By Deena Blumenfeld
This is the second in a series of historical fiction birth stories. The people are fictitious, but their experiences are common for the time period. The series will continue monthly until we reach the end of the 20th century.
Birth Stories of the Past: Josephine Ann, Born December 13, 1920
• Mother – Nora Mae, homemaker
• Father - Robert Samuel, automobile mechanic
• Baby – Josephine Ann
• Date of birth – December 13, 1920, 8 lbs 4 oz., 20 in.
• Gestational age – full term, exact age unknown
• Born – Magee Women’s Hospital
• Location – Pittsburgh, Pa
Nov 3, 1920
My darling husband, Robert, should be excited for the birth of our first child. Any father would be, but yet, he is distant and wistful. He neither acknowledges my pregnancy nor makes accommodation for it. I do love him, but I am worried. He is a different person than when we left for the Great War in Europe.
We barely knew each other before he left. Courting had only just begun. He was sweet and gentlemanly with no hint of impropriety, though I knew he fancied me intensely. I fancied him in the same way. When the call came out for men to serve, he felt duty bound to go with his older brothers and his schoolmates. He was 17 when he left. He gave me his word, that if I was dutiful and waited, upon his return we’d marry. So it came to pass. We married on St. Valentine’s Day 1919, just a week after he was home from his tour.
My proud doughboy was thin in his dress uniform. His gaunt face barely showed the love he’d expressed in our correspondence. I thought he just needed to rest. Yet, though he has more meat on his bones now, his face remains stony and cold.
I’ve read about this phenomenon that afflicts soldiers called “Shell Shock”. I do wonder if my Robert is so afflicted. I am reluctant to ask him for fear of angering him. He is so short of temper. I worry about my upcoming birth. I do not know how Robert will cope.
Nov 10, 1920
Robert continues to withdraw further. So, I must make decisions about this pregnancy on my own. I’ve been considering giving birth at the new women’s hospital, Magee, in Oakland. They opened in 1911 and focus on women and mothers. Part of me would have preferred to give birth at home, but I don’t believe Robert could watch me endure my labor pains. He doesn’t speak of the great war, but I know he saw his fellow soldiers suffer. Since men are not permitted to watch their wives give birth at the hospital, it may be better for he and I both.
I also hear tell of mothers who have had pain free births in the hospital. The idea of giving birth without pain appeals to me greatly. However, I do wonder what God thinks of this new phenomenon. Women are meant to struggle with the pain of labor because of Eve’s sin in the Garden. Should we defy God and take medications to alleviate this pain? I must ask my pastor about this. As, yet again, I am torn and Robert is of no comfort to me.
Nov 15, 1920
I have since made arrangements for my parents to escort me to the hospital when my labor pains begin. I have seen Dr. Smithfield to get acquainted with the hospital procedures. I should expect to arrive early in labor. I must remember that payment is due up front before my hospital admission. From there, a nurse will guide me to the ward where I will change into a birthing gown and be assigned my bed in the ward. There will be a privacy curtain to separate me from the other laboring mothers. Food is prohibited during labor. I will be given ether and morphia to manage my pains until it is appropriate for the “twilight sleep” medication. From which I will awaken to then meet my child. This truly sounds lovely and painless. I will spend ten days in hospital to rest and recover after birth. I am looking forward to this experience.
Dec 24, 1920
Our little girl, Josephine Ann, arrived on Dec 13. She was a healthy, and large 8 lbs 4 oz. I must say, that I do not recall anything of her birth itself. After the nurses administered my medication, I slept and when I awoke they brought me my baby girl, with her full head of light brown hair and blue eyes. She is so perfect!
My only unexpected discovery was to find out that my private parts were cut to help her emerge. Even now, eleven days after her birth, it is painful to sit and to use the toilet. I am grateful that we are lucky enough to have indoor plumbing! I do wonder when I will heal fully. This unplanned injury has had an unhappy impact on my entrance into motherhood. Dr. Smithfield explained that all mothers are cut in such a manner to help the baby out. I suppose he knows best.
Robert, my darling husband, seems to have taken to our little girl. For her, his eyes light up again. I’ve even heard him sing to her. Maybe this child will bring him out of his darkness. I do hope so, for his sake and for ours.
Photo credit: UPMC, Magee Infant Nursery, 1915
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