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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Mother-in-Law's Report

A dark, long, rainy night, a weird visitor, and waiting for a miracle

By Lois Barton

Posted on Jan 10, 2005

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"St. Anne, Mary and Child," cartoon formerly attributed to Leonardo– Budapest, Esterhazy Collection, from the book Leonardo da Vinci, Reynal & Company, New York, N.Y, 1956

The phone rang at 10:10 P.M., waking me from sound sleep. "Mother," our son said. "Mary's pains are coming regularly every few minutes and we expect the baby before morning."

This would be the third home delivery for Dave and Mary without a doctor in attendance, and my third opportunity to share their sense of achievement and self-reliant wholeness as they brought their child into the world without an expensive dependence on medical technology. My claim to the privilege of sharing that dramatic moment, aside from blood kinship, is I had given birth to five of my own children at home.

The phone call from Dave was my signal to go. I drove through the rainy November night, my destination an isolated, once-abandoned farmhouse twenty miles away, back in the woods a mile off the paved road. There was no telephone, no inside plumbing. Wood stoves provided heat and a place to cook. The house had been abandoned for nearly twenty years before the kids moved in six months ago. They had the place rent-free and in exchange were working at making it livable. They were greatly handicapped by lack of cash for purchasing window panes, wiring and plumbing supplies. Most of the windows now had a pane in at least the lower sash, and those upper sashes which had none were covered by curtains or blankets, so the rooms could be heated to a comfortable temperature as long as the fires burned hot.

I arrived about 11:00 p.m., prepared to stay until the new mother was on her feet again. I found a "house guest" trying to go to sleep on the sofa in the large living-dining-bed room where Mary was waiting for her baby's birth. Bart, the visitor (and a former classmate of Dave's) was fairly wasted by drug use; he dropped in unexpectedly every three or four months. His behavior was unconventional. He heard and spoke with "presences" the rest of us didn't sense, but he was friendly and sometimes seemed tuned to what was going on around him. I thought him a weird addition to the drama of the occasion but Mary told me not to ask him to leave in the middle of the night.

The two older children were asleep in an adjoining room which was separated from the main one only by wall studs and a chest of drawers, so light and noise flowed unimpeded.

Our son is a volunteer fireman with good training in first aid techniques, which made him a valuable assistant to his wife, because he was able to coach her in breathing techniques and to recognize danger signals if they arose.

I made a trip out into the night with Mary, up a muddy path through the woodshed and out the other side, our way lighted by flashlight. She squatted over a hole in the wooden covering of an old, dry well which they were using for a toilet until they could install a water closet in the house. A break in the clouds let stars shine through to light her misery there in the open air as she waited out a contraction before returning to the warmth inside.

When she had stretched out on the bed again, she pointed out the clothing laid ready for the baby. Dave told me he had a knife and a shoestring boiling on the stove so they would be sterile for tying and cutting the cord.

By this time Bart had left his sleeping bag and was wandering around the room. He would stand by the fire for a while, then pace the room, clearing his throat and rubbing his face in a bewildered fashion. Mary's bed was placed so that her body was plainly visible from the center of the room whenever her covers got pushed aside. I felt awkward about the situation and the presence of this strange young man, but she didn't seem worried about it. She had other things on her mind.

All we could do was wait. I timed contractions-their spacing and their duration for about half an hour. They were regular, fairly strong, coming every five minutes and enduring for nearly a full minute. Mary had been in labor since 7:30 p.m. they said.

The cuckoo clock in the kitchen called the hour of twelve. "Is it twelve o' clock already?" Mary asked unbelievingly. She was cheerful and chatty between contractions, but eager to "have it over with." She would moan and squirm and pant during the pain, and almost doze off between times. I put another chunk of wood in the stove and stretched out to wait on another bed at the far end of the room, but couldn't really relax.

By 1:30 the pain was beginning to frazzle Mary's nerves so that she would whimper through the contraction. When it ended she explained apologetically that she felt better when she cried a little.

