been resting in bed, still in the very early stages of labor. Since Lizzy’s pains had been nothing more than occasional cramps, Fanny knew she need not stick around. She had left the couple with instructions that Lizzy do some walking, and a promise that she would return before dawn.
Fanny felt her son’s head stirring on her shoulder as she spotted a pile of quilts set up on the living room floor.
“We made a Budda Nesht for Tommy,” Joe said.
“Looks cozy.” Fanny squatted down beside the nest of blankets and placed her son in the center of the thick bedding. His lips formed a pout, then opened slightly as a look of peace softened his face. Covering him with a soft blanket, she bent down to kiss his forehead. “Sleep well, liebe.”
“It’s good you returned.” Joe stood at Lizzy’s side, rubbing her back. “She’s been walking and standing most of the night, just like you told us, Fanny.”
“Good. I knew you would follow advice. You’re a good patient, Lizzy.”
“Maybe not so much. I’m sorry for getting you out here last night, with the baby not really coming yet. When everything started, I got a little scared.”
“It was no problem at all,” Fanny said, comforting the younger woman. “The first baby usually takes its time, but this is all new for you. I liken it to a road you never traveled before. You need directions and a companion at your side. Joe has taken good care of you. Now it’s my turn.”
With her little one tucked away, Fanny took charge of the situation. The house was tidy, but Lizzy looked tired, and she needed to be strong for the pushing part of labor. “You go into the bedroom and change your clothes. The walking has helped your labor to progress, but now you need some rest.”
As Lizzy waddled into the bedroom, Fanny turned to Joe and asked if Doc Trueherz was on his way. Fanny was happy to help Amish mothers bring their babies into the world, but the doctor was always in charge.
“I called, and Celeste said Dr. Minetta was coming.”
“Not Doc Trueherz?” Lizzy paused in the hall, strain showing in her face. Most everyone liked Henry Trueherz, the country doctor who had served the Amish for years.
Joe readjusted his black--framed glasses on the bridge of his nose. “The regular doc’s gone to the city. This Minetta fella is filling in.”
“He’s a good doctor, too,” Fanny said, holding back her concerns. Both times she had encountered Dr. Minetta, she had been assisting Anna, and both times he had been late. Most doctors were not familiar with the farm roads and unmarked lanes of Lancaster County, which Doc Trueherz knew well from twenty years of making house calls. Dr. Minetta had arrived so late to one of the births, the baby had already been diapered and wrapped. Fanny hoped he would be prompt today.
Fanny sent Joe out to the buggy to tend to the horse and fetch her things—-two heavy cases of supplies and medical gadgets that Anna had loaned her. As she washed her hands at the kitchen sink, Fanny was startled by her reflection in the window with the dense night still behind it. Her tawny hair was neatly pulled back under her white prayer Kapp, but her cheeks seemed hollow, her eyes wide and round like a wise old owl. My, oh my, but she could use a good night’s sleep. She was beginning to understand why Anna was always yawning at quilting bees. Ah, but to hear a baby’s first cry, to bundle an infant in flannel and hand it over to the mother—-those sweet moments were worth a little lost sleep.
In the bedroom, Lizzy had changed into a robe that stretched over her wide belly and had slipped fluffy socks on her feet. Her white prayer kapp hung from a peg on the wall, and her golden blond hair was unpinned, still twined in a braid that ran down her back. The bed was already covered with a mattress pad and clean sheets.
“Look at that. The bed’s all ready to go. Now we just need your baby to come,” Fanny said as she motioned Lizzy to sit on the bed.
“We’ve been waiting so long,” Lizzy said as she scrambled back on the mattress, then quickly looked away. Amish women didn’t usually talk about such things—-pregnancy and the like—-but certain things had to be told to a midwife or doctor, and Fanny knew how Lizzy and Joe had waited. Most Amish women had their first babies within a year of marriage, but Gott had given Lizzy and Market Joe a different path. Lizzy was in her mid--twenties and having her first child.
Fanny propped up some pillows and had Lizzy lean back. Smoothing a hand over the young woman’s forehead for a quick temperature check, Fanny was relieved to see Lizzy relaxing between contractions, drawing in a breath and sinking back against the pillows.
“No sign of fever, and it’s good for you to close your eyes. You’re going to need strength for what’s ahead.”
“Where do you want these bags?” Joe asked from the doorway. He hung back sheepishly, knowing a man’s place was not in this bedroom right now.
“Right here.” Fanny pulled one of the heavy bags close to the bed, thanked Joe, and sent him back out to the kitchen. “Why don’t you go put some water on to boil,” she told him. The tradition of boiling water was steadfast during Amish home births, though the most practical use for it was making tea.
