By Tammie Beasley
Labor Day, celebrated the first Monday in September, pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers. In the 19th Century, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to make a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of the adults' wages. As manufacturing increasingly supplemented agriculture, labor unions, which first appeared in the late 18th century, grew more prominent and vocal. They began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor working conditions. Labor Day became a Federal holiday in 1894. Labor Day weekend also symbolizes the end of summer for many Americans and is celebrated in many different ways such as boating, camping, cooking out and hosting parties and events..
Labor Day is to honor the American workers and I do not wish to take anything away from them. However, I decided to put a different spin on Labor Day and write about women who labored to have children. The names have been omitted to protect, well nobody, except for maybe the doctors and nurses who I am not sure deserve to be protected! Hopefully I have recounted these tales accurately, but if I have not, I apologize in advance! Here are their stories.
The Name Game. My grandmother bore nine children, including my mother, at home with mostly only the help of a midwife. My grandfather was never present for the labors or the births but he and the midwife filled out the birth certificates. A doctor signed the birth certificates and they were turned into the courthouse. Having children at home in those days meant no chance of babies being switched but it evidently did mean that names could be switched. My grandfather named one of his daughters after a former girlfriend and as soon as my grandmother found out, she made him change it! Oddly enough, this also happened in my father's side of the family. His grandfather named his mother after one of his former girlfriends and his grandmother also insisted the name be changed on the birth certificate.
The Birth date Switch-A-Ru. My mother and one of my aunts celebrated their birthdays for many years before they got copies of their birth certificates and their birthdays were listed differently. . My mother's birthday was off by one day but my aunt's was off by over a week. My grandmother swore that the original dates they celebrated their birthdays on were the correct dates and she thought my grandfather and the doctor had imbibed in spirits at the time! My mother gave birth to me, a 9 pound baby, at the Nader-Cole Clinic in downtown Brandenburg after a long and arduous labor with my father present. But at least my name and birthday were correct on the birth certificate!
The Christmas Baby. This woman's son was born three weeks early in 1978 on December 23rd. On December 24th, he was pictured on the local news in a Christmas stocking. The caption read, “Big things come in little packages” but he only weighed 5 pounds, 11 ounces. They were scheduled to come home on Christmas Day but due to him being premature, he developed jaundice and he could not leave the hospital. She had to go home and leave her baby at the hospital and she said she cried all day.
The Unexpected Complications. One woman endured labor and delivery while sick with the flu and then she was unable to hold her baby for several days. Another woman labored for 30 hours with no progress before the doctor finally did a Cesarean section. Unfortunately, she developed an infection after the surgery and the doctor sent her home with the wrong antibiotic. She ended up back in the hospital in serious condition and she was also separated from her baby for several days.
The Hospital of Horrors. This woman delivered her first baby in 1963 at the hospital in Harrisburg, Kentucky, which was then just a two-story house with flights of stairs to both floors. Seven babies were born during the period she was there. Only three survived and her son was the only baby to survive on the day he was born. During her pregnancy, she had spells of passing out which they finally attributed to her heart beating too fast. When she arrived at the hospital in labor, she was placed in one of the delivery rooms because all the other labor rooms were full. Her husband, mother, and mother-in-law, after waiting in the waiting room for some time, asked the nurse about her condition. That is when the nurses and doctor realized they had forgotten all about her. They had even shut the lights off and closed the door! When they rushed into the room, she had passed out, turned gray and her eyes had rolled back in her head. Her family, who had followed, were horrified. The doctor gave her a shot which roused her. However, she kept passing out and the doctor kept giving her shots. She said she later counted 60 holes in her legs where the shots were given. At that time only gas was given for pain and it was not given until right before the birth. During the baby's trip down the birth canal, her tailbone was fractured. She was in such pain that she kept screaming and begging them to let her die. Her family had been relegated back to the waiting room but they could hear her. Her mother stuck her fingers in her ears and ran down the two flights of steps screaming “Somebody do something. I can't stand it. I can't stand it.” Finally they gave her gas and her son was born. She always said probably no other woman in the world birthed a baby and fractured her tailbone! After the birth, they would not let her husband in to see her even though she begged them to and he was furiousl. When they finally let him, she told the nurse to get her baby because she was going home. When the nursed balked, she told her she would get up and get him herself. She must have believed her because she brought the baby to her and they left the hospital just a couple of hours after the birth. From then on, whenever the names of the doctor and nurses were mentioned, she said her husband's face turned green and he looked like he was about to throw up. Her mother flat out refused to ever discuss the birth again.
