Births – modern and past

Recently my family faced a difficult situation with my niece giving birth. She was due to have her twins by epidural mid-February, a month early, which is apparently normal. However, just a few days before this scheduled date, she suffered pain and blood loss which necessitated a quick trip to hospital in the middle of the night. The twins were delivered while my niece was under general aesthetic. Again it seems, not uncommon when the mother’s life is in danger and one of the twins was struggling to survive in the womb.

Thankfully, after a few days of the little boy being in intensive care and mum and female baby in a high dependency ward, all was well. The little boy joined his mum and sister and within another few days, all were home, well and thriving. But what would have happened in the same situation a hundred or two hundred years earlier without all our modern medical advances? It could well have been a different story. Without forceps, vendeuse, epidural injections or even general aesthetics, many mums died in birth, especially if the baby was breech or couldn’t be delivered by normal means.

Then, even if the baby survived birth along with the mother, they could easily succumb to childhood ailments for which there was no cure.

In my novel, Waireka, Eliza suffers the death of two of her children, first Alister and then Margaret.

“At just three months old, following an abnormally cold winter, baby Alister caught a nasty cold. Eliza nursed him vigilantly day and night but little Alister’s condition seemed only to worsen…Eliza had tried various procedures to get the baby’s temperature down, although he wouldn’t take any medication. Before too long, baby Alister’s body had grown limp in her arms like a rag doll until she failed to get any response at all.” (Chapter 5 pp 90-91)

“Margaret continued to thrive until she began to teethe. With the advent of teething she caught a nasty cold that went to her chest. Eliza began to relive those fearful days with baby Alister as she nursed the baby day and night…Alister had said that every couple could expect to lose one child, but two? Eliza couldn’t face going through that again.” And yet she did.

With each succeeding birth, the only comfort Eliza is given from her husband, Alister is – “We must be grateful, Lizzie, that you’re just safely delivered in this rough climate.”

This was even more true in some of the undeveloped pioneering countries where medicines and doctors were scare, than in Britain in the nineteenth century, but Britain wasn’t that safe either. A woman took her life in her hands in giving birth and at a time when a large family of ten or more children was normal, this was the case for her multiple times in her life.

How grateful we should be for current medical advances!

You can get a copy of Waireka via my website books page at or by visiting Amazon or if you live in the US the link is

About journojohnson

I qualified as a journalist in 2002 and after a period working as a freelance for Gloucester Media writing advertorials, interviews, articles and press releases I have gone on to write for lots of magazines and newspapers, both local and national. I write regularly for the Writers and Readers magazine but have also written for CPO's Inspire, the New Writer, Classic Ford, and Take a Break's My Favourite Recipes among many others. I published my first full-length historical novel. Waireka in 2018 and my romantic novella, Alpha Male in 2016. Both can be found on Amazon. Please follow the links on my book page.
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