Guiding her hands over Lizzy’s taut belly, she felt the baby’s head pointed down and securely engaged. “All good. Let me count the baby’s heartbeats.” The listening piece of the stethoscope was cold, so Fanny rubbed it with her palm. “Don’t want to send you and the baby jumping,” she teased.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Lizzy murmured.
With the cup of the stethoscope pressed to Lizzy’s belly, Fanny found the rapid thud of the infant’s heart. Using a stopwatch from Anna’s black bag, she counted the beats. “A hundred and forty,” she said aloud. “A good, strong heartbeat.”
Lizzy smiled, though her lips thinned as a contraction took over. “Ah, Fanny, I need this baby to be born,” she said, wincing. “Please! Give me my baby now!”
Fanny helped Lizzy move to her knees so that she could rock her way through the wave. Tears glimmered in Lizzy’s golden eyes as she searched the room for relief.
“Look at that calendar over there. What a lovely picture. Looks like Niagara Falls. That’s it.”
“I didn’t think it would . . .” Lizzy moaned. “I didn’t think it would hurt so.”
“No one knows until it happens,” Fanny said gently, but she doubted that Lizzy could hear her. Although Lizzy had been told what to expect from her dutiful visits to the clinic in Paradise, Fanny found that all the well--told stories and directions flew out the window when a woman was in the throes of labor. A midwife’s simple words and calm explanations could wash over a woman in labor like a warm balm. Fanny stayed by Lizzy’s side until the pain subsided and Lizzy closed her eyes again.
“The contractions are getting closer. I’m going to send Joe to watch for the doctor. You rest.”
“Got to go.” Lizzy pushed herself up on her elbows and edged off the bed. “I need the bathroom.” She took two steps, leaned forward, and gave a cry of pain. She gathered her robe up and peered down at the linoleum floor. “My water.”
“It’s clear. That’s a good sign, and it also means that your baby will be here soon.”
“Oh, Fanny, it’s taking so long and I’m about spent.” Lizzy dropped down to a squat, her head resting against the bed. “This little one will never come.”
“Your baby will come.” Fanny smoothed a strand of blond hair away from Lizzy’s forehead. “They always do.” She helped Lizzy to her feet. “Off you go. After that, you come back in here. This room is your little cocoon, ya? We’ll spin a warm, soft nest of love around your baby as it comes into the world.”
Lizzy gave a wan smile, then headed down the hall as Fanny quickly fetched a rag to wash the floor. Although Fanny was experienced in assisting with home births, she didn’t want to overstep her bounds. Where was that doctor?
Keeping a calm way about her, Fanny cleaned up the floor. In the kitchen, she started two cups of tea brewing. Joe asked how it was going, and she told him there was time to go down the road to get someone in the family to cover for him at the King family’s cheese stand in the city. Joe wanted to be here when his baby was born, but he was a bit squeamish about hanging around now. “Go,” Fanny told him. “Take my buggy if it’s still hitched up. And keep a lookout for the doctor when you’re on your way back.”
Inside the bedroom, Lizzy was curled on her side. Fanny helped her up to a sitting position and handed her a cup of honeyed tea with a dose of blue cohosh, an herb that stimulated labor.
“Denki.” Lizzy sipped gratefully. “The doctor . . . he should be here soon, ya?”
“He’s probably trying to find his way on the back roads.” Fanny perched in the chair beside the bed. “I do wish we had a birth center here. That’s how things are done back in Ohio. All the doctors and Amish know where to go when the time comes. Makes for fewer mix--ups, and it can be a lot of fun, women together with their newborns for a few days.”
“That sounds like a very good thing, Fanny. Let’s pray on it. Maybe someone will build one before I have the next baby.”
“That’s thinking positive,” Fanny said. It would be a wonderful thing for mothers in this town, but who would build such a place? Her mamm used to say that if you want something done, you’ll do it yourself. That got Fanny thinking about the old carriage house at home. Would it be possible?
“Oh, here comes another.” Lizzy put the tea aside and focused on the picture of the waterfall. Her face was puffy from strain, but she didn’t complain.
Fanny recognized that look, the turning point when a woman realized she must give herself over to the pain, trust it, ride it out. She put her teacup down and blotted Lizzy’s face with the cool cloth.
“Geh lessa. Go with it.” She spoke in their first language, though she doubted Lizzy could hear her. The dear young woman was caught up in the shifting tides of intense labor. Fanny tended to Lizzy quietly as the pain ebbed and flowed. This was the bulk of Fanny’s duties: watching and waiting, soothing and cleaning up.
Not so long ago, Fanny herself had been attended by Doc Trueherz and Anna when Tommy was born. When Fanny’s labor pains began, her heart had been heavy with sadness over Tom’s death. But the minute she held the baby in her arms and kissed his wrinkled brow, she had recognized the blessing of family that Gott had granted her.
Excerpted from A Simple Charity by Rosalind Lauer. Copyright © 2014 by Rosalind Lauer. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.