The Leisurely Trip to the Hospital. This woman was still living at home with her parents when she was pregnant with her first son. They lived behind the restaurant her dad owned at the time. She let her mom know she was in labor and her mom told her dad so he could drive them to the hospital. She was a nervous wreck and so was her mom. Her dad, however, was a different story. She remembers standing in the kitchen staring at her dad like he was nuts because he wanted to work on a freezer door before leaving. She said he actually took the the door off the hinges and worked on it for some time. Once they finally left, he stopped to get gas and then stopped at the post office to check the mail. She couldn't believe it! But she finally made it to the hospital before her son was born in the car!
The Husband Guilt Trip. During the birth of her second son, this same woman endured a very painful labor in the hospital. The doctor kept telling her husband to help her breathe but he was no help at all. Why you ask? Because he stood there crying the whole time, telling her over and over how sorry he was and that he would never do it again! The doctor and nurses were cracking up laughing. She said that was probably the most heartfelt apology and show of emotion she ever received from him.
The Pizza Baby. This woman's third son was not due until February 18, 1992. On the evening of January 24, 1992, her family ate pizza from Papa John's for supper. In the middle of the night, she started having abdominal cramping and diarrhea. She thought it was from eating the pizza so she tried to ignore it. However, around 5 am., she couldn't stand it anymore and called the doctor who told her to go to the hospital to be checked out just in case. Plans had already been made for her sister, who lived in Brandenburg, to go to their home in Louisville and stay with their sons when she went to the hospital in labor but she didn't want her to have to come if she wasn't in labor. She woke her husband, who agreed with her that it was probably “just the pizza” so she drove herself to the hospital and he stayed there with the two sons sleeping. However, when she got to the hospital, it was determined that she was indeed in actual labor and the doctor told her that her husband needed to get to the hospital right away. She called him and told him that it was not “just the pizza” so he called the sister to come stay. One of their uncles brought her sister to the house in what turned out to be a very hazardous due to the snow and ice that covered the roads. She said that the road trip was another whole story in itself. But her husband finally made it to the hospital and their son was born at 2:13 pm, on January 25 1992. She said they still laugh and tell the “it's just the pizza” story often. By the way, their son loves pizza!
The Hallmark Moment. In December of 1987, this woman was 23 years old and she said she didn't “know nothing about birthing no babies”. Labor pains in her back started on a Thursday night. Her doctor instructed her to stay active and go to the hospital when her contractions were five minutes apart. So on Friday she walked around all day at her mom's house and on Saturday morning, she got up early and started walking in circles around their apartment. Her sisters-in-law offered to take her to the mall so she could walk there. Her husband refused to go saying he did not want to be there if her water broke and she leaked amniotic fluid all over aisles of a store. It was December 5th and the mall was packed with Christmas shoppers. They went into the Hallmark store where her sister-in-law picked out funny cards and read them out loud. All of a sudden, she felt a snap and as she stood there she noticed something was running down her legs and into her shoes. She whispered to one of her sisters-in-law, “Hey I think my water just broke.” Unfortunately, her sister-in-law did not whisper back. In a voice loud enough for all the shoppers in the store to hear, she asked her, “Are you sure you are not just peeing in your pants?” Mortified, she assured her that she was not. She then called her husband who met them at his mother's house to take her to the hospital. She wrapped a towel around her waist but when she got to the hospital, fluid was gushing. She said she did not realize it would just keep coming. She went to the bathroom and it gushed all over the floor and every time she bent over to wipe the floor, she created a lovely water fountain of amniotic fluid. Her husband finally told her just to leave it and lay down! The nurse said the doctor would be there at 6 pm. and they could administer an epidural then. Of course, at 6 pm., the doctor was not there. When the anesthesiologist finally got there to give her an epidural, he asked her if she would like a boy or a girl and she told him they would like a boy. When it was time to push, she was exhausted. The nurse kept telling her she needed to push but it was only when her husband leaned over and said, “If you push, this will all be over” that she complied. She told them, “Anybody who would do this several times needs their heads examined.” After two or three pushes, their beautiful baby girl was born. The anesthesiologist who earlier had asked her which sex she wanted told her (while laughing), “I heard if you get pregnant in the same year, you have the opposite sex baby.” She looked at her husband and said, “We are having all girls”!
