Obstetrician Anita Showalter delivers for Ohio's Amish families
Editor's note: This article is featured in the Winter 2005 print edition of Ohio Today.
Jan. 21, 2005
By Corinne Colbert
Most of Dr. Anita Showalter's patients are uninsured. They have transportation problems. They tend to understate the severity of their pain.
It's exactly the practice she wanted.
"It was always my goal to practice with the Amish," says Showalter, DO '93.
Showalter is an obstetrician in Kidron, in the heart of Ohio's Amish country. She has a unique understanding of Amish needs: Her parents were raised Amish. Although they left the church before she was born, she grew up in an Amish community in Indiana and retains those values of simplicity, faith and family.
Although the Amish shun technology, they aren't averse to medical care "when necessary," Showalter says, adding, "The issue, sometimes, is convincing them of the necessity." They tend to turn first to natural remedies and call her only when those fail. "When they say, 'I need to see you,' I know they have a significant problem."
One of her challenges is Amish stoicism. "I'll get a call in the middle of the night from a man saying, 'My wife has a little pain,'" she says, chuckling. "Well, I know he didn't get up and walk a mile to a telephone for 'a little pain.' 'A little pain' for them would kill most of us."
Transportation also can be difficult. Showalter encourages her patients to use one of the many driving services that ferry the Amish. (Many churches allow their members to use cars and buses to travel as long as they don't drive the vehicles themselves.) But even women in labor will sometimes eschew a car in favor of a buggy ride.
While the deliveries themselves are usually easy, the mothers and babies can have problems. A simple lifestyle doesn't always make an easy one; many of the women face the same problems non-Amish mothers do in balancing work and family, leading to depression and anxiety. And because the Amish tend to marry within their communities, many husbands and wives are distantly related; that leads to a higher occurrence of congenital defects.
"I see things another doctor may not see in a lifetime," Showalter says.
Overall, though, her patients are healthy, benefiting from homegrown, home-cooked food and plenty of exercise. They have a strong support system from their faith and their families, especially their husbands.
"The woman is the queen of her household," Showalter says. "Their husbands love them dearly and want to do all they can to help." That may mean doing the laundry - by hand - after a long day's work in the fields if his pregnant wife is too tired or sick to do it herself.
Showalter benefited from that kind of support from her husband, Eli, who was raised by "English" parents in Ohio's Amish country. She started medical school when the youngest of their four children was in the first grade, having made a pact with her husband: He would support her and be their children's primary caregiver while she studied if, once she was established in a practice, he could pursue his own dream of missionary work.
True to his word, Eli Showalter tended to the children and started an Athens lawn-care business while his wife was in medical school.
Now she's keeping her end of the bargain. Their children grown, Showalter stays busy with her medical practice while her husband travels to Mexico, Guatemala and the Bahamas as a missionary in church leadership training. They are comfortable, she says, but not rich. Although the Amish don't use insurance, they believe in paying their debts. Showalter keeps her fees low but has accepted bartered items - produce and handmade quilts, furniture or baskets - in lieu of cash.
"It's always exciting to receive something in payment that my patients have made," she says.
Showalter knows her practice is unique not just because of her patients' religious beliefs but also because of their lifestyle.
"It's a very rewarding population," she says. "They are hard-working, honest and grateful. I have the best practice in the world."
Corinne Colbert served as interim assistant editor of Ohio Today.