Chapter 17: Hard LaborJagdschloss of the Duke of Saxe-Eisenach, MarksuhlThe morning of Christmas Eve 1634
"Scheiße!" Maximiliane von Pasqualini's diction was not exactly as one would expect from a noblewoman. She looked down. A puddle of water was forming between her feet in the entrance hall of the Jagdschloss.
"Oh shit," she repeated; then shouted: "Louise! My waters have broken."
The door to the dining room opened and several women poured out. Christine, landgravine of Hesse-Kassel, was first. Hard on her heels was Margaretha von Braunschweig-Lüneburg. The widow of Johann Ernst's brother Johann Casimir had decided to spend the Christmas days with her brother-in-law's family.
"Why can't they wait until it gets warmer?" Max moaned.
Their original plan had been to spend the Christmas days in Grantville in calling distance to the Leahy hospital. Bearing and birthing twins was not completely unusual in the seventeenth century, but often complications arose during the birth.
In early December Dr. Shipley had assured Max that everything went well, the two children had good positions and their heartbeats were strong. But she also supported the idea of giving birth in Grantville. Ruben Nasi, the duke's factor in Grantville, had already rented a house not far away from Leahy.
But then the "blizzard," as the Americans called this heavy snow storm, had ravaged Germany, dropping enormous quantities of snow onto the north slope of the Thuringian Forest. The area around Eisenach and Marksuhl had been one of the centers.
This had prevented Max and her family from departing in mid-December. And when the storm died down, it got colder than even the oldest people around could remember. Sure, the snow-covered roads would have been manageable, but neither Max nor her family wanted to risk an accident. The tires of the VW coach were not what the up-timers called M+S; more like "Slide and Drift"; and trying the journey in an unheated sleigh with the wind blowing through was strictly interdicted by her crowd of midwives and self-appointed advisers.
So Max had hoped for the warmer weather which nearly always appeared around Christmas. No chance! Not this year.
That left her in Marksuhl. Admittedly with very competent support.
Louise Bourgeois, the most famous midwife of Europe, the one who brought the French king and the English queen into this world, had been in Grantville the last year and a half. Since her husband had died in Paris, she had more and more problems with the enfoirés arrogantes as she called the French doctors. Then she had met Colette and Josh Modi from Grantville, who unfortunately couldn't give her the information about up-timer customs on obstetrics she craved. So she decided to visit Grantville.
"Ha!" was her only comment when she discovered that not just her name was mentioned in the famous Encyclopedia Britannica, but nearly all she had written in her midwives' manual, Observations diverses, was considered correct in the year 2000.
After the French and other doctors had managed to introduce manners into midwifery which literally killed millions of women and newborns. Forcing experienced midwives to pay for hearing lessons from men who had never delivered a single baby, completely opposite to Louise's over two thousand successful deliveries. Presenting themselves as the ultimate authority in birth support . . . and infecting the women with childbed fever.
So, with deep satisfaction, she started to revise her book and incorporate the few missing discoveries of four centuries, constantly checking with Dr. Shipley about modern methods and tools.
When she had heard that Max would not come to Grantville to give birth there, she immediately decided—at over seventy years old—to hire a horse sleigh and come to Marksuhl. Supervising a twin birth at a duke's court was nothing she would miss.
And now she scrutinized Max with her professional gaze. "Allez! Onto the chair! Á l'instant!" she commanded.
"The chair"—or "torture rack" as Max called it—was an examination chair that Xaver, the Bavarian carpenter master, and Johann Ernst had built in Xaver's carpentry, when it became clear that Max would eventually give birth in Marksuhl. Combining their down-time carpentry experience—Johann was also fond of this craft from his youth—with some up-timer hinges Xaver had in his apparently unlimited stock of gadgets. The upholsterers of Marksuhl had even provided leather and horsehair cushioning.
Nevertheless, the chair was an embarrassing and uncomfortable experience, and Max was always happy when she could leave it at last. Louise's idea for her to give birth on this chair seemed a little scary. The women in Grantville were allowed to lie in beds, but Louise had told her that even Dr. Shipley had heard about new experiments with such chairs up-time.
"Ha! 'Nouveau'!" Louise had commented. "Women use this 'gravity' thing since Eva. Lying in the bed?" She shook her head. "A typical idea of the enfoirés. Too lazy to sit on a stool."
The "outhouse" with its electrical lights, floor heating and constant supply of hot water was declared the delivery room, and here they had positioned the chair. And a keg filled with Kartoffelgeist. Louise washed her hands with the highly concentrated alcohol from the potato distillery that the unofficial guild of mixed craftsmen overwintering in one of the buildings of the Jagdschloss had built as their "November project."
"One of the few up-time improvements," Louise had said. "I always washed my hands, but poisoning these tiny animals on the hands with l'esprit du pomme de terre makes real sense."
And then the pressing and groping began.
While Louise was still at work, the other two midwives arrived. Fortunately, Max's friend Anna, wife of Pastor Peter Altmann, was one of them, and the other one was Elisabeth, her oldest daughter and apprentice nurse in Grantville, who was visiting Marksuhl for Christmas. Both carried large black leather bags with shoulder straps.
Anna had told Max that they were becoming trademarks for midwives, now that their profession had gained more and more reputation since the Grantville doctors and nurses told the German doctors their opinion on midwives.
Then there was a knock at the door, and a male voice: "May I come in?"
Louise frowned; Anna smiled.
Johannes Placcius was a young professor for medicine at the Salana, as the University of Jena was called by its students and professors. He already had published several books, one of them together with Dean Wolfgang Rolfinck. And Rolfinck was the man who had used his good connections to Grantville to introduce him to Louise. Although Placcius' previous books, De dolore capitis and De medica de scorbuto, didn't exactly deal with pregnancy and birth, he showed an enormous interest in these subjects.
The evening discussions in the last week were filled with heated arguing about the role of men in obstetrics. Of course, Louise held the firm belief that no man had a place in the delivery room. But Anna had argued that the vast anatomic knowledge of studied physicians would certainly help if unexpected problems arose during the birth.
As long as there were no down-time female physicians, midwives should swallow the bitter pill and accept male help. And having doctors during normal births would give them a better feel for the subject.
Louise had to accept that there was some truth in these words. Max had told them of woodcuts of doctors in the later centuries, performing examinations on pregnant women without even looking. How could they decide what was right and what wrong?
So they had decided to try it this once. Louise shouted "Entre!"
To see a thirty-year-old professor of medicine embarrassed was an education. When Johannes entered the room, the women looked at him like they were about to eat him. Quickly he turned to the keg and washed his hands. Then Anna led him through the standard examination.
"Come on, Johannes. Lay your hand here! Do you feel the head of the child? It's lying perfect, just at the exit. And now try to find the head of the other one."
When Johannes uncertainly put his hand to the place he assumed, Louise let out a sneering "Ha!"
Anna scowled at her, and then turned to Johannes. "Twins mostly arrange themselves in different orientations. And this is good while they're in the uterus; so they have more space. Follow down the body of the first child until you reach the feet. Now that the waters have broken, you should feel the bodies better."
Just when he followed her instructions, Max flinched.
"Oh, sorry! Did I hurt you, Max?" he asked with an uncertain voice.
"Not at all," she gasped. "I think this was the first contraction."
"Okay, Herr Doktor," Anna said. "Start your clock."
And Johannes took his new watch out of his pocket and pushed a button. The watch was directly from Nuremberg, the latest craze, with an "integrated stopwatch." Even Louise had to admit that it made the timing of the contractions much easier.
Twenty minutes later Johannes finished his examination. He could hear the heartbeats of the unborn children—fast and strong as hoped by everybody—with his self-made stethophone. Nobody knew why the up-timers called these things "stethoscopes." Nothing could be seen when you looked through it.
Max flinched again.
"Très bien!" Louise commented. "We've still much time. You perhaps can spend the whole day walking around."
"Oh no!" Max groaned.
It was ten in the morning.
"Oh no!" Max groaned. Then: "Arrgh!" She grabbed Christine's hand.
It was ten in the evening. The contractions now came every two or three minutes.
"Don't push!" Anna told Max for the umpteenth time. "Breathe deeply, slowly!"
"But. It. Hurts." Max spit the words out between breaths.
"Yes," Anna agreed. "I know. Five children gave me that experience, too. Don't you remember? 'With painful labor you will give birth to children.' "
"I. Hate. You. All."
"Okay," Christine said. "You may dunk us all in the plunge pool, as soon as the ice melts."
Max's gaze flashed to the outside. Over two feet of snow covered the area before the sauna. One of the silver firs was decorated with the electric chain of lights they had used for the presentation in May. It was not as overburdened as the Christmas trees in Grantville used to be, only a single line of light from the bottom up, topped with one of the bigger light bulbs.
Max smiled as she remembered Johann's last words at the presentation, "The light of Hope."
Then she grimaced. "Arrgh. Scheiße! Make. It. Stop."
Anna looked to Louise. Louise nodded.
"Okay," Anna said to Max. "We'll try it with the next contraction. Do you remember the lessons?"
"Ja. Ja. Ja."
"Breathe deeply. Wait. Wait. One—two—and—Push!"
"Okay," Anna said. "Don't push now. Wait for the next. I can see the head. You're doing very well."
"Don't. Use. That. Voice. I'm no child."
"Johannes! Come here. It'll come now. Take it."
"I?" Johannes choked.
"Do you see another wannabe-gynecologist here?" She moved to the side to make space for him.
"Hands here and here. Wait. Max, are you ready?"
"Very. Funny. For. Nine. Months."
"Breathe deeply. Wait. Wait. One—two—and—Push!"
"I've got it!" Johannes nearly cried. "Oh, my God. It's a boy!"
The boy cried.
"Okay, Max, relax. Everything looks good," Anna said, and then professionally cut the cord.
She looked at the baby. "Johannes, we'll make the check." And Louise took their place.
They went to a table where they had spread a linen cloth over a pillow.
"A is for?" she asked Johannes.
"Atmung! I'll give him a clear two." The boy was still crying.
Anna laughed. "Yes, I second that."
A couple of minutes later Anna laid the boy on Max's chest. "Nine out of ten. Five pounds. Congratulations."
"Thank you. Arrgh." Max flinched.
"Louise! What are you doing?" Max felt some peculiar perceptions she couldn't pin down exactly.
"I'll turn the other child around. Elisabeth! Come and press here!"
"With your hand in my—ARRGH!"
Johannes now was back using his stethophone and watch. "Its heartbeat is barely hundred now," he said.
"Merde! Turn, turn around, mon chéri. Ah. Allez, Max, Une—deux—appuyez!"
"Ninety!" Johannes seemed to have a little panic in his voice.
"Jean! Calmez-vous! Max, encore! Une—deux—appuyez!"
Max felt tired. The wall clock showed five to twelve. Fourteen hours! "Make it finish. I can't stand it any longer!"
"It's still enough," Anna said. "Max, take a deep breath! Close your eyes! Think of some real good moment!"
The morning after. Johann's warm hand on my buttocks. Mhmhm. Christine's smiling face.
Max opened her eyes and saw Christine's smiling face again. The next contraction came.
"Allez, Max, Une—deux—appuyez! Oui! Oui!"
"C'est une fille!"
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- The Grantville Gazette Staff