Publish Date: 02/04/2020
Berlin, Germany, 1910, Zwillinge
Her tears splashed onto the infant's body. How would she tell her friend, Berta? What would happen when Berta's brutal husband, Egon, found out? It was their first child and the boy he wanted. Minna delivered her best friend's baby an hour ago but now it lay dead in her hands. As a midwife she had dealt with newborn deaths but never a friend's child. Egon would be furious. He would beat Berta again and again, blaming her for the death. Egon was an officer in the German army. Away from home training new recruits he would not return for a month. Minna hoped he would not be returning ever.
With the infant she proceeded to Berta's bedroom and moved to the bed. Berta slept after her lengthy labour, with a warm smile on her face. The smile was too much. Minna couldn't do it so she backed out of the room. There was a solution; a terrible solution; an evil solution, but it would protect her friend.
Minna slipped down the rear staircase to avoid the servants. Through the patio and out to the avenue she fled, with the body swaddled inside her large bag. She needed to hurry. It was five blocks to her destination but no one must see her running in the street. She hurried hoping she would meet no one she knew.
After what felt like an eternity but was less than ten minutes, she saw her destination. The house was grandiose and reeked of wealth. Could she get inside without being seen? She had no plan for what she would say if someone caught her. She went into the garden and walked to one of the rear doors. It was open, so she entered listening.
She tiptoed to the back staircase but detected footsteps coming down. She backed around a corner. The footsteps arrived at the floor and moved away from her. She started up the steps. At the top of the stairs she stopped and listened. All was quiet as she advanced down the long hallway passing closed doors until she came to the nursery. A gentle push opened the door a crack for a peek inside and there was no one.
She entered the room and approached the two bassinets. The fraternal twins, which she had delivered the preceding evening, were sleeping. She prayed that the boy would not waken as she slipped the dead child from her bag and laid it in the cradle with the sleeping twin. She lifted the living boy out of his cradle and slipped him into her bag. He moved a little but then settled to sleep again.
Now she had to move with extreme care so as not to waken the baby in her bag. She perceived a sound in the hallway. A door opened, and she heard footsteps but which way were they going? She realized she should have shut the nursery door, however it was too late. Her heart pounded and her ears were straining, listening. Then she was sure. The footsteps were moving away.
She peeked into the hallway. No one was there. She flowed to the staircase. Quiet. Gently she took the steps to avoid bumping her bag but when she reached the ground floor, she heard a scream from upstairs. If someone spotted her now, there would be no adequate explanation. She ran out the rear door into the garden.
The bumping roused the infant, and he started crying. Flying through the garden to the street, she was half a block away when she realized that she was running. She had to regain control of herself. She slowed to a walk. No one was in the avenue. Another block and the baby stopped crying.
When she arrived at Berta's home she took the baby out of the bag and cradled it in her arms. Then she entered the house from the rear garden. A servant girl came into the room.
"We were looking for you ma'am."
"The baby was restless, so I took him for a walk in the garden and he seems to have settled now. I hope I alarmed no one."
"Oh, no ma'am! We knew when the baby wasn't in his crib that you must have him with you. Mrs. Schulze would like to nurse him."
"I'll take him up."
Would Berta notice the change? Not likely. She had only held the baby briefly before Minna cleaned it up while Berta had fallen asleep.
Minna now had a secret that she intended to take to her grave. She had switched a dead German baby for a live Jewish baby. Egon hated Jews. If he ever found out, he would kill Berta, Minna, and the baby.
After helping Berta with her first attempt at breast feeding Minna knew she needed to go to the home of the Jewish couple to provide emotional support over the supposed loss of their son. What would she find there? Had anyone seen her at the house?
The Jewish Home of Lilli and Otto Ladenburg
She lifted the massive metal knocker on the front door and tapped three times producing a hollow thud each occasion. She heard footsteps inside and suddenly the door opened and the uniformed butler announced,
"You're here again!"
Minna's heart lurched. Someone had noticed her. She didn't know how to react.
"Something dreadful has developed since you were here last night. The twin boy has expired."
It disgusted Minna that she got relief from his remark.
"The upstairs maid discovered him a while ago. He was cold."
"Take me to Mrs. Ladenburg. Is Mr. Ladenburg home?"
"No. He had gone to the University to deliver a lecture. I have sent for him."
When Minna entered Lilli Ladenburg's chamber she was nursing the newborn female. She was putting on a brave face but upon seeing her she collapsed in tears. Minna took the baby from her.
"Did she have enough?"
"I'll settle her in the nursery and then come back to chat with you."
Minna changed the baby's diaper and then put her over her shoulder and patted her back. While she waited for the baby to burp her mind was racing as she probed for the perfect phrases to console Lilli. Minna was not a practiced liar. She didn't know if she could say the proper words while recognizing that she caused Lilli's misery. When the little girl was asleep Minna returned to Lilli's bedroom.
