Thursday, June 14, 2012

Charlie's Fight to Save His Sons

Eighty-three years ago today my tiny mother gave birth to twin sons. It was not an easy birth. It was cold for June. There had been a wild series of storms. The bridge spanning the nearby river had been washed away, and the other road was impassable to anything other than a horse. There was no easy way, in the back of a horse-drawn wagon, to get a labouring woman to the hospital through pouring rain and wild wind.

For 36 long hours she laboured without result. She was only seven months pregnant, so the baby was not yet at term, and prospects were grim. While my Dad's brother Arthur rode a horse the long way round to town to fetch the doctor Dad and Mom's sister Fannie did what little they could do to ease the contractions which threatened to tear her apart.

Finally the doctor arrived and after an exam said the baby was transverse, and had to be turned. A horrific process even in a modern hospital he warned Dad to prepare for the worst. But the little one was turned, and shortly after was born breech. A tiny boy, barely the length of my father's hand.

"There's another one!" Mother gasped, "There's still another!"

"No, it's just the placenta," he assured her, in time to see another little head emerge.

Identical twin sons, tiny little things, but active and squalling.

"Might as well just wrap them up and leave them be," the doctor said, "easier not to fight. They'll be dead before nightfall."

Dad drew himself up to his full 6' 2" height and said, "Not my sons, not while I have breath in my body and can fight for them."

Within minutes he and Aunt Fanny had assembled a bed made of a wooden apple box. They laid a double layer of ironed muslin over a layer of cotton quilt batting. By manipulating the layers of cotton the wet/soiled batting beneath could be changed without handling or disturbing the babies, who were laid naked inside. The sides were lined with damp towels, and draped over the top, in an unending succession day and night, hot steaming towels were laid to warm the interior of the box. As one towel cooled it was replaced with another.

The towels were immersed in a pot of boiling water, then pulled out and wrung as dry as possible, before being unrolled and laid over the impromptu incubator. A thermometer borrowed from a neighbour let them monitor the temperature and keep it at a constant 98.6 F.

Mother expressed milk into a sterile teaspoon and on the second day the twins began receiving two drops of milk every half hour fed to them with a sterilized eyedropper. As they figured out how to swallow this amount was increased until they were strong enough at two weeks to be swaddled and brought out to nurse.

By the time the weather warmed enough to no longer need the incubator Dad and the neighbour who had been helping him had burned all the skin off their hands and arms to their elbows wringing the boiling water from those towels.

Both those boys, my older brothers, went on to live long and productive lives, and bring up families of their own. They had a rough start, but they came from strong and stubborn stock.

I miss them today, I miss them all.

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