Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On pregnancy and birth...

Over at Dr. Bitch's place is a thoughtful post, followed by lively discussion, on the dangers of pregnancy and on pro-choice (and pro-life, primarily as defined by progressives) issues. (Her post is dated January 10 if you visit it after today.)

In October I visited my maternal family in Illinois. As part of the grand tour that we took of the family burial plot, the various places where my great-grands lived, etc., we drove by the place where my great-grandparents farmed for decades. Even today it's not that close to the next home and a considerable distance to the next place where a doctor would likely be.

As we sat outside the isolated, now-crumbling farmhouse, my uncle said, "That's where your mother and I were born."

I was stunned.

I'd never thought about this before. I'd never thought about women that I have known giving birth in an isolated farmhouse in wintry conditions (my uncle was born in December 1932; my mother in November 1934). How terrifying that must have been! Add this to the list of questions for my grandmother that I'll now never ask or get the answers to. (To console myself a bit, she probably wouldn't have spoken in much detail on the subject, even if I could have engaged her in this conversation. I'd tried with other topics years ago and she'd claimed not to remember, this at a time when I knew she wasn't suffering from any physical ailments that would cause memory problems. Perhaps she blocked out most of the bad memories. And I thought about asking her these questions while I was visiting in October, but I wasn't sure she'd talk about it. I was being careful not to upset her by that time.)

Why did she give birth in her parents' home?
Did her mother assist with the births?
If not, who did?
What was it like?
What, if anything, was done for the pain?

I have another option. My grandmother has one sister. She's seven years younger, which would have put her in her teens when this happened. Perhaps she could answer some of these questions.

Juxtapose my wondering about this and Dr. Bitch's post/reader commentary with the story of the birth of one of my grandsons. The short version: I would have been present at his birth, but instead I was down the hall because he had to be delivered by c-section in the operating room. His cord was caught between his mother's pelvic bone and his own shoulder, thus cutting off his oxygen. The doctor later said that fifty years earlier, in the era before the monitors we now all but take for granted, he would have been born a beautiful, perfectly formed, dead baby. And no one would have suspected it until it was too late.

His words -- now juxtaposed against my image of that isolated farmhouse -- haunt me still.

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