"You have a magnificent baby daughter. I appreciate that in no sense does that take away the bitterness of this misfortune for you. Now you must act brave for your offspring. I recognize it will be painful. I realize that the butler has sent for Otto to come home from the University. Would you prefer me to greet him at the door and explain to him what has transpired?"
"Yes, please. I will cry before I can get the words out."
Minna left Lilli's bedroom to stand by in the entrance hallway for Otto's return. It was twenty minutes before he arrived.
"Otto, I am sad to inform you the boy stopped breathing. The maid found him when she intended to carry him to Lilli. Your wife feels awful and I expect it is crushing you but right now Lilli needs your tenderness and encouragement. Please go to her. I will wait here in case you require me."
Otto had invariably been unemotional, and he was now. He raced up the staircase to be with Lilli. Minna walked to the library and sat in a big soft armchair. What she had done was unacceptable, and her need for comforting disgusted her, but she could turn to no one. No one would console her.
The future was fraught with an undesirable prospect. Would the Jewish baby in a German home look Jewish?
When Minna and Berta First Met
Minna studied nursing at the Kaiserswerther Diakonie in Dusseldorf, the same school that Florence Nightingale graduated from in 1851. Miss Nightingale became the founder of modern nursing in England.
Minna loved nursing and caring for patients but did not care for the religious overtones they forced her to adhere to in her work in hospitals. For many years she wished to continue nursing, but she wanted to do it differently.
She was working at a hospital in Berlin caring for a rude, overbearing man in the German army who had an infected foot. It looked like he might lose his leg if the infection became gangrenous. It was unusual for a soldier to receive care in a civilian hospital and she recognized from this that there had to be money available in the family.
In the course of her duties she had met the soldier's wife several times and had brief discussions with her. She soon realized that the money came from the wife's side of the relationship. It was difficult for her to understand the wife's loyalty to her husband. She was a wonderful person. Her name was Berta.
During one of their discussions Minna learned that Berta had lost a dear friend during a botched home delivery. Although babies were being born in hospitals and the survival rates were better in those institutions, women wanted to deliver their babies at home. The midwives were not nurses. Their training was poor.
Berta said she wanted to improve this situation and didn't appreciate how until she met Minna. She asked Minna about her experience as a midwife. Minna told her that it was one of her many duties as a nurse.
"Would you be interested in becoming a travelling midwife and delivering babies in the homes of women who don't wish to go to a hospital."
"I would love the freedom and I would love doing something important. To nurse and not do religious teaching has been a secret wish. To give poor women good care during this most important time is beyond my dreams. I do not come from a wealthy family and I cannot afford to do it."
"Wealthy families hate sending their pregnant women to hospitals. They will pay for exceptional care in their home."
"But Berta, poor families outnumber wealthy families."
"My family is wealthy and will give me the money I need to make sure you have a basic income to cover the gaps between wealthy patients."
It stunned Minna. She had seen no possibility of ever leaving her work at a hospital.
"What if no patients will trust a nurse instead of a traditional midwife?"
"In that case Minna I will fund you until you become so bored that you quit. It won't happen."
"There is one thing I wish from you. It is personal and I hope you will say yes. I lead a privileged life. I went to the best schools. My parents gave me whatever I wanted. They allowed me to marry the handsome soldier that I fell in love with despite my mother saying she feared that unhappiness was in my future. She was right, and I was wrong. But for me marriage is forever. I made a mistake and I will live with that error. I want to do something good. When you deliver poor mother's babies, I want to help you. Please say yes."
It dumbfounded Minna that this wealthy woman was so revealing about her personal life. She believed she could trust her and that when she gave her word, it would be unwavering.
"I would like you to help me. It will be a new experience for me delivering a baby outside a hospital."
"Thank you Minna. I know who your first patient will be. How soon can you leave your job at the hospital?"
"I need a week."
Minna left her job. Berta took her to meet her pregnant friend. The wealthy family was unexpected. After the visit Minna said,
"I thought they were to be poor."
"It is a complicated case. I know I said I would only help with the poor people and I promise after this, our first delivery, that I will honour that promise. But it's more complicated than I led you to believe. My friend wants a home birth. She wants a traditional midwife. She has only agreed to you being present because I am her friend and I was insistent. Our job is to support the midwife. I am sorry. Please understand. I want us to start something great, not end it."
"The opportunity for me to watch a midwife do a delivery has never occurred. I will watch doing what I can so your friend has a good opinion of what you are attempting."
Minna sat around her apartment planning for the delivery but time passed. If she had not given her word to Berta, she might have backed out of the deal and gone begging at the hospital to have her job back.
