Eight

Whatever Happened to Mary Janeway?: A Home Child Story


 

Eight

 

Queen Victoria’s Birthday

 

“Before 1900 only unwed mothers and poor women gave birth in the

 

May 1905

 

Mary decided to have her baby at home. Dr. Storms made arrangements for Hannah, a certified midwife with years of experience, to be on hand for the birth.

     “What if something goes wrong at home?” Jim asked.

     “I read that there is more risk of infection if you have a baby in the hospital.” In fact, Mary was wrong. By the turn of the century hospital sepsis had decreased dramatically and home births were no longer safer.

     She’d given a lot of thought to the pros and cons of going to the hospital. Dr. Storms told her about a new drug that was replacing ether and chloroform for women during childbirth. He reassured her that “twilight sleep” was perfectly harmless to both the mother and the child. He explained that she wouldn’t be completely unconscious, merely unable to recall the pain later. His concern was that this drug wouldn’t be available to her if she had the baby at home. If a doctor was called in, he couldn’t give her a full anaesthetic and a certified midwife wasn’t permitted by law to administer pain-killing drugs. Still, knowing all that, Mary was reluctant to go to the hospital.

     Her concern was for the welfare of her unborn baby. Wasn’t childbirth supposed to be a natural occurrence in a woman’s life? She was hesitant to take drugs, even for pain. At times like this Mary was reminded that she had no one to turn to for advice. Her mother had been part of her life for such a short period of time. Mary had a slight headache and closed her eyes. She could hardly even remember what her mother looked like. How had she managed to give birth to five babies? Mary stopped. Her mother didn’t have five; she’d had six children. It was the birth of her last baby that had changed the direction of their lives forever.

 

“Oh my God, William!” she cried. His nose was hanging broken and he was bleeding badly. Before he could explain how the colt had reared up and kicked him, his pregnant young wife, overcome with emotion, fainted on the kitchen floor.

     “Catharine!” he screamed as he bent over her. “Help me carry her to the bed,” he shouted at the children. “Will, run to Packard’s farm and tell Lyle to get the doctor quick. Mama needs help real bad.”

     Little Mary had been watching everything. She stepped down off the stool, backed into the corner, crouched down, and buried her face in her knees. Emma began to cry.

     The next morning Papa called all the children, including Emma, to the table. He had bandages on his face. “We lost Mama in the night. The baby came sudden far too soon for your mama. She wasn’t strong enough.” He paused to steady himself, and then continued reluctantly. “The doctor was too late to do anything. The baby’s gonna live but it’s small and sickly. He thinks it isn’t quite right so they’re sending it to Glasgow. Just as well I expect.” He continued, but spoke quietly. “I love you all and I’ll try to take care of you, what with Mama gone

 

     Mary didn’t remember anything about the baby except that it was a boy. She didn’t even know his name. What she did remember was losing her mama because of him. As an adult, she found it difficult to explain the feelings that she harboured toward this innocent baby. Mary had been left with the memory of a terrible accident and fleeting images of her mother.

     Now as a grown woman of twenty-one, she sat at the kitchen table and covered her face with her hands. She wept for her mother that she’d barely known, wept for her father who’d sent her to an orphanage, and wept for brothers and sisters she hadn’t seen in years. But more than that, she had tears because she was afraid. If only she could forget that her mother had died having a baby. What if her baby came early and the same thing happened? Mary knew that childbirth involved some risk. She could die giving birth just like her mother or succumb to childbed fever shortly after the birth. Infant mortality was high and it wasn’t uncommon for children to die in infancy. She’d read that for every ten babies born, one didn’t make it to their first birthday.

     Mary curled up in Jim’s armchair in her faded pink bathrobe and drank a cup of warm milk that settled her stomach and had a calming effect. She regained her perspective and came to the conclusion that her mother’s death was purely accidental. The baby wasn’t ready to be born and the trauma of her father’s accident must have brought on premature labour. She reminded herself that it had happened fifteen years ago and her mother had been considerably older than her. Today’s doctors and midwives were more knowledgeable.

     She decided to talk to Hannah about her concerns. Mary liked the petite, soft-spoken woman who was about forty and who had already visited her a number of times. Sometimes she’d put her arm around her in a comforting motherly way and had a sense of knowing when this kind of affection was appropriate. Perhaps it was because she’d already delivered over twenty babies and had four of her own.

     “Hannah, what if my baby comes early?”

     “Babies know when the time is right. Remember your calendar date is only an approximate time and it can be six weeks either side of that.”

     “What if the pain gets really bad?”

     “I’ll be right there by your side and can give you a little something if it becomes necessary.” Mary looked up at Hannah, swallowed, pressed her lips together, and nodded in an unconvincing manner. “What happened to all that confidence you had? Where has it gone, dear?” she asked kindly, reaching over to pat her hand.

     “You’re right. I need to be stronger.”

     Hannah squeezed Mary’s hand and smiled. She finished her cup of tea and stood up to leave. She had other women to tend to and while her visits were brief, she was always willing to stay a little longer with a first-time mother. She sensed that Mary was still anxious. “Is everything all right now?” she asked.

     “I think so, but I’m still a bit scared,” she said quietly.

     “Having a baby is the most natural thing in the world,” she paused. “And so is being afraid. I’ll see you next week,” she said, and let herself out.

