My mom has often told me about going to the hospital on December 23 with pre-labor pains. The on-call doctor said she wasn’t in active labor, but he also didn’t want to be called back on Christmas Day — so he induced labor without asking for my mom’s permission. “What was that medicine? Oh.” And that was that. Although malpractice-worthy by today’s standards, at least I got to be born on my dad’s birthday.
After watching Ricki Lake’s fascinating documentary, The Business of Being Born, I mentioned to my mom how ether was used in childbirth during the first half of the 20th century. That’s when I found out that my grandma was given ether to deliver my mom. I was floored.
I visited my grandma and asked for her birth story. It was something like:
I went to the hospital, they gave me ether, and I woke up with a baby. Your grandpa had to wait in another room.
There were a few other details. She was kept in the hospital for ten days. There was no TV of course, and the Catholic hospital’s nuns kept the babies except during nursing times. So for ten days, my grandma just laid in bed. The nuns only allowed spouses to visit, so she didn’t see any other friends or family during that time. There was no bonding with the baby outside of feeding times. I kept thinking that going home with a ten-day-old baby who’s only known nuns would be scarier than a two-day-old baby who’s been by your side constantly.
At the time of my mom’s birth, my grandparents lived in an apartment that was a converted double garage. The wood stove heated the unfinished upstairs “bedroom,” but my grandpa found a rollaway bed to put downstairs for my grandma. That bed, a crib, and a couch were their main furniture. My grandma’s Depression generation must get a huge laugh out of today’s Baby’s R Us gift registries.
Talk to your grandmas and great aunts. Did any of them experience an ether birth?
For more of Today’s Mama’s April Showers Birth Stories:
My Birth Story: A Fresh ‘Do for the Delivery by Amy Allen Johnson