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Archives Serving mom, aiding in home births

April 24, 2024

By Deacon Kevin Mastellon
Contributing Writer

Joyce Wilder was unemployed by choice in January 2020. She had worked as a registered nurse in the maternity units of hospitals since 1995. She is a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and a licensed Certified Nurse Midwife.

“I had many prayers for guidance what to do,” Wilder said. “I woke up one morning (and a voice was telling me) you are going to do home births. I said, ‘OK!’”

That set an odyssey in motion. There have been 120 deliveries in the four years since that first delivery to an Amish woman. Half the pregnant women are Amish, Wilder told us. The other half are either born to Mennonite women or English women. Most are home births. A few, 15 so far, have been born in the birthing center recently located in the Wilder home.

Right after Wilder decided to put her midwifery skills to work in home births, she called a fellow midwife, Sunday Smith, in Potsdam. Smith had been working in the field a long time. She had clients throughout St. Lawrence, Franklin, and Jefferson Counties. Wilder was assisting Smith with a case in LaFargeville as an apprentice. She felt this was her call; to assist another midwife with home births.

The Amish mother in that case was expecting her 10th child.

Wilder was called to check-up on the mother one day near the pregnant woman’s term. Wilder was to determine if it was time for Smith to make the trip from Potsdam to oversee the delivery.
Wilder arrived to find the woman in full labor.

“It all happened so fast; I didn’t really have time to be nervous,” she said. “Within 10 minutes, we had a baby.”
The midwife cannot remember if the baby was a boy or girl, but the experience convinced her the path she had chosen was the right one.

Wilder lives with her husband, Deacon Don Wilder, in the Town of Watertown. It is not unusual to see an Amish buggy outside their home. A pregnant woman is in the birthing room for a check-up or giving birth.

Soon after that first birth, Wilder had a call from another patient. “It is amazing to me how quickly word spreads in a community that doesn’t use phones or social media. But they do go to church every Sunday and talk to others in that large community.

The demand for her assistance has her travelling into Oswego County, Lewis County and north to St. Lawrence County as well as clients in her home county, Jefferson.

With the expanded demand comes the predictable headaches. Wilder told us about planning a recent birthday party for her husband Don. She had invited relatives, ordered pizza and wings to be delivered and at the last minute received a call from a patient who was going into labor.

“There is no one to cover for me when that happens,” she said. “There are only a few of us in this area. We can arrange coverage during vacations or long absences, but not a one-timer like that. Everybody enjoyed the birthday party but me.”

Soon after Wilder recognized she was becoming the “go to” midwife for the Amish in several counties, she investigated their culture and practices.

She learned they are religious. As mentioned earlier, they attend church services each Sunday. They celebrate Christmas and Easter but without commercialization.

They believe in God. They read from the Bible often.

“The prayers and the text are usually in Dutch or another language,” she said. “They learn English in the one-room school they attend beginning at age five. Once an Amish child graduates from eighth grade, they are in the field or shop for boys; in the kitchen, the barn or performing other household chores for girls.

They believe all things are God’s will. Wilder recalls visiting a pregnant client who had recently lost a four-year-old son. The boy had drowned in a pool of water. “It was God’s will,” Wilder recalls the mother saying. Wilder also recalled they both cried as they discussed the death.

The story was poignant since the Amish are known to be emotionless. They rarely laugh or cry in public.

We wondered how we could get some pictures of an Amish client to accompany this story. “That will be almost impossible,” Wilder said. She recalled a moment a couple of years ago when a three-year-old Amish girl was holding her newborn twin brothers. It was what we called a Kodak moment back in the day.

“I wish I had your permission to take their picture,” Wilder said to the mother. “Keep the scene in your memory,” was the mother’s response. No photography allowed.

“Right now, I am really struggling with retiring because these Amish women have few alternatives,” Wilder said. “Most Amish women have an Amish midwife attend their birth for next to no cost.

Those midwives have been trained on-the-job and have little, if any, technical training, or experience.

The parents reach out to Wilder and other licensed midwives because “they want a healthy baby and a healthy mom. If they feel like something is not right, they call me. Most of the time all they want is a check-up. They want me to reassure them, mother and father, that everything is Ok for the baby and the mother to have a home birth.”

Often that is the case “but there have been times I have said I will not proceed with a home birth and have told the couple this mother needs to go to the hospital; usually because the mother’s blood pressure is much too high or there is a complication with the pregnancy.”

The parents might argue with Wilder’s assessment but usually accept the recommendation as “God’s will” and follow the midwife’s direction.

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