Nineteen years ago this evening I attended our book club gathering where we discussed Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on her Diary, 1785-1912. This book won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1991. This is my kind of book. My great great great grandmother, Elizabeth Degen Bushman, was a midwife in Lehi, Utah during the same time period. She came from Switzerland and settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Most of her children were born there. Then she and her family joined with the Saints, gathering to Nauvoo, then finally going west to Utah. Her granddaughter, Maria Elisabeth Bushman Smith later wrote this about her: “She had lived a most useful life, was beloved by everyone in Lehi, and her great faith [was] an inspiration to all who knew her. In her later life Elizabeth Degen Bushman became the good Samaritan of every village they lived in. She was an exceptionally gifted nurse and was renowned as the loving, successful midwife of the town of Lehi. Because of her reputation and affection, it was said she served as midwife at the birth of almost every baby born in Lehi during her life there. Nearly every family in Lehi had an Elizabeth named in memory of her.”
On that cold winter evening 19 years ago, I as listened to the discussion about Martha Ballard, midwife, my labor pains began. My due date was ten days away. The next day we were moving into a new home. I’d left boxes and packing to spend a restful evening with my dearest friends. It wasn’t such a restful evening after all. My girlfriends and I timed my contractions as we discussed the book I hadn’t had time to read. After book club that evening, I went home, gathered my things, and John took me to the hospital where we awaited Claire’s arrival.
I have often wondered if my great great great grandmother, Elizabeth looked in on my births. I’m sure she would have been interested in the medical process, but I suspect she would have been even more interested in the eternal family process of watching a new little spirit come from where she was to where I am, another daughter to carry on. Claire Elizabeth Lewis was born at 7:53 the next morning. Claire and Elizabeth and I share the same blood, the same spirit.
Claire is preparing this semester to live in Vienna this fall. As I listen to her learning to speak German, I think about Elizabeth Degen, coming to America when she was 14 years old, learning to speak English. Perhaps they are not so very different, although born generations apart. I hope my Claire will come to know and love my grandmother Elizabeth as I have. We are not so very far from each other as it may seem, we three. Happy Birthday, Claire Elizabeth.