Reporter's notebook: For Minnesota's hardest working midwife, a life well-lived, too short

A woman laughs as she holds a baby.
Midwife Rebekah Knapp enjoys time with 2-day-old Justus Snyder and his family at their Detroit Lakes, Minn., home in 2019. Knapp, who died this week in a car crash, embraced the joy and fragility of life, writes MPR News reporter Catharine Richert, who profiled Knapp in 2019.
Ann Arbor Miller | MPR News 2019

Under different circumstances, Rebekah Knapp and I wouldn’t have met. 

She was a home-birth midwife. I had all my kids at the hospital.

She was deeply religious. Me, not so much.

She lived in northern Minnesota, I live in the southeast.

But as I reported a series of stories about home birth in 2019, I kept hearing about this one midwife who had delivered hundreds of babies and who traveled hundreds of miles weekly to help new moms in their most joyful, scary and vulnerable moments. 

I finally connected with Rebekah on the phone one day — she was driving to a prenatal appointment — and we ended up talking for an hour. 

“I live in Fertile, Minnesota,” she told me, and I knew I had to meet this lady.

Rebekah died Tuesday after her car crashed into a semitrailer in Spring Prairie Township near Moorhead, Minn. She was 41. 

For a long day in August of 2019, I drove with Rebekah around northwestern Minnesota in the Detroit Lakes area. That summer alone she had put 21,000 miles on her baby blue Buick LeSabre, which was packed with blood pressure cuffs, swaddles and other gear she’d need to deliver or care for a baby.

All day, we bounced between appointments. We visited a woman who’d just had a baby earlier in the week, a woman who’d just had a miscarriage, a woman due any day and two Amish mothers — one newly pregnant and one with a newborn. 

At every step of the way, I saw someone who scattered kindness, joy and advice wherever she went, with patience and without judgment. 

And she spoke candidly about the hardest parts of her job — stillborn babies, mothers who hemorrhaged during childbirth and needed a speedy transfer to the hospital and the perpetual stress and fatigue of being so needed by so many people, all the time. 

Despite that stress, she had a great sense of humor. 

"Women want to be treated with respect,” she told me. “With a home birth, we're trying to make it as peaceful and intimate as when you created that baby,” which may not be the case at the hospital.

“You usually don't invite 20 people to be there when you make the baby,” she deadpanned. 

I treasure that day with Rebekah because it embodies what I love most about my job: I met someone whose life is dramatically different from mine, and yet the threads of what makes us all so similar were hard to miss as I peeked inside this foreign world — love of cute babies, the joy of a good joke, the value of being kind, the fragility of life and finality of death. 

Rebekah was unmarried and had no children of her own. She leaves behind her parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters. Friends and loved ones are sharing memories of her on Facebook. They’ve also created a GoFundMe page to help cover expenses associated with her midwifery practice. 

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