intensely trivial

The story of my birth

About a year ago, I interviewed my mom about the births of her babies. I was her first, the oldest of five girls, and I was born in September 1973. She said talking about this has kind of made her wish she could have another baby now — just to have the experience of childbirth again. 🙂
Mom’s background
I should say that my mom grew up in post-World War II Germany. Her family was so poor at times that the most nourishing food they could afford was lard sandwiches. Family life was difficult, too. My mom met my dad, an American GI who, because of his conscientious-objector status during the Vietnam War, worked in a military hospital as an operating room assistant in Wuerzburg, Germany. Due to similar church backgrounds, some American GIs stationed nearby would spend weekends at my mom’s family’s home and church, and that’s how my dad met my mom. They fell in love (my mom was 17 at the time), got engaged, and got married in 1971, after my dad finished his tour of duty. And as soon as they could, Mom and Dad traveled to the U.S. At 18, my mom started a new life in a new country, in my dad’s hometown of Sabetha, Kansas. She was glad to be here.
Her pregnancy
Mom got pregnant with me when she was 19. She worked at a local nursing home until she was five months along, at which point being on her feet, repositioning people much larger than she was, etc., was not working for her anymore. The administrator of the nursing home, a woman herself, said, “All these young girls, when they want to stop working, they just get pregnant.” She stayed home after that, doing domestic engineering. Dad was (still is) a farmer, farming with his brothers and now a nephew. I think my mom was so strong and brave to have integrated so well into a new, large family in a new town, in a new country. She’s smart and spunky, and I think that must have served her well. (She was a breech baby, by the way, born at home, the third of seven kids.) I bet Sabethans thought she was pretty and had a cute accent.
Anyway, she liked being pregnant. (“Well, it’s not a sickness!”) She felt energized, like she was growing something productive. She never felt it was a burden except during the last month and in the heat of summer. She has told me that she grew up with a lot of criticism about her body (she is thin and attractive, but apparently plumpness was a higher value in Germany during her youth); so she, like so many women and girls now, has always been self-conscious of her body. She liked being active and didn’t coddle herself when pregnant. She has always embraced a healthy lifestyle and still does to this day.
Mom couldn’t wait to tell people she was pregnant, but my dad suggested she wait a while. I assume that was the custom among people in our church and community — and the rest of the country. So she waited. At two months, she went to the doctor for the first time. She was SO excited that he confirmed her pregnancy. Finally, at three months she couldn’t wait any longer to tell. My dad’s mom, Grandma Teen, just didn’t get too excited about Mom’s pregnancy. That was Grandma Teen’s way. Mom probably said, “We’re expecting in September,” and Grandma Teen said, “Oh?” I was, I think, the eighth grandchild in my dad’s family, and maybe there wasn’t that much excitement anymore over new grandbabies. In any case, my mom was hoping for a little more celebration.
She couldn’t wait to wear maternity clothes. She felt womanly, attractive, and alive. She said she never felt nauseated when she was pregnant with me, except when it came to steak. (Interesting — I never have liked steak, and I’m the one who’s mostly vegetarian). With other babies, she had other food aversions: With Myra, it was coffee, and with Jeanne, it was sausage. Her legs swelled in the summer, but her blood pressure was always fine with every pregnancy. With Carrie, her last pregnancy, she had ketones in her urine (gestational diabetes) , but not with any of her other pregnancies. During her pregnancy with me, she didn’t watch her diet as much, and she gained 30 lbs., which she says felt huge but womanly. (I guess 30 lbs. would be significant, given that she normally weighed about 100 lbs., but I wonder if she felt huger because at the time, there was so much unhealthy weight-gain restriction going on by the medical community. She would have picked up on every implied disapproval of her weight gain. Still, I’m sure she was beautiful and not fat in the least.) She went back to within 5 lbs. of her normal weight by the time she left the hospital, which was five days after I was born.
I asked her how much it cost to have me, and she wasn’t sure. However, she remembers that with Jeanne, who was born a year after me, it cost $874 for the hospital and $350 for the doctor (they didn’t have insurance then).
The birth
I was due September 25, 1973, and I was one of those unusual babies who come on their due dates. The previous day, she’d had an exam. On Sept. 25, she woke up at 1 a.m. with slight contractions. Every few minutes, she was awakened by them. She describes them as sensations, not pain. They were more regular and frequent than in the weeks leading up to her due date. (Didja catch that – WEEKS? That’s normal. OK, I’ll try to keep that pesky commentator quiet. Sorry.)
At 5 a.m., Mom started timing her contractions.
At 5:30, they were 6 min. apart. Now, she says, she wouldn’t think that was very close. They were more painful than at 1 a.m., but not unbearable. She starting putting her bag together and walked around.
At 6:00, she and Dad called the doctor, our family doctor, who told them to come to the hospital. They checked into the hospital and went to the labor room, where my mom was prepped. This included a pubic shave with a “dull-feeling” razor and an enema. She had to use the commode in the labor room. (It wasn’t a separate bathroom? She had to empty her bowels in public?)
By 8:00, contractions were 5-6 min. apart. She was 4 cm dilated. The doctor, whom I won’t name, had a day’s worth of appointments waiting for him, and my mom thinks he didn’t want to be bothered with a birth, so he ordered a shot of some kind. She doesn’t know what it was, but it made her sleepy and spacey; the purpose was supposedly to calm her down.
Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., she slept. The drug had successfully spaced out her contractions. After this period, she asked what to do about the infrequency of contractions, and the nurses recommended she walk. So she walked the halls of the hospital. She was allowed to eat jello or drink tea. Eventually, the contractions ramped up again.
