Ten years ago I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on generational childbirth stories within one family – my own. My degree is in Psychosocial Studies, a blend of Psychology and Sociology, and my final dissertation was a narrative study on the childbirth stories of my grandmother, my mother, myself, and my eldest daughter. At that time we had five direct-line generations living within our family, and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
Interestingly, I discovered that the way we each spoke about what was at source our very personal experience of giving birth nevertheless situated each of us firmly within the socio-historic culture of the time in which we lived. Although the physical process of childbirth remains, in essence, the same across the sixty-year period covered by our stories, we each spoke about our experiences in very different terms, using very different language and focussing on very different aspects of giving birth.
My grandmother gave birth to her children during the Second World War, before the creation of the NHS. My mum gave birth to us during the 1960s at the height of the move towards the more masculine medicalisation of childbirth, I had my children in the 1980s on the cusp of a huge change in attitude and approach towards encouraging more natural childbirth methods, and my eldest daughter gave birth to her baby in the early 2000s in a world where a woman’s right to choose where and how she gives birth was expected as standard.
Childbirth was not something that was much discussed in my grandmother’s day, and her story of my mum’s birth, at home, during the blackout, is quite beautiful in its brevity. It is this story I am sharing here, in her own words where possible, but paraphrased slightly where necessary to keep the narrative flow throughout… my grandmother was in her 90th year when we completed her interview 🙂
‘Well, when your mum was born, that was during the war, and there was a blackout. We were living in furnished rooms at the time, just a bedroom and a sitting room, and of course I was in the bedroom. I knew the date of the birth according to the expected date, and I was determined that it was going to be on that day, and it was. But my husband didn’t think it was coming that day until I really made him understand…
We had tin baths in those days but I was too big to fit all of me in, so I sat with my bottom on the bath and my feet in the big berry pan we used for jam. Bill didn’t believe the baby was coming so soon because he thought I looked too well – but I have a high pain tolerance so I had to make him see it really was time.
He didn’t call the nurses at first but then eventually he did and when they came, they said it wasn’t ready, and the Sister told the other nurse to go back to the hospital and bring her knitting back with her at such-and-such a time. But before she could have got to the bus-stop, the baby started coming… and… I was asked if I could hold it a little while because it was the nurse’s last case before she went off… you know…practising… so it was a bit hard but we managed, and that was fine, we managed fine.
Unluckily I couldn’t feed my babies, I had the quantity but not the quality and so the nurse used to come in every day and express the milk, and we got on fine and that went on for about two or three weeks. Then things went fine, and I thought no more about things until about three years after when I was at the clinic and the nurse recognised me and asked me if I gave milk to the bank.
And I said no, I don’t think so, I said, but the nurse did express my milk. So she said there was money lying for me, so I told them just to keep it, and they said they couldn’t do that until I’d signed for it. So I just had to sign for it, and at that time, that was 1945, they were paying ten pence a pint for it, so I just signed for it and gave it back because I wasn’t needing it.’
Written in response the the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Interview