The tempo and the intensity of the contractions gradually increased. By two o'clock the baby's head was visible. The water broke with a rush, squirting both sheets and soaking the towel pad under her. This was the first time she could remember that the water had come suddenly enough to be noticeable.

We were involved enough that we weren't watching the clock or timing contractions the last few minutes. Shortly after the water broke Mary began to bear down with each pain, and she said she could feel the baby moving through the birth canal. As the opening stretched and the head emerged Mary kept pushing, straining, until she was red-faced and her breath exhausted. I cautioned her to take another breath. (She told me later that she was afraid to quit pushing for fear it would slip back.) With fresh breath she was ready to push again and we could see that the leathery silver-blue cord, thick as two fingers, lay around the baby's neck. I slipped my fingers under it and found it loose and flexible. The next contraction pushed out the shoulders and Dave took the baby in his hands, and gently pulling its feet free and unwrapping the cord from its neck before he laid it on the bed between Mary's legs. I lifted membrane from its face, and raised it by wet slippery feet to hang head down where Mary could see her child. It was a round-faced, black haired, fair-skinned girl. We had been working in very subdued light. Mary wanted this child to come into the world without the shock of glaring lights of a normal delivery room setting.

For a tense few seconds we could detect no breathing motion or sound. I smacked the little back, coated as it was with a greasy white substance. The baby responded with a short gurgling cry, then relapsed into stillness. The child couldn't have made a sound without having air in her lungs, I thought as I laid the baby gently on her mother's abdomen. She lay so still I lifted her and smacked her again. Another short protesting cry. Then we could see that she was breathing soundlessly, but steadily.

At 2:18 Mary said, "She was born November fourth at 2:15 a.m., right?" Neither of us had looked at the clock, but we knew two or three minutes had elapsed since the moment of birth, and agreed that we would report that time. We guessed the weight of the baby at nearly eight pounds.

Five year old Chris had waked to hear his mother's final moans, the baby's first cry. He spoke from his bed. "Is it here? Did the baby come out?"

"Yes," Mary said. "Come and see her." so Chris came and leaned on the bed to look. "It looks just like people, only tiny," he said. Then he went shivering back to bed.

"She's breathing all right. I'm going to cut the cord," I said. Chris came back asking, "Where's the cord? Why are you going to cut the cord?" We showed him how it was fastened to his little sister's belly button and explained that the baby couldn't breathe by herself inside her mother. She had been floating in a kind of sack, with the cord to bring her air and food. Satisfied, he went back again to his bed.

I tied the cord and cut it, and we got the baby wrapped in a receiving blanket. As we worked with the baby Mary asked us not to pull on the cord. The pressure of movement was painful to tissues which had been stretched severely around her birth canal. About this time another contraction enabled me to remove the rest of the placenta by pulling lightly on the cord. I checked for tears as I washed her with warm, diluted Lysol solution, but could see none.

Mary was shivering till her teeth chattered as we changed her and the bed. Then she snuggled under the covers, the baby in her arms. I added two extra blankets to warm and relax her. By 3:00 o'clock in the morning we were all settled, and with lights out, ready for well-earned sleep.

Next day the community health nurse came in response to our phone call, weighed the baby (7 pounds, 10 ounces), put drops in her eyes and filled forms for recording the birth.

I carry in my heart the grateful, affectionate hug with which my son's wife released me three days later. Could the bond be closer between mother and daughter?

Copyright ©2004 by Lois Barton

Now Available on Compact Disk: Stories from The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte

Three and a half years of years Lois Barton's stories–so you can read them without going online!

Lois Barton's Selected Works
Volume I, Chanticleer's Tales
Send $10, plus postage of $1.50 to
84889 Harry Taylor Rd.
Eugene, OR 97405

Writer and historian
Lois Barton

Lois Barton is an 85 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Follow the links of the Voices of Spencer Creek for the most recent articles by Lois Barton, including The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Cranberries,
The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Endurance Riding,
The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Butterflies and Community Development,
and The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Last Gift.

See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:
Visit the Heron Rookery
Sauerkraut and All That
Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?
The Midwife- The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.
The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.
Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By

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