Excerpt: from the chapter entitled, “Great Expectations”
“My father delivered hundreds of babies,” Jane Farmer Kane reminisces. “My mom, Ruby, who studied nursing at Bellin Hospital Nursing School in Green Bay, assisted. Some folks may wonder if delivering a child, when you have delivered hundreds, becomes a routine ‘just another baby.’ Dad would reply with an emphatic ‘No!’
“Assisting a woman in the delivery of a child was always a special joy, especially if the arrival was a healthy normal child,” Jane said.
“He always invited the husband/father to be present during delivery. He would say, ‘You were there in the beginning, you will be there for delivery.’
“When Dad and Mom worked at a Mission Hospital for indigenous people in Grants, New Mexico, from 1939 to 1941,” Jane continues, “they would travel to humble homes of little more than one room and no electricity Dad recounted how he delivered babies wearing a miner’s hat with a light, and the older children would be lined up to watch.”
In June, Doc and Ruby moved to Washington Island. One of the first babies Doc and Ruby delivered on the Island was to my parents, Maynard and Nora Gunnlaugsson. Lillian Mary was born August 28, 1941. In those times, babies were delivered at home and because my mom and dad were living with dad’s parents, Steena and Mac Gunnlaugsson, Lillian was delivered there. My mom tells it this way:
“Because Maynard didn’t want the neighbors to know what was going on (the telephone was on a party line),” Nora explains, “he went to get Doc Farmer and his wife Ruby to bring them to the farm. It was 1 a.m. and Doc said the baby wouldn’t be born until noon, but she was born at 6 a.m. During my pregnancy, I walked every day to Aunt Martha Gunnerson’s because my in-laws would not allow me to do anything at their house. I think that is why my first delivery took only six hours. In those days, deliveries were natural, and I told Doc that I didn’t think I could do it. He said, ‘Yes, you can and you will!” Ruby, in the meantime, was pushing on my belly to help me deliver the baby.
“When Jeanie was born,” Nora adds, “the bed broke (it was a brand new bedroom set). Doc was sitting on the bottom to deliver the baby, and Ruby was sitting at the top of the bed holding my hand, and it just collapsed. Jeanie was on her way, so Doc carried me into the smaller bedroom. He pulled the shade down, and it flew up and broke. ‘What the hell else is going to happen?’ Doc exclaimed. Jeanie was such a pudgy little bundle, I had a hard time having her.”
(I, Martena, was the third child, the middle child, and I was born January 4, 1947, during one of the worst snowstorms of the winter. Dad had to keep plowing the lane in order to keep it open for Doc. I was born at 10:30 p.m. My parents now had three girls.)
So in 1950, when Nora was pregnant for a fourth time, Doc bet her a quarter that this would be a boy She was going to name him Maynard Jr., but Doc delivered another girl, so she named her Maynette—as close to Maynard as she could get for a girl’s name. Two weeks prior to the day Maynette was born, Nora stared having pains. Doc came to check her and told her that the baby was ready to be born. Maynard was in Colorado, picking up a tractor for Ed Anderson’s potato farm, and Nora had told him that she was not going to have the baby until he got back, and by golly, she didn’t. From then on, Doc called her “the stubborn Norwegian.”
In 1953, Doc delivered the fifth girl, Kathleen Amy. She survived because of Doc’s intuitive doctoring. Maynard Jr. was born in 1960 when Doc was in Sister Bay. He was the only one of Maynard and Nora’s children not delivered by Doc.
In those days, moms made up their own delivery pads to protect the bed. The pads consisted of two sheets sew together with newspapers in between. Some of the women ironed them and put them in the oven. The afterbirth was wrapped in these pads and buried.
Doc was always good about coming to the homes as soon as he was notified that someone was in labor. Sometimes he just threw his coat on over his pajamas, if he had to rush.
Carolyn Koyen remembers one time Doc came rushing into their house in his pajamas and slippers. His slippers stuck to the floor because Alex had varnished some new kitchen linoleum, and it hadn’t dried yet. She also remembers being late in her pregnancy and soon due to deliver. Doc told Alex (Carolyn’s husband) that maybe a rough ride would help labor along, so Alex put her in to the cattle truck and took her on a rough ride through the gravel pit where their truck promptly became stuck. She said she would never forgive them (both Alex and Doc) for that little joy ride.
Doc’s speed in an emergency was legendary Carolyn Koyen recalls, “When Alex got attacked by the bull at Jack Hagen’s farm, Doc was called. Clyde Koyen (Clyde’s Garage) said Doc went by so fast, he was just a blurrrrr.”
Doc delivered babies in the family homes because there was no hospital on the Island. Later, Doc rented Carl and Pearl Haglund’s home on Washington Island for delivering babies and for sick patient care. Pearl assisted him in the deliveries and took care of the babies and patients. If there was a problem, the patients would stay longer for extended care. In later years, babies were delivered in the home of Orville and Esther Wylie with Esther assisting Doc and caring for baby and mother.
Pearl Haglund’s granddaughter, Kathy LeFavre, recalls:
“Doc Farmer was part of our lives as he rented the Haglund house on McDonald Road for a time. He and my grandmother, Pear, delivered many a baby there. My grandmother was a nurse with midwife training.
“My brother and I never knew where we would be sleeping at our grandmother’s house. It all depended on who was having babies or was sick at the time of our arrival. . . . I even have the desk that was my great-grandmother’s (Anna Haglund) upon which Doc Farmer wrote many an instruction or prescription.
“Doc will always be part of our family’s fond memories. As a young married woman, visiting my grandmother before an overseas assignment (my husband was with the military), I thought I had come down with the flu. No matter what my grandmother did to help, I still felt sick. So when my husband and I left, she called Dr. Farmer, telling him we were on our way with instructions to stop and have him take a look at me. We did stop, and as Doc gave me the once over, he asked my husband if he had thought I had ‘caught’ something. My husband just shrugged his shoulders, not understanding Doc’s sense of humor. He had been referring to his feelings that I was pregnant, not sick with a flu bug. He gave me a shot of B vitamins and sent us on our way to Germany. By the time we reached the East Coast, I took time to have a pregnancy test at the military hospital in the area. Sure enough, ole Doc Farmer hit it right on the head—I was pregnant!
“I know a lot of people still miss having him around. I know I do!” Kathy adds.
“Doc delivered all my babies,” said Mary Jorgenson. “When I was pregnant with Paul, Walt (husband) and Dewey (brother) had gone up the road to Nelson’s Hall (tavern) to shoot pool. Old Tom Nelson was in the habit of telling any wives that called for their husbands, ‘No, he ain’t here!’ Walt had told Tom that if he got a call, to come get him, but Tom forgot. When Mary called for Walt, several times, to tell him she was in labor and he needed to come take her to Esther Wylie’s Tom kept telling her Walt wasn’t there.
Doc picked her up in his car and took her to Esther’s. “I went in my slip,” Mary adds. “Doc told me, ‘Well, you wear less than that at the beach.’”
Where was Walt through all this? He was happily playing pool. When Mary called again to tell Walt that Doc was taking her to Esther’s, Tom said, “Oh, gosh dang it!” He finally remembered and told Walt that Mary was in labor.