Saturday, April 01, 2006


My brother and I were born in our grandparents’ bed. Many other babies were born there too, because my grandmother had a kind of lying-in hospital in her home. She was what we might now call a midwife, but that wasn’t what she called herself. In fact, she didn’t give herself a title, but my aunt calls her “the first woman libber.” I wonder if there were other such establishments around or if my grandmother’s was unusual. A doctor was always present at the births.

My aunt, twelve when I was born, remembers the day very well. My father was out in the backyard burning something in an oil drum, and she wondered what that was. Only years later did she know that he was burning the afterbirth. I used this strong image in my most recent, unpublished novel.

Although many babies were born there, not one of the mothers ad an infection. My aunt tells me this with irony because when she was to have her first baby, the doctor insisted that she go to the hospital and not have her baby at her mother’s , and in the hospital she got a dreadful infection. My grandmother would change the sheets twice a day for the week the woman would stay and boil them with other things on the black iron stove in a large oval copper boiler.
The day I was born was the hottest on record, I have been told. I have tried to verify that, but no amount of googling got me the information. I will have to be content with the unquestionable fact that it was very hot and that she was on the second floor where it would have been even hotter. Did the fact that I first faced the world on an unusually hot day affect me? I have always been susceptible to heat, much preferring to be cold than warm. My normal body temperature is low, about 97 rather than the usual 98.6.

My brother, on the other hand, was born in a blizzard. I have tried to verify that also, to no avail. He has always had the energy of a storm.
My mother was given ether by the doctor. I have wondered if that was the norm for the time. My brother and I are left-handed; my parents were right-handed. Our handwriting is awful. I am clumsy. Was there some brain damage at birth because of the ether? Our verbal skills are better than our other skills. We both have God holes. Did the right side of our brain get a little damaged? However, two of my three children are left-handed, as is my husband, so perhaps there was a strong gene there that somehow had been quashed because people were encouraged to be right-handed.

I myself had ether twice, once when I had my tonsils out at six, once when I had a miscarriage. I remember the two occasions vividly, being asked to count out loud slowly.
The doctor who delivered us and who tended us afterwards was a woman. Doctor Frisby would stop at our house often. Some years ago when I was asking my father about her, he said that she lived with another woman, and he always wondered whether she was a lesbian. My mother was beautiful, and he thought the doctor may have been attracted to her. He never told my mother of his suspicion.

The births of my own babies were the most profound experiences of my life, and needless to say, changed it as no other experience has ever or will ever do. Except, perhaps, the last one.


Mr Murray said...

I wish I'd had even one lesbian conversation with my dad.

Peter said...

I am surprised that ether was still in use in your lifetime (unless you are very elderly...)--it was replaced by chloroform in the 1930s, I believe, because of its side effects.