Sometime after 2, they checked her cervix and found her “only 6 cm.” (Seriously? Why be so discouraging? I think that sounds like great progress, considering everything!)
At 4 p.m., the doctor checked her cervix again. He didn’t say how dilated she was, but he did say, “Oh, yeah, we’ll have this baby today.” Strangely though he ordered another shot which Mom protested against and refused. The nurse occasionally checked my mom’s dilation, too, but didn’t use enough lubricant, and was nervous and unsure of herself, which was rather annoying to Mom.
Progress went a lot faster after 4 p.m. The bag of waters was still intact.
At 5 p.m., a cervical check showed my mom was at 8 cm. They took her to a delivery room and put her on the delivery table, flat on her back, with her legs strapped into stirrups and her arms strapped down so she wouldn’t contaminate the draping. She thought that was terribly cruel. (If somebody doesn’t restrain me, I might hurt somebody, thinking of that image.) At that point, my dad had to go out of the delivery room, and he was only allowed back in after the birth.
A large overhead mirror allowed my mom to see her perineum. She was hyperventilating and felt tingly, so they had her breathe into a brown paper bag. She says it was so maddening that she couldn’t move around.
At 5:30, they broke her water.
In all, my mom pushed about 30 min. to give birth to me. At first she felt like she didn’t know how. (I wonder if this was because she wasn’t fully dilated, and the amniotic fluid was still cushioning my head from putting direct pressure on her cervix, nerves, bones, muscles, so she might not have felt a strong urge to push yet. Another possibility is that her uterus was just sort of gathering up its slack, as it does at full dilation for many women; Sheila Kitzinger calls that the “rest and be thankful” stage. But 30 min. is not long for a first-time mom to push, so she must have figured it out pretty soon! 🙂 )
They prepared to give her the standard episiotomy by giving her a shot of local anesthetic. She said the shot hurt badly, more than stretching. Giving birth was “the biggest stretch I can ever remember in all my life.” She knew she was making progress with pushing, but apparently the doctor wanted to use forceps to turn me. She thinks forceps were completely unnecessary and knows she gave birth to me herself. Nonetheless, after the episiotomy, the doctor turned me with forceps. Later on, she noticed some bruises on my cheeks and asked the nurses about them – yep, from the forceps.
So, at 5:50 p.m., I was born. That was convenient of my mom and me, right? To wait for the doctor’s office hours to be over? (Sorry, couldn’t resist the sarcasm.)
After I was born, they took me to a separate room, where they cleaned me up. Dad didn’t get to see me till we were both in the same room as my mom.
The doctor sewed up the episiotomy and kneaded her belly to expel the placenta (this was done on the delivery table before she left the delivery room). Then they put her in bed with warm blankets. She first got to see me 45-60 min. after the birth. She said I had white hair on top of my head like a thumbprint and the rest of me was healthy pink and soft as velvet. Most of the time, I was in the nursery, but the nurses brought me to my mom’s room every 4 hours to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding was very easy, although she says she was sore with the first two babies (that would be me and Jeanne). The nurses had her start with 5 min. on each side and then increase the nursing time to 10 min. per side.
She was to stay flat on her back for 24 hours, using a bedpan for her bodily functions. Each day after my birth, UV light therapy was used to help heal the episiotomy. (How did that work, with her flat on her back?? Actually, she told me the answer, but I’m not posting it.)
As I mentioned before, she stayed in the hospital for five days before going home. After that, my first baby checkup was at three weeks. She had a yeast infection, and a rude nurse at the checkup. The treatment was to paint her purple with gentian violet.
At my six-week checkup, I was more fussy, so the doctor recommended my mom drink beer to increase her milk production. She says it helped some, probably because it calmed us both.
At eight weeks, my mom weaned me. That was a fairly long time to breastfeed at the time.
My mom says she always loved little babies, although she says she wasn’t a very confident mom at first. Neither her own mom nor her mother-in-law had ever shared any special mothering experiences with her, and mom was really very young. So she learned by experience. She didn’t have any help postpartum; visitors, yes, but no help, except Dad, and I bet he was really kind and full of grace. Mom didn’t rest long; she never does. She didn’t have any weepy days and did not deal with postpartum depression.
In closing, here’s a quote from my mom: “I always thought the uterus was a strong muscle. Awesome.”
I agree.

P.S. If you’ve never talked to your mom about the day you were born, you really should. Ask lots of questions. Women have no stronger memories than those of giving birth. Mothers’ and daughters’ birth experiences have interesting similarities and differences, and talking about it is a fun bonding experience. Too, it could be that your mom has never had the chance to have someone really listen to her birth stories. Consider giving her that gift.

And a final word to my mom: Thanks, Mom, for being one of the strongest women I know. You are amazing in many, many ways. God knew I needed a mom like you.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * caberle says:

    Rachel, I have always counted it a priviledge and God given blessing to be your mom. I love you, my first baby! Mom

    Posted 7 years, 7 months ago
  2. * Myra says:

    So fun to read this. Now I want to drill her with questions about my birth. This sounds like a not-so-pleasant experience in the hospital. Must not have bothered her too much, though, if they had 4 more after that. 😉

    Posted 7 years, 7 months ago
  3. * shelley c says:

    What an amazing gift! The story of your birth! My mom’s getting a phone call this week 🙂

    Posted 7 years, 7 months ago
  4. * Terri says:

    I loved reading this! Thanks for sharing the story of how one of my favorite people entered the world. 🙂

    Posted 7 years, 7 months ago

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