The Tale of Two Babies. This woman experienced “morning” sickness all day every day but other than that, she thought her pregnancy was progressing normally until she was in her 6th month. At a routine appointment, her doctor fussed at her for gaining too much weight. She could not understand because she was so sick all the time she could barely eat. At her 7th month appointment, the doctor fussed at her again about her weight. She told him she was still wearing the same maternity pants that she started out in and that it was just her stomach that kept getting bigger. She said he got a funny look on his face and even though he had already examined her, he examined her again. He spent a few minutes feeling her stomach and then he told her he thought he felt another head and that she needed to go to the hospital to have an ultrasound. In the 1980's, ultrasounds were done only if there was a suspected problem. The doctor called the hospital and got her an appointment right away. She broke the news to her husband who was waiting in the car that they might be having twins and that she needed to go get an ultrasound. The ultrasound confirmed that she was indeed having twins. The doctor told her that he did not catch it earlier because the babies were laying chest to chest. A week and a half later, while at the hospital for her prenatal tour, her back started hurting. Two days later it was so bad she could not stop crying. She had a doctor's appointment that morning and she thought for sure he would send her to the hospital but instead he told her she wasn't anywhere near ready to have the babies and that he didn't expect her to go into labor for at least two more weeks. She cried all the way home. That evening at 7 pm., her water broke. She called the doctor but couldn't reach him so she left a message. When he finally called her back, he told her to go to the hospital immediately. When they got to the emergency room, she was rushed upstairs to a birthing room. When it was time for her to push, the babies did not have enough room to turn so they were breech. The doctor had to do an emergency Cesarean section right there in the birthing room. Her twin daughters were born two minutes apart at a little over seven months. They weighed 4 pounds, 5 ounces, and five pounds, 4 ounces and were 18 inches long.
Dr. Frankenstein. Another young lad gained so much weight during her pregnancy that the doctor ordered an ultrasound three times to make sure she wasn't having twins. The doctor told her she was having one big baby. One day past her due day, her water broke around 1 am,.in the morning but she didn't experience any labor pains until she got to the hospital. Earlier in her pregnancy, she asked the doctor about pain medication and the doctor shrugged and told her that by the time they could give it to her, it wouldn't help her any so she wouldn't need it. Naively she never mentioned it again. So of course they would not administer any pain medication to her at the hospital because the doctor had not ordered any! Strike One! When the labor did not pogress, the nurses called the doctor again who said she would probably have to have a Cesarean section because the baby was so big! There was not an anesthesiologist on the maternity floor (now how could that be?) and it was over an hour before they finally located one on another floor. But then the doctor had still not arrived! When the doctor finally got there , she said it was too late for either the pain medication or a Cesarean section Strike Two! She was rushed into the delivery room where she managed to give birth to a 10 pound, 9 and ½ ounce baby girl. When she went back to the doctor for her six-week check-up, the doctor gleefully (at least it seemed gleefully to her) informed her that they had started doing epidurals on the maternity ward a week before which they previously had not done in that hospital. Strike Three! She politely stood up and told the doctor she would no longer be in need of her services. That doctor was out for the count!
To all the laborers who labored in their jobs and in their homes, and to the mothers who labored to birth their children, I hope your Labor Day was filled with love and happiness!