When I celebrated my birthday earlier this month I found myself thinking about my mother all day long. I remembered the story of my birth, which was rather traumatic, and thought a lot about how Mom, all of 25-years-old at the time, must have felt that day over half a century ago now.
Apparently when Mom was about five months pregnant she started to hemorrhage so she as put on bed rest for 6 weeks. My grandmother came from Buffalo by train to take care of her and my brother who was two. Once off bed rest she had what she thought was a normal pregnancy, but I believe she suffered from placenta previa, which happens when the placenta begins to detach from the walls of the uterus. It's amazing that she carried nearly to term.
The morning of my birth she awoke about 2am to find the bed covered in blood. My father phoned Doc Edwards, the longtime, old-fashioned country doctor here in East Hampton, who was already in his late 60s by the early 1950s. Doc Edwards lived near the Hook Mill on North Main Street and Dad said he literally ran down the hill in his pajamas, took one look at my mother and all the blood she had lost, and called the local ambulance to take her to Southampton Hospital. Then he went home to get dressed where he called his friend Dr. Kirk who he knew was at his summer/weekend home in Montauk (that's "Kirk" as in "Kirk Park") and who also happened to be the Surgeon General of the United States at the time. He told him he needed him at the hospital right away to assist with surgery.
Dad never said much else about that day but his mother, my grandmother, told me more of the story when I was a teenager. She said that when Doc Edwards came out of the OR there was a good-sized contingent of family waiting, including my father, grandmother, grandfather, and uncles. The doctor looked weary but elated as he told them that "It was touch and go and I thought we might lose both of them but I'm happy to say you have a healthy daughter and Betty is doing fine!" Mom spent five days in the hospital and we came home together. She would go on to have two more children, both by cesarean section of course, and never really talked much about what that day.
I find that as I get older, and especially after my own medical experience as a patient, I think more and more about what that must have been like for her. She would have been terrified. I'm not sure why she was spared and I wonder at how different life would have been for my brother had things not turned out the way they did. I do remember walking into town with Mom when I was about ten and running into old Doc Edwards on the sidewalk near his house one day. She stopped and chatted with him about his retirement and I remember him telling her that she had always been one of his favorites. As we went on to our errand I referred to his comment and she brushed it aside saying "That's just because I was a challenge for him!" but I knew better. I think Mom was one of those rare people that everybody loved.
And I get to tell everyone that the Surgeon General of the United States assisted in my delivery.