The redoubtable Mrs H

Unique obstetrical caseIn 1857 the Nashville Journal of Medicine and Surgery reported this unusual case of childbirth. What is particularly remarkable about it is that the birth itself was straightforward, and both mother and child were completely healthy – but it still bears repeated telling.  The mother was a Mrs H., a ‘stout, healthy woman’ of 25. She was the wife of a poor labourer, and already had one child when the following events took place:

Having approached very near her full term, but not feeling any symptoms of labor, and being desirous of visiting her father, she, on the 26th of April last, walked to the house of her father, a distance of five miles, accompanied by her husband and child. The next morning they set out on their return home, and had not gone far before she began to experience symptoms that indicated the approach of labor, and the farther they traveled the stronger became the symptoms.

When they were a mile and a half from home, the labour pains became quite strong – her husband wanted to stop at a neighbour’s house nearby, but she insisted on continuing on their way. Bad move:

The next mile of their way lay over what is known in the neighborhood as ‘Little mountain’, which is a rough, rocky ridge, a few hundred feet high, situated some miles distant from the main range of Cumberland mountains. As the party began the ascent of the mountain, a black cloud commenced rising above the horizon. The party continued to climb the mountain, the cloud continued to ascend the ‘steep of heaven,’ and the poor woman’s pains continued increasing at an alarming rate. The party gained the summit of the mountain just as the cloud came over their heads, and the woman’s pains likewise gained their utmost intensity; and there, on the top of that rugged mountain, while the windows of heaven were ‘wide open,’ and the rain falling in torrents, while the thunder was shaking the mountain to its centre, and the wind was blowing a hurricane, the woman sat down at the root of a tree and gave birth to a fine son.

The scene is almost Biblical in its drama. It sounds like a tableau from a Baroque allegorical painting.

As soon as the worst of the storm had passed over, the husband left his wife and children, and went on in the direction of home, to the nearest neighbor’s house, to procure some dry blankets, quilts, or something of the kind for his wife. On his return back he met his wife, who had taken off her dress, and wrapped the child and after-birth up in it— the cord not yet being divided, and was carrying it on one arm, and leading the other child, making her way towards home.

Three cheers for Mrs H. She sounds absolutely formidable. But wait, there’s more:

So much rain had fallen that it was impossible for her to get home without wading in the water nearly to her knees for some distance. And before she could get home she had to cross a ten-rail fence, which she did with her babe in her arms. The balance of her way was over a newly ploughed field, through which it was then very difficult to walk.

As she was approaching her house she was spotted by two local women, who followed her home and insisted that she go to bed.

A gentleman of the vicinity soon came in, and after hearing the history of the labor, he asked the husband how he felt while his wife was in labor. He answered that he was greatly alarmed. The wife spoke up and said, that “she couldn’t help being tickled to see how badly scared he was.”

Bravo! As a display of sang-froid this puts even the redoubtable Molly Brown in the shade.

The next morning she got up and prepared breakfast for her family as usual, and has attended to her household affairs ever since, without any inconvenience. The child was named Thomas Jefferson, and is still living and doing well. 

An auspicious name for an auspicious baby.

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