“My difficult birth” and ‘after-birth’ of our first daughter, Sonja.”
A true life story, by Werner Schmidlin
The end of Karola’s pregnancy drew nearer, and the baby was expected sometime in August of 1953. We decided that Karola would have the baby at home as, by not going to the hospital, we would get enough money back from the health insurance to buy a pram. Weeks before the event, I made a baby’s cot out of recycled timber taken from old bee hives, beekeeping being my hobby in those days. It was a painstakingly tedious job to take the hives apart and scrape the sticky timber to remove the resin-like compound that bees secrete in order to give the hive a protective inner coating and to close up cracks. (Perhaps the forerunner of today’s No More Gaps.)
Eventually, the cot was finished, and with a white coat of paint it looked lovely. I was very proud of my accomplishment, taking into consideration the limited number of tools I had to hand in those days.
When we left Germany for Australia, we had to sell most of our earthly possessions in order to raise some travelling money. One item we had to sell was the baby cot, which we sold to a neighbour in Saulgau.
It was arranged for the local midwife and Dr. Werner Lay to take charge of the delivery when the time arrived.
On August the 15th, Karola started to get intermittent labour pains a few hours apart, indicating that the countdown had started. We informed the doctor and the midwife, who told us to call them, day or night, when the labour pains became more frequent. Karola was working all day in the pub, and in the evening, in between labour pains, was conserving a big batch of peaches for her mother, finishing with it at 2 a.m.
On Sunday morning, the 16th, the pub was still full of people, which was not unusual for a weekend. Karola’s parents leased a pub and that is where I met Karola.
Karola had a shower and went to bed and the pains started to come every 15 minutes, so I rang the midwife. She told me that she would be ready in a few minutes and asked me if I would come to her place, which was about half a kilometre away, and walk back with her. It was about 2.30 a.m. when we returned home and the midwife rang the doctor, but advised him not to come yet, as there was no need for both of them to sit there and wait. She would call him again when the arrival of the baby was imminent.
In the meantime, Karola’s mum joined us in the bedroom and we talked, drank Coffee…and waited. I was very apprehensive and suffering as much labour pain as Karola, at the same time attempting to marshal my thoughts and think of an excuse for leaving the scene. It was the first time in my life that I felt claustrophobic. It was around 6 a.m. on Sunday morning when the time finally arrived. I bolted to the door, said goodbye and intended to discharge myself, but I didn’t get too far, the midwife was in hot pursuit and latched on to my shirtsleeve. It was obvious that she was prepared for this, and she pulled me back into the room telling me, “You must stay with your wife and see the matter through as you are partly responsible for this problem.”
The first thing I did was to walk to the window and close it, but the midwife promptly opened it again. I kept on closing the window and the midwife started to get sick of opening it, as she had more pressing things to attend to.
She wanted to know why on earth I kept doing this. “Well,” I said, “there is a story circulating around the ridges that the previous woman in the village who gave birth was screaming so much that everybody in the village woke up.
“Don’t worry, and let some fresh air into the room. Karola will not scream,” she told me reassuringly. For me, it wasn’t a case of being over the moon; I was beginning to wish that I was on it!
We called the doctor, only to find that he had been called five minutes earlier for another delivery. I was sitting on the bed facing Karola and swore to myself never, ever, to let her become pregnant again. The midwife gave me a pat on the shoulder and motioned me to have a look at what was transpiring. The head of the baby was just on the verge of emerging – a sight I’ll never forget. A moment later a baby girl was born, and I was as much relieved as Karola was that it was finally over.
But lo and behold, what a shock did I receive when I had my first close look at the baby girl. Her poor little head was pear-shaped, with the pointy part on top. The first question I eagerly asked the midwife, as soon as my faculty of speech returned, “Is her head going to stay like this?”
“No,” she said calmly, and putting her hand on my shoulder in an attempt to uplift my badly sagging spirit, she assured me in a blasé manner, “Don’t worry; it will change to normal in due course.” Apparently, a case of déjà vu for her. Even though her assurance eased my apprehension to some extent, I still had some lingering doubts until I actually saw, many hours later that the head had indeed transformed itself to a more normal configuration.
The midwife later explained the reason for my unnecessary anxiety in regards to the pear-shaped head of our new daughter. “It was because the baby’s head was lying in the mother’s pelvis for a lengthy period of time.” I presume, had the baby been born in the USA, with their inclination to name babies after all sorts of so-called reasons, occurrences or qualifying factors, we would have had to call her ‘Pear’, but she was born in Germany, and we called her ‘Sonja Rita’, instead.
In order to do the right thing, my mother came to visit Karola and to see her first grandchild. After some small-talk, she said to Karola, “I’m glad that it is a girl. Had it been a boy, I wouldn’t have come to visit.” We were never sure what she actually meant by that statement. I had forgotten about it until Karola reminded me of it some time later. I thought that with the ‘distressful’ birth now behind me, this was the end of my distresses, but a rude awakening was in store for me. Apart from the matter of the pear-shaped head, I soon learned and experienced first hand that Sonja’s vocal chords were already fully developed.
Our baby proved to us very soon that she had the voice of an opera singer, not very refined, perhaps, but loud. The usual trick to stop her from ‘singing’ was to put a nipple in her mouth, but this measure only worked if there was milk to back it up. The only way to get her to sleep was with the help of the corner of the blanket, which had to be gently moved back and forth under her nose. But only her mother was allowed to do this. Anybody else trying to get her to sleep this way gladly handed the job back to her mother, after an immediate sample demonstration of her cacophonous opera singing ability. This sleep inducement procedure could often take up to an hour or more, and the slightest noise could bring the ‘opera singing’ on again and take you back to square one.
Karola had to regulate her sleeping habits to suit the baby: sleeping when she was sleeping.
As I was a light sleeper, and looking for a restful night’s sleep, I had to seek refuge in a small bedroom in the attic.
As a coda to this story, when we returned to Germany some 22 years later, our neighbours, who still lived in the same house, pointed out to us that the cot was still in tip-top condition and had been used by their children and grandchildren. That was the second time I felt proud of the cot.
– Werner Schmidlin
Yorkeys Knob, Queensland, Australia.