A knock came to her door. It was a servant.
"Ma'am they instructed me to ask you to come. My lady has gone into labour."
When she arrived Berta was holding her friend's hand.
"Where is the midwife?"
"We have summoned her, Minna. We are waiting."
Minna walked to the bed and took the lady's hand.
"While we are waiting may I examine you. I have delivered babies in the hospital."
The lady was in labour and help, that before being in labour she might have rejected, she now accepted. Minna told a servant girl to bring her a basin of warm water and soap. Minna washed and dried her hands. Her examination did not tell her a great deal concerning the stage of delivery. She wanted to do an internal exam which would tell her how far along they were but Minna didn't want to upset her. There was one immediate problem that Minna detected while examining the ladies abdomen and wished she could start doing something about it. The baby was in a breech position. It would become difficult to turn the baby as the delivery progressed. Minna turned to speak when the door crashed open.
"Have you touched her?"
The midwife had arrived.
"I only examined her abdomen."
"You should have waited for me."
The midwife realized the baby was a breech. She gestured to the servant saying,
"Prepare the husband for the worst. The baby is a breech."
It appalled Minna. Then the midwife said,
"I will examine you to see how dilated you are."
She threw the bedcovers up over the lady's abdomen and reached between the woman's legs when Minna shouted.
"Wash your hands!"
"It isn't necessary."
Minna reached forward and grasped the woman's hand.
"What harm would it do? Please wash your hands. The water is right here."
"Don't tell me how to do my job. You aren't a midwife."
With pleading eyes Minna turned to Berta who turned to her friend.
"Please put Minna in charge."
The gentle manner of Minna and the argument over the hand washing had already swayed the lady. She nodded. Minna tugged the resisting midwife out of the way. Then she washed her hands again.
"You are wasting time. You need to examine her."
Minna looked at Berta.
"Please help the servant girl remove her."
There was a struggle with foul-mouthed threats from the midwife but soon she was gone. Minna spoke to the lady.
"The baby's head is up. I have dealt with this many times. I need to examine you."
A contraction came and Minna waited for it to pass. When she relaxed she said,
"Thank you Minna."
"You will feel my hand now. It is warm from the wash water."
Minna felt for the cervix.
"Good news! The baby has not entered the birth canal. I will turn it between contractions. It will get a little uncomfortable for you but this is important."
Berta returned and Minna brought her up to date. Minna struggled between contractions. She knew that it required force to turn a breech baby. After a dozen more contractions Minna got the baby rotated. Now time would pass waiting since this was her first baby. After hours of quiet conversation and encouragement Minna did something she had wanted to do in the hospital but knew that she would lose her job if she attempted it. She had excused herself several times to talk to the husband. He loved his wife and seemed to be a gentleman. She asked him a question. It startled him but he agreed. Minna returned to the birthing room.
"There is a nice man outside anxious about you. If OK with you, I want to invite him in here to be with you during your labour. I will ask him to leave again when the birth is imminent."
Tears rolled down the labouring mother's face as she agreed. He entered at Minna's invitation and before long everyone had damp cheeks. Minna had taken a chance and now she knew she was right. A few hours later she asked the husband to leave and soon there was the cry of a newborn boy. After she cleaned up mom and baby she invited the husband to return, and the tears flowed again.
Minna and Berta left together and when they were in the street Berta gave Minna a big hug. I want to have a baby. It hasn't happened yet. Egon is away much of the time. When it happens, I want you to deliver my baby.
Minna felt very honoured. After her experience with the midwife she prayed that the customers would be there. What she had seen appalled her. Would there be enough clients for her to continue her new job as a midwife?
The New Midwife
The young couple were prominent citizens. Pregnant wives wanted Minna. Unknown to her, the husband spoke loud and long in his praise of Minna and the practice of having the husbands present during labour. Some men preferred avoiding the process. They were old-school and wed for wealth or position but not love. It thrilled those who married for love. Women who previously arranged to go to the hospital became Minna's patients. She started something else different. In the past midwives showed up once labour had initiated and delivered the baby.
Minna started a prenatal program. This was unheard of. She was overwhelmed. She discovered a different function for Berta. After studying, Berta began holding prenatal classes. It delighted her beyond expectation to be aiding the ladies but it merely accentuated her own dilemma in not being able to conceive.
Everyone was not pleased about Minna, the modern midwife. She infuriated doctors, and midwives had murder in their eye. The midwives weren't wealthy, but the physicians were.
Soon Minna and Berta found themselves in court charged with a catalogue of made up violations. The trial dragged on for a month. Because of Berta's economic position they had excellent representation. But the male judge leaned towards the male physicians. The case was gathering to a close when Berta's counsellor had a splendid solution. He mentioned nothing in case it didn't work out.
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