Based on a True Story
St. Paul, Minnesota is a city along the banks of the rich river called the Mississippi, the river originates, lays sleeping almost in upper Minnesota, and runs the length of the country, downward to St. Louis, and onto New Orleans, and into the Gulf of Mexico, this is where I was born, in the heartland of the Midwest, you could say. It carries a tremendous amount of water, and its tributaries are countless. But this sketch, or story is not about the Mississippi or even myself, all that much, but about a failed attempt, situation, to robe a mother of her infant child, her newly born; the year is 1947, complete date: October seventh, the location: within the city of St. Paul, in the heart of the city, at a well know Hospital, it is early morning, Indian Summer as they say, autumn leaves are all about, mostly the colors of a dim rainbow. The cornfields outside the city are bare, and the air is cool, a woman is brought into the hospital the evening before she will give birth to a living child, she is unwed, living in the poverty area of the city, on a street called Igelheart, her name is Elsie.
“Bring her into the labor room,” says a nurse, “I’ll see to her soon.”
There are several other women in there about to have babies also, one who was having a hard labor the past two days this is going on her third day (she will endure labor for thirty-six hours), her name is Isabella, she smiles at Elsie, quite possible they could have been friends, but it will not work out that way, her child will die in the morning and the nurses will try to obliterate all traces of the stay, change a few things, but I’m getting ahead of my story.
Isabella did talk to Elsie, in broken English, and mostly Polish, she was seventeen years old, spoke little English, and Elsie, was of Russian and Polish roots also, and spoke a little Polish, or at least understood a little, and spoke good English. Many families back then came over from the Baltic area of Europe, to America, especially during and prior to World War One (for there was much famine and the uproot of war seeped throughout the land and it promised to be a long and dreary war, and so forth), and their families (both Isabella and Elsie’s) extended families, were part of this group, this legacy, and in the case of Isabella, they, her family, could hardly speak any English so she became part of this inheritance, as it was for Elsie’s mother and father, and thus this was the case at hand, and when they came into the hospital, there was bilingual Polish nurses to assist if need be.
Elsie was twenty-seven years old at the time, had one son, Michael, he was two years beyond this new birth to be, and she had just started working at ‘Swifts & Co.,’ as a meatpacker, in the bacon department, she’d work there for twenty-two years before they’d close the place down. Her pregnancy and labor was going along fine.
She was unwed (as I had previously mentioned), and had been dating two men at the same time, matter-of-fact, they were both friends of one another, but unaware of this, and of course back in those far-off days, it was considered a deeper sin, should a woman on any one occasion do such a thing, whereas, it was normal for a man to do this on a weekly bases, and of course for the man, he did it without shame, sin, or even an ounce of regret, matter-of-fact, he did it with fireworks, bragged about it at the bars, and got a standing applause from his audience.
Well, the nurse that had Elsie brought into the labor room, gave her history to the rest of the nurses, and without an ounce of information missing, it would suffice to say, she was the talk of the ward, and the unwed mother, now slave to her sins, her reputation was flooding about, no more skeletons in the closet you might say.
Her father was working, a painter and restaurant owner, but a few of her sisters were there present, the rest would come later-there were five living children, out of eight, three had died-two waiting in the waiting room, near the labor room. Elsie had not started dilating yet, no contractions, but Isabella was getting them, had been getting them, and then she’d stop, it was a long ordeal for her, the nurse had told the doctor they may have to considerer an incision, a cesarean to bring the infant out, lest the woman die from child birth, she was exhausted to the point her breathing was dim at best.
Most of what you are hearing, would be silent, or at best, chopping news, if not sporadically given to Elsie’s son, Dennis, some fifty years later down the road of life, which would have been no big thing-for what is not know, how then can it make a big difference, and so it all was and had to be quit down back in 1947, it was priceless information and best for it to be forgotten, on the other hand priceless information seeps out often times does it not, if not directly, by osmosis, and perhaps Isabella would never know the truth of the whole matter, and surely would not have agreed with it I do believe. In any case, she could not even read a word of English, a home-made mama, you might say; but the nurses chose her to inherit the rising new child nevertheless, yet to be born; perhaps the nurses intentions were good, meant to be good, for there was no gain for them per se, in that they wanted the child to have a complete parenthood, no fatherlessness involved for the child, a father and mother made better sense perhaps, and since Elsie already had a child, well, it might be better for her, you know, raising one vs. two, to give up the child, unknowingly give up the child, but again, if you do not know, then you are unaware of the crime in progress, and times were not easy for a man, let alone a woman. And so I repeat myself, perhaps the nurses had these intentions, although unethical for their professions; and at this juncture, let me add the doctor in to this little crime scene developing: least he escape unharmed, and that would be my crime to the nurses.
