This was Jill's second baby. She was 21 years old. Her midwives had told her to call them as soon as her labour started as they knew that she would labour quickly. They told her "your muscles are so tight", it would take hardly any time at all. All in all, it was a two hour labour.
This was a time when people didn't have telephones in their houses. In order to call anyone, you needed to use the neighbourhood telephone. She sent her husband, Sid, up the road, about a block away, to use the community phone. You had to pay for phone calls in those days - four pence. Sid brought a whole stack of pennies with him to call the doctor to send the midwife. Well, unfortunately their primary midwife was called out to another birth, so he called the doctor back to ask for another midwife to call. Sid dropped some more pennies into the slot and found that the second midwife had been called out as well. He called the doctor back to say that they had yet to find a midwife. The doctor gave them one more midwife to try, but also said "if nobody can come, I will come," "which was quite unheard of in those days" Jill told me.
The last midwife they were to try lived further away and didn't usually work in this part of town, but she would come here for emergencies if she needed to. The only problem was that by this point Sid had used up all his pennies and had to go home to get another handful. When he got home and reported that he had yet to get int touch with a midwife, Jill knew it was going to be up to her to ready her room for the birth. She had realized by the intensity of her contraction that this was indeed going to be fast. She went about making up the bed with a rubber sheet and a old sheet on top, "all the while bent double like this," she told me, holding her stomach with one hand.
Her daughter was just 2 years old. She was standing in her crib, watching her mother carefully. "you have a tummy ache, mama?" she asked her. "Yes I have a big tummy ache" Jill said. Their dog was sitting by the bed watching her mistress intently as well, looking very worried.
Sid gets back to the phone and tried the phone number of the last available midwife. He gets through. The midwife had just come home from another birth and had just taken her coat off. "She literally just got in the door and sent the taxi off when she had the phone ring". Well she went right back out and called another taxi.
Meanwhile, Jill was sitting in the middle of her bed and repeating her mantra to herself over and over while her two year old and dog looked on. "Don't push don't push! Mustn't push! Don't don't don't! Mustn't push!" at this point in her story she smiled and said "but I was pushing all the while. You can't stop it"
Sid took the baby and the dog downstairs and the midwife arrived and went upstairs. She took one look at Jill and said, "well hold on dear, at least let me take my coat off" and that's all she was able to do. A baby boy arrived, slipping out of his mother and into the midwives hands.
She wrapped him up and gave him to his mother. About an hour after the birth, once mom and baby had a chance to settle and bond, the midwife suggested bathing the baby. "Do you think little Barbara would like to come see her baby brother being washed?" and so Barbara came upstairs to meet her new brother and witness his first bath. "that's my baby brother" she said. They named him Stephen.
While mom and baby were nursing on the bed, Barbara climbed up next to Jill and said "he has tiny eyes mama. And he's got a baby nose."
"yes he has baby eyes and a baby nose, a little button nose. "
"look he has little ears mama."
"yes he does. he has little ears and little hands and little feet."
at that point, the baby yawned and Barbara gasped, "mama! he's got no teeth!"
That baby boy was my father. My grandmother told me this story while I was sitting across from her in the living room, knitting a uterus. The uterus is a prop for my friend who will be using it to show mamas how babies are born, as she is in school right now to become a midwife. Funny how it comes full circle.
Doula, Sisterhood Wellness Collective, Toronto