The Midwife’s Apprentice (part 10)

Look for prior chapters at intro, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.

Anna’s hands gripped the toilet seat as her stomach emptied itself. Another two weeks had passed, and if anything her nausea had gotten worse. Just today the smell of chamomile, faithful reliable chamomile that she’d been growing in her herb garden since she was a girl, had made her sick. She hadn’t had a full meal in nearly a month and tea and toast left her weak and tired. At first Anna had assumed her body was in shock. Now she feared it might be worse than that. Anna’s monthly curse had not yet arrived and she’d woken that morning with tender breasts. Added together with everything else, Anna knew from her midwife’s training she might be pregnant. And that was an awful thought.

Anna was the midwife’s apprentice – chaste and childless, a servant to the other women and their babies but never a mother herself. There had never been a midwife or apprentice who had a child before. Her cabin wasn’t made for a baby to live there. Her work took her out into the community at all hours of the day and night, and she didn’t have a sister or mother to help her raise a child. She’d never even wanted children, or a husband. Now there was a troubling thought. Did David mean to be her husband? Had that all been some terrible proposal? There had been a time Anna would have married him, years ago, before she’d taken her apprenticeship and learned to love the solitude of her cabin. Now the thought of his face churned her already weak stomach.

Anna leaned against the bathroom wall and waited for her illness to pass. What was going to happen to her if she was pregnant? Would she be forced to leave her home? Would she have to marry David? Where would she go? Anna wished there was someone she could talk to. She wanted to tell Joanna, but she didn’t want to explain about how she’d become pregnant. She didn’t want to think about it, much less tell anyone else. Suddenly Anna remembered the nurse she’d met when Rachel and her children were in the hospital with measles, Katie. Anna got up from her vigil by the toilet, washed her mouth and face, and then went to her coat rack. She found her fall jacket and rooted through the pockets for the slip of paper where Katie had written her phone number.

Anna sat down at the kitchen table by the phone and dialed the number. “Hello?” a soothing voice answered the line. “Katie? It’s me, Anna. We met at the hospital a couple months ago.” She started to worry Katie might not remember her, and regretted making the call. “Anna from the religious group? Hi! How’ve you been? I didn’t know if I’d hear from you!” Her bubbly effusive recognition warmed Anna and gave her the courage to forge on ahead.

“Katie if a woman is pregnant but she’s not married…” her courage started to falter. “What can she do?” Katie completed the sentence. Anna nodded at the phone. “Well, I guess she has three choices she can make. She can keep the baby and be its mom. She can give birth to the baby and let someone else be its mom. Or she can end the pregnancy before the baby is born.”

“Which one should she do?” Anna asked.

“I can’t tell you that,” Katie replied. “They’re all choices. None of them are bad. Sometimes none of them are good. Does she know what she wants to do?”

“It’s me,” Anna confessed. “And I don’t know what I want at all.”

Katie stayed on the phone with her all through the morning, asking questions and helping Anna tease out what she thought might happen under each scenario. She quickly realized adoption wasn’t something she felt comfortable with. It didn’t solve her problems. Ending the pregnancy early might let Anna keep her position and her home. But part of her balked at the idea. What if this baby was meant to be? What if she already loved it?

“I’m terrified of birth. Silly for a midwife, I know, but I never thought I’d have to have one of my own,” Anna poured out her secrets to this relative stranger, this outsider who was willing to listen. “And I don’t want to marry David.”

“I should think not!” Katie fervently agreed. “Anna you didn’t want to have sex with him. That makes it rape. You shouldn’t have to marry your rapist. If you think that’s going to happen, I want you to come live with me. I know it will be a big change for you, but I want you to know that you can stay here for as long as you need to. No one should have to marry a man who treats them like that.”

Tears poured down Anna’s face. She was torn between relief at being believed and having the horror of what he’d done confirmed, and terror at the minister being spoken of so. “He’s not all bad. He’s smart and he takes care of us and he protects us from the sin of the world!” The minister was the most important person in the community, the guardian of their faith and way of life. “I don’t want to bear false witness,” she stressed. “I probably tempted him.”

Katie was silent for a few moments before saying quietly, “I’ll always be here for you, no matter what.”

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