[A “chronicle” that U.S. Navy Lieutenant Charlie Mahaffie wrote from Sasebo, Japan, to the folks at home in the States, upon the birth of his first born, Margaret, September 7, 1957]
The whole thing, of course, started approximately nine months ago, but the immediate events began with the arrival of Typhoon Bess late Friday afternoon, the sixth. Bess actually didn’t hit Sasebo as was probably reported in the stateside press she hit Kyushu nearer the town of Kagoshima, which is way down at the end of the island. Sasebo had high winds and some rain all night Friday, but no appreciable damage. We had secured the house as best we could and hit the sack about eleven Friday night.
I should put in here that it was only by good fortune that I was available to act as duty driver Friday. With the approach of the typhoon all liberty was cancelled and on top of that I had the duty that night. But as everyone else was on board out of necessity it was not too hard to find a standby and that meant that all I had to do was convince my bosses that my presence was needed ashore. I’m still not sure that the Chief of Staff knows I went ashore, but my boss said to go so I went and as far as I know I was the only member of the staff who was ashore Friday night.
Judy woke me up at a little after one announcing that she was having sensations which she believed to be labor pains. She was not at all sure though and neither was I. So she called the hospital hoping to find the duty doctor awake so that she could ask him. She was informed by a corpsman that if she thought she should come, come. So she came.
We bundled her into the car and made the short trek at about one thirty. At this time, she still was in no pain but was having “pains”. Happily, the nurse on duty was a friend of ours, the wife of our flag secretary, and this made Judy feel a good deal better. Betty June, the nurse, said that she thought she was right in coming and bundled her off to the labor room where they immediately prepared her for delivery. The duty doctor that night was one who had along with the regular obstetrician been looking after Judy during her pregnancy and he examined her and said that she was sure enough in labor. At this time the baby was expected any time during the night so everyone was excited and Judy was the most excited of all. The trouble was that nothing happened.
At a little after two it appeared that she was not going to deliver until morning so I went home to bed. But I didn’t sleep very well so I came back to the hospital about four thirty. Still nothing had happened. Judy was, in fact, asleep at this time. As the night and morning wore on her pains diminished to just about nothing and both she and the medicos became discouraged, especially Judy as she was looking forward when she came in to having a baby in record time.
As one of the doctors pointed out to me, the biggest difficulty they have with births in Sasebo is the psychological factor. It is such a small town that all the women know all the other women and they all seem to know all about the other women’s deliveries right down to the most intimate details. Knowing all this they attempt to surpass one another in timeliness, speed and ease of birth and when they find that their case is going to be at all troublesome, they get quite discouraged.
Bright and early both the doctors concerned with obstetrics were in attendance. Their consensus seemed to be that she was having a “false labor” but would in all probability go into real labor Saturday afternoon. This was my first acquaintance with Judy’s doctors and I got a very good impression of both.
It turned out that they were worried about her as she had until about a week before the baby was born a breach presentation. The doc who examined her when she came in said that he thought the baby had turned. Then they took x-rays Saturday morning which confirmed this. This made both docs, and me, much happier and we all relaxed.
Not Judy though, who was getting unhappier and unhappier about the fact that she had not yet produced. I spend the morning with her in the labor room timing pains, which were still there but were getting weaker and more and more irregular. There was talk of letting her go home Sunday morning if nothing had happened by then. The docs were in and out all morning and Judy was being prodded and poked by various people from time to time, but still no labor worthy of the name. I went out for lunch and when I came back the situation was the same. At about two thirty Judy had two rather unauthorized visitors. One, father Kelley, the Catholic Chaplain had come to administer last rites to a patient that turned out to be alive and kicking, so he came up and chatted a while along with one of Judy’s friends who was in the hospital for treatment.
She walked around with these people and was laughing and carrying on with them for about a half hour and I think that is probably what turned the trick. Anyway, soon after they left, I left also since it appeared that nothing was going to happen and since I was by this time pretty well out on my feet from lack of sleep and a cold which I was fast acquiring. I was to sleep for a couple of hours and eat. I got up about four, fed the dogs and was just sitting down to some canned chicken fricassee when the hospital called and recommended that I come. I bolted my food, kicked the animals out of the house (the animals, by the way, have not had an easy time of it. Foxy particularly is very attached to Judy and he just can’t understand what has become of her. They are still in something of a state of shock) and made tracks for the hospital. When I arrived, Judy was in real honest to goodness hard labor. It seems that it had started soon after I left, but she had wanted me to get some sleep so had not called me until later. She wasn’t too uncomfortable then but was under some sedation and was pretty dopey.
Judy’s labor became steadily more laborious through the afternoon and evening and the docs announced that she was doing fine. Both docs had planned on attending her when they thought they would have a breech birth to contend with, but when the pictures showed everything in order the second in command took off. The obstetrician had dinner and arrived about seen thirty presumably expecting to deliver, but no dice. So he and I sat around in the nurses office for what must have been an hour and a half or two hours and chatted about law and medicine.
They had let me stay with Judy most of the time before she went into real hard labor and some of the time after that, but now the nurse was with her timing pains and making observations of one kind or another, so this doc and I waited it out.
At about nine he examined her and said he was going to take her into the delivery room, which he did with all hands gowned and ready to go. This was not successful. He announced that he had made a closer examination and she would be between two and three hours more. So back to the labor room with Judy and the doc went home to see the wife and kids for an hour.
It must have been about forty-five minutes later that things really started happening. I had been with Judy for a while after she came out of the delivery room. She was, I thought, bearing up remarkably well. In the middle of one pain in which she was doing a bit of groaning she apologized for being a “fuss” and a couple of times I caught her smiling at the same time as she was quite obviously in pain.
Anyway, the nurse shooed me out and took my place and a short time later Judy must have had a considerable contraction as the nurse came out of the room and did something roughly equivalent to pulling the general alarm on a ship. Corpsmen began appearing from nowhere pulling on gowns, tables were wheeled about madly, people were arriving from other floors and through it all I was standing in the passageway looking puzzled. The doc was sent for and was there in no time and in not very much more time, about a quarter to eleven, I heard a screech from the delivery room which subsequently turned out to have been young Margaret’s first announcement of her presence.
I guess it was about eleven thirty that they brought Judy and Margaret down to the ward. I was encased in mask and gown and allowed to visit. Both were in fine shape. Judy was very happy and didn’t look as though she had been under any strain at all and Margaret was raising hell, kicking her blankets off and waking up the whole ward with her yelling. She was the first good-looking new born baby I have ever seen. Most look all red and pulled out of shape, but she actually looked like a human being.
All in all, I guess it was a pretty easy birth, although I don’t know much about such things. I know that it was not at all easy for me.
copies to Grandmother distribution list
6 pounds 5 1/2 ounces
September 7, 1957