She had enough faith in the nurses, that if she had the nurses she’d have a live baby

Posted by | January 7, 2016

There’s one [memory of working for the Frontier Nursing Service] that really does stand out rather a lot. We weren’t supposed to go outside the five mile limit. That was our limit. We weren’t supposed to go a step beyond that. Well, I was at Bull Creek one clinic day, and this woman came to register, and I asked her all the various questions.

Then I asked her where she lived and she told me she lived over on Big Creek. “Oh, my goodness,” I said, “I can’t come to . . . I can’t take you there. You’ll have to come into the hospital to have your baby.”

“I can’t go to the hospital.”

I said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t come. It’s too far.”

It was about seven miles. Well, tears came into her eyes and I looked at her and I said, “What’s the matter?”

The nurses of the Frontier Nursing Service, Wendover, KY.  Undated photo.

The nurses of the Frontier Nursing Service, Wendover, KY. Undated photo.


She said, “Well, I’ve had one baby and my baby was born dead. And I want a baby very badly. And if you’ll come and look after her, I’ll have that baby.”

Well, what could I do? Simply couldn’t do anything. My . . . tears came into my eyes, too, because she wanted this baby so badly and . . