SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - "Don't Know Nothin' 'Bout Birthin' Babies!"

By Bob Weaver

I never envisioned being the deliverer of newborn infants, but it was part of my repertoire as an ambulance driver during the 1960s and early 1970s while being in the funeral business in Roane County.

In those pre-dawn days before emergency medical services, funeral homes provided the service, often using combination hearse-ambulances to transport the sick and injured or International 4x4s equipped with a cot, a vomiting basin, a bedpan and a first aid kit.

During the nearly 15 years of being an ambulance provider as a funeral home owner or employee, driver, or attendant, I went on thousands of calls in the hills and hollows of Roane and Calhoun Counties.

The first time a delivery happened, I was transporting a woman from Reedy to a Parkersburg hospital, and she gave birth a few blocks from the hospital door. We pulled to the curb, and I essentially caught the infant, wrapping it in a sheet and placing it on the mother's chest.

I recalled the lines spoken by Butterfly McQueen in "Gone with the Wind." When confronted with a delivery situation, she hysterically responded, "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies."

After suffering shock and awe, I launched my career as a mid-wife, and began studying a Red Cross manual on how to do emergency birthing.

Running those thousand calls a year from the Sinnett (later Sinnett-Weaver) Funeral Home (now John H. Taylor), were life-changing in how I view the world, experiencing the endemic poverty of the 60s in Roane and Calhoun counties.

Among the most memorable births, delivering four babies for the same woman, either at home or in an ambulance.

The multiple deliveries made the Charleston papers in a story "Time is of the Essence when Stork Visits Family in Roane."

The family lived in a hollow across Sandy Creek near Amma in Roane County. By the time a family member walked out, got across the creek, had someone to drive several miles to the nearest phone on Vineyard Ridge, and our 4x4 ambulance arrived from Spencer 25 miles away - it was time.

My fellow ambulance driver, Allen Nicholas, attempted to get to that same residence across a rain-swollen Sandy Creek, with the high water washing the ambulance downstream and submerging. Allen had to climb to the top and wait to be rescued.

During a midnight hour we responded in a 4x4 to a tortuous holler on Stover Fork, where a woman was having contractions per-maturely. The light was dim in the scantily equipped ambulance as it bumped over rock ledges and through mud holes, the woman soon delivered.

I cleared the less than 3 pound infant's throat, slapping the tiny infant on the back. With no response, I placed the child in a bedpan.

While tending to the woman, I recalled my recent mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and cardiac massage training. I picked up the infant and did some chest compressions with my fingers and performed mouth-to-mouth.

He starting breathing and crying. We continued the ambulance trip to DePue Hospital in Spencer, where he was placed in an incubator and administered oxygen. Some weeks later, the healthy boy was released to the care of his mother.

About ten years later, the woman brought her son to the funeral home to visit, and we told the story about how he almost didn't enter this world alive.

Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, first practiced by the Egyptians, had essentially been lost to the modern world until it was re-introduced in the 1960s.

Among the experiences, we received a call to take a woman in labor to the hospital from a residence in a remote hollow a few miles from Spencer. Her twelve-year-old son had walked about a mile to make the call.

It was not unusual to run the ambulance without an attendant. Driving the 4x4 down a rough road into the deep hollow, I picked-up the boy to continue the trip to a dilapidated farm house, noticeably absent of window panes.

Going inside, the woman was in bed and the baby already born, resting between her breasts. The bedroom had several chickens, some of which were pecking at the afterbirth.

We managed to do a quick cleanup, and with the help of the strong lad, managed to get the woman and child in the ambulance for the trip to the hospital. Fortunately, she was a very small woman.

During that decade or so, the birthing experience happened a few times a year, a situation created by a lack of quick phone service and the long distances to a hospital.

I often think about the words of my cousin, Dr. Charles Albert Stump, a Grantsville native who practiced obstetrics in Daytona, Florida for forty years.

Dr. Stump, after delivering thousands of babies, said "I have always remained in awe of the hundreds of thresholds that must be crossed in creating new life. It is a miraculous event, every time."