It was now about 3:00 AM, and they brought Isabella and Elsie into one big room, a divided room only by a moveable cloth divider, the doctor was busy with Isabella, her contractions had worsened, and she was dilated to nine-in other words, about to have the child, her water had busted hours beforehand, and Elsie had dilated to seven, and her water had busted right after Isabella’s. They were both on their way to being mothers. Isabella’s husband was out in the waiting room, with Elsie’s sisters, there were three of them now, Betty, Anne, and Rose, and her brother Wally, the one she did so many things with when she was young, chumming about like Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.
Indeed, it was time for Isabella to have the child naturally or to have it induced, a trying labor she was having, and she looked it, in that she was pale, dark rims around her eyes, her hair matted like a thorn bush, but she was alive, and the baby was coming out, she was pushing, pushing, pushing, Elsie could hear her cries, as for the child there was no movement in its limbs, the eyelids, nothing at all of the child moved impulsively-it came out quiet, too quiet-dead quiet! But the nurses hushed it up, smiled at Isabella, and scooted off with the baby to another bed.
The nurses looked at one another, the doctor stood silent, one nurse whispered something in his ear (cleaning the baby, spanking it, it making no cry, Elsie noticed the silence, waited for the cry, the cry that never came), and he nodded ‘ok’ to the nurses, and they moved Isabella quickly out of the room into a private room, now Elsie was alone, except for the child in the third bed in the room, and the dead child remained in that bed, behind the curtained divider, and the doctor went over to Elsie, it was now 4:00 AM, not many people on the ward, and those who were, were half asleep, that is, except for the crew in Elsie’s room.
Now Elsie was at nine, and she was pushing, pushing she knew how to do it the second time better, she needed no advise from the nurses, she also knew they didn’t care for unwed mothers, and hence, the child passed through without much trouble. A nurse grabbed the infant as Elsie closed her eyes for a moment, but just a moment, but that was after she saw the child was breathing, what color it was, a few other things-then when she opened them, she waited for the child’s cry that oh so beautiful first cry in life, the cry that says ‘I am here,’ perhaps God himself, put that first cry into the child’s heart when it was surrounded by water inside the womb of the woman, as if in the heart of a whale, protected from all the harms and hindrances of the outside world, it was to be a reminder to the mother the child has arrived alive, so the child was out of the belly of the whole now; the nurse had gone behind the other curtain, exchanged the babies, the live one for the dead one, consequently, to exchange them with the mothers. Elsie saw the nurse’s back end step behind the curtain, screamed, “Where is my baby, bring him here immediately?” she even knew it was a boy.
The nurse now stood silent with both children, one in her hands, the live one, the dead one laying on the bed, wrapped up in a thin white blanket, actually they both looked pretty much like one another, like two same chickens, raw and reddish in color, except one had gotten a bit pale. She put down the live child, picked up the dead one, went out to Elsie, to tell her, her child was stillborn-dead, the nurse stood to the back of the bed, about to make her deadly implication, only to hear the words:
“Bring my child to me now!” demanded Elsie.
“Wait a minute, Elsie, he’s being cleaned up, I, I’ll get him for you in a moment.” Said the nurse, bewildered.
And it was just a moment, when she brought the living child back to her, and Elsie held it tight. It can only be conjectured, to give a solid reason that is, why the nurse turned her heart from one mother back to its original, we will never quite know the true reason of it, at least not in this world anyhow, but I can modestly say, I think the child’s Guardian Angel, was already hard at work, as was Satan’s dark intruding demons. And that my reading friends, is how I came into this world.
Notes on this Story, story based on fact: written 5-28-2008; information gathered over the years from Elsie, and given to her son, and from that this story was constructed, not all details are exact, some conjectures added, that seemed only logical or possible for the time and situation, and where there was no other place to take the story. Isabella is a fictitious name; although the mother did endure having a dead child, and the child was about to be presented to Elsie, Elsie knew the dead one in her arms was dead, horrified the nurse was about to say what she had planned to say, when she went to get the live one, the trauma was over. Of course this happening was hushed up by the hospital, nurses, and even Elsie for almost a half century, today it is not. But she didn’t die, having it untold; and I thank her for her bold actions. It was a time when perhaps such things happened, and justified for a variety of reasons, perhaps under the seal of humanity’s personal God. I do not mention the hospitals name, not that I fear of or for reprisals, it is easy enough to figure out where I was born for the curious reader, but because at 60-years old, I do not care to point fingers, I just hope they have more ethical nurses there now.
by Dennis Siluk Dr.h.c.