“What the hell!” The vet falls in the doctor’s arms and sits up again, but at least he’s stopped the interminable tromping.

“Oh, God. Oh, God,” Daniel moans, shaking his head.

My stomach goes cold. To lose Patience, to lose the Midwife of Hope River! It’s unthinkable. I sit down in the grass with the two men and try to imagine what Dr. Blum would advise.

Bed rest, of course. If the placenta is only separating along the edge and Patience doesn’t move around for the next fourteen to sixteen weeks, the baby and mother might survive, but if it breaks loose completely both mother and baby will die.

Daniel now rocks back and forth, his arms around his legs. The doc sits next to him like a tree stump. In the tall reeds, a small brown bird with an orange beak and very wise black eyes watches us.

“Where’s Patience now?” I ask.

“At home in bed. Little Danny was napping.”

I pull myself together. “Let’s go to your house. Let’s go see Patience. You can’t stay with her every minute, but we have to work out a plan. For all we know she could be hemorrhaging . . . or out splitting wood, either one.” Hester looks at me wildly and I bite my tongue.

Feel of the Earth

A few minutes later, we bump across the wooden bridge that spans the creek and into the drive. At the open door to the kitchen, Daniel raises his hand. “I’ll go up first. Maybe she’s sleeping.”

“Honey? Patience?” he calls softly.

There’s no answer.

“Patience?” he calls again louder and I hear his footsteps upstairs, clunking around, moving from room to room, opening and closing doors, getting more frantic. Then he stops.

“Daniel!” I rush up, imagining he’s discovered the worst, his pregnant wife in a pool of blood, her drained body with the dead baby still in her, but when I get to their bedroom there’s no blood on the sheets and no Patience either.

“Well, where the hell is she?” Daniel growls. “While, I’m mourning her possible demise and the devastating loss of another baby, she’s outside picking posies?”

“Calm down, Daniel. You’re distraught. Maybe she just went to the outhouse.”

“No, look, the potty is right there. I brought it up before I left.” A blue-and-white chamber pot, with a white lid, sits in the corner.

Dr. Blum now stands with us, looking out the window. I push in front of him to see what he’s staring at and discover Patience Murphy lying on the green lawn below, her arms outstretched like a cross. Little Danny sits at her side playing with his red metal tractor.

“Oh my God!” Daniel rushes down the stairs.

“Slow down, Daniel. Get yourself under control,” I yell, running after him. “She’s alive and moving. I just saw her roll over. There’s no blood on her dress.”

I grab his shirt as he bolts toward the door and pull him back. “Take a few deep breaths. Don’t make Patience more upset. Just go out there and sit at her side. We’re going to talk. It may not be hopeless.”

The man wipes his eyes and runs his hands through his ragged hair. He returns to the kitchen, pumps water in a tin pan, washes his face, and then steps out in the sun.

“Patience, honey. I’ve been looking for you. Whatcha doing out here?”

“Lying down like you told me.” The midwife’s shoulder-length brown hair is fanned out in the grass and she adjusts her wire-rimmed glasses.

I follow with Blum and we sit in a circle in the grass around her.

“I meant lying down in bed. I thought you would lie down in bed.”

“It feels better out here,” Patience says in a quiet voice. “I like to be in the sun and the wind, with the smell of growing things and the feel of the earth under my body. I think it might heal me.”

Here I raise my eyebrows. Patience seems an intelligent woman, but she’s so naïve. Surely, she doesn’t imagine a placenta that’s separating can knit back together just from sunshine and the touch of the sweet earth, yet I see peace in her face.

I decide to head things off, before Daniel starts to get hysterical again. Moving in close, I check Patience’s pulse. It’s rapid but not thready, indicating she’s holding her own. Her skin is warm and dry. Respirations twenty-four. No acute distress.

“How much blood is there?” I ask. She pulls a blue cloth from under her skirt without embarrassment, and though it’s covered with blood, I know, from my days as Dr. Blum’s surgical assistant, it’s only about a quarter cup.

“How are you feeling? Any pain? Any contractions? Are you light-headed when you stand?

“No pain yet. No contractions. Just the bleeding.” She sounds so matter-of-fact, but looking into her eyes, I see the fear. If you’ve already lost two babies, you know the pain, the everlasting pain.

Commune

“Is there any hope, Becky?” Daniel asks, his eyes wide and sad.

“There’s always hope,” I answer, sounding more positive than I am. I look at Patience and continue. “This bleeding and your previous OB history make the prognosis for the pregnancy poor, but we should try to save it. It will be hard and you’ll need to stay in bed for as long as it takes.”

“It’s probably due in March, the month of heavy, wet snow, one of the worst times for getting over the mountains and into Torrington,” Daniel observes.

“But there’s no way I can stay in bed that long!” Patience moans. “Who will deliver the babies? I have five women due in the next four months, and how can I take care of Danny? You have to work, Daniel. We live from hand to mouth just like everyone else. If you don’t go on house calls, we can’t eat . . . and then there are the payments for electricity, the telephone and the mortgage. . . .” She raises both hands, signaling her despair.

“We can’t eat?” asks little Danny, looking over at us. The child didn’t appear to be listening, just playing with his little red tractor, but he got that part.

“No, honey,” Daniel reassures him. “We will always eat. We have food in the root cellar. Don’t worry. Mommy and I will take care of you.”

“Is there a woman you could get to move in with you?” I ask.

Patience frowns. “I can’t imagine who. . . . We can’t afford help.”

“How about a girl from Hazel Patch or Liberty? You could provide room and board.”

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