     Mary was glad that City Hospital (today’s General Hospital) was only ten minutes away, just in case. The four-storey red-and-white patterned brick hospital had a central tower and two detached brick wings extending southward, connecting with the main building by open corridors. It had well-lit wards, adequate ventilation, heating provided by central fireplaces, water closets similar to those in English hospitals, speaking tubes, and dumb waiters. Considered quite modern for its time, it was equal to anything of its kind in Canada.

     Mary had no difficulty filling her days while she waited for her baby’s arrival. Laundry took the better part of a morning. She baked bread every Wednesday and went to Carroll’s a couple of times a week. She was starting to buy canned goods to eliminate some of the trips to the grocery store but was cautious. Children had been known to die from “summer complaint,” food poisoning from botulism. She made sure that her house was clean and a hot meal was waiting for her tired husband at the end of the day. A visit to the market rounded out her week.

     Mary and Jim were fortunate to have some of the modern day conveniences including electric lights, a water closet, and an icebox. Jim dreamed about owning an automobile and was convinced that someday cars would take over the roads and the horse and buggy would be gone forever.

 

Driving was an adventure in 1905; a twenty-mile drive was a conversation piece. Outside cities the roads were improved dirt or unimproved dirt. In summer the dust was so blinding that passengers wore goggles and dusters. In spring the mud was axle-deep and some farmers made a living hauling motorists out of potholes (which the farmers themselves kept watered). On cloudy days a man drove with one eye on the ruts and the other skyward; it took fifteen minutes to get up the canvas top and the side

 

     Mary’s dreams were not as grand. She looked forward to the day when she could soak in a cast-iron bathtub with claw feet instead of bathing in a tub in the kitchen. She also hoped to have a telephone, central hot-water heating, a gas range complete with a warming oven, and a washing machine that was cranked by hand. She was thankful for her treadle machine, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to afford “store bought” clothing for her baby. Mary was adamant that her son or daughter would dress like other children. She knew how painful it was to look different and was relieved that her child wouldn’t grow up with the stigma of being a “home child.” Conversations that she’d overheard at the Strathcona Home for Girls still bothered her:

 

That girl is scrawny as a picked chicken. How the doctor thinks she will be any real help with the work, I fail to see.

What use will she have for book learning?

I thought this Home Girl was to be a help, not just an extra mouth to

 

     One evening in late May, Mary was feeling particularly tired and curled up on the sofa to leaf through a magazine while Jim read the paper. She saw an ad for the new portable vacuum cleaner.

     “Take a look at this,” she said turning the page around. “It’s so much smaller than ours.”

     “Are you telling me you want a new vacuum?”

     “Of course not. I’m just amazed how quickly things change. I’m happy with mine.” Although her vacuum was big and cumbersome, it signified that she was a modern day housewife and sweeping was a thing of the past.

     “You can thank Mr. Polanski for that. I worked so damn hard on painting his house and if he could’ve paid his bill, you’d never have had that vacuum. It was his idea to do a little horse-trading, not mine. I’d have much rather had the money.”

     “And if he didn’t refurbish old things, we might have ended up with nothing,” Mary added. All of a sudden, she doubled over, clutching her belly and gasped. “Jim, it’s the baby! I think it’s time!”

     He ran to the neighbour’s and made a frantic call to Hannah. She came immediately. It was obvious that Mary was in labour.

     “Hannah, is everything alright?” Jim asked.

     “Everything is fine. We’re having a baby!” she answered with certainty, holding Mary’s hand all the time that she spoke. Jim went outside and waited on the porch while Hannah did what was necessary. The time passed slowly for the young man who was about to become a father.

     When Mary’s contractions were about two minutes apart Hannah gave her “one teaspoon of a tincture of laudanum, an extract with opium in it, which could be administered by a certified Almost immediately the pain backed off.

     Despite her husband’s wish for a boy, Mary delivered a healthy five-pound, four-ounce baby girl on Wednesday, May 24, at 6:15 a.m. Eighty-six years ago on the same day, Queen Victoria had been born. Her late Majesty had been a popular royal figure and the longest reigning Queen in English history. Mary couldn’t have been happier that her daughter was sharing her birthday with the Queen, a day that had been declared a statutory holiday in Canada. For years she’d tease her little girl by telling her that the day she was born, the country was so excited they didn’t print a newspaper. And every year on her birthday, there would never be a paper.

     Mary felt a contentment that only a very proud first-time mother would understand. Wednesday was her lucky day. She’d been re-united with her brother, run away from the farm, and married on a Wednesday and now her daughter had chosen that day to enter the world. But she was exhausted after eleven-and-a-half hours of labour. Hannah brought her a cup of tea and a few crackers on a tray, but they went untouched. Mary’s job was done and she promptly fell asleep.

     “Would you like to hold your daughter, Jim?” Hannah asked.

     He looked at the tiny sleeping infant in her arms. She had definitely inherited his dark hair.

     “Maybe later,” he replied quietly, leaving the room to go outside for a smoke.

     They’d never discussed what to call the baby if it was a girl, so it wasn’t until several days later that she was given a name. Their daughter was christened Gloria Victoria, named after her paternal grandmother and Queen Victoria. Although the baby’s name was chosen with care, soon after her birth the little girl inherited the nickname Mona. It stayed with her for life.

     And Jim soon forgot about wanting a son.