Person birthing with midwife in bathroom

Mothering Instincts

In honor of International Women’s Day I dug back into Hannah, Delivered, my first attempt at long fiction. The plot’s shaggy, Hannah’s voice a tad cloying, her transformation predictable, and even so the pages radiate enough novice enthusiasm for the wild and wooly subculture of traditional midwifery that I keep turning pages. Hannah’s apprenticeship and early self-employment mirror my own stumbling journey into women’s wisdom. For all its faults, the novel does a great job of celebrating the ways women’s bodies and birthing have the potential to awaken in us faith—not doctrinal, not institutional, but rooted in our biology, bonds, and origins. Here’s a small sample, from the chapter, “Mothering Instincts,” about Hannah’s training. 

The Birth House forced me to learn the only way we learn anything—through application, until I was stretched far enough that my reticence fell away. Four months into my apprenticeship, that moment arrived with a woman named Jennifer, pregnant for the third time. She was on her back, a cotton sheet draping her naked body for a routine thirty-seventh week checkup. Sunny asked, “Do you mind if Hannah does the pelvic exam?” Jennifer turned to me with pity in her eyes and said, “Go for it.”

I didn’t have a chance to protest. After it was over, what amazed me most was not her privacy spread open before me or the firm elastic rim of the cervix under my fingers’ pressure, or even the crazy fact of having my hand deep in a woman’s body, but Jennifer’s lingering and relaxed smile, as though her insides were no more secret or mysterious than the curve of an ear. “When I was a grad student, I freelanced as a pelvic model at the med school,” Jennifer said. “I was strapped for cash.”

A finger’s width was apparently a good enough measure for a centimeter, and Jennifer was dilated two. With my hand exploring Jennifer’s hospitable body, I thought of all the miserable gynecology appointments I’d endured and wondered what role adrenaline played in my suffering. I thought of Leif, who, like my father, would likely wince at this dimension of my work. To this day I’m grateful to Jennifer, whose open comfort taught me we can only ever be as easy with others as we are with ourselves. She helped me across a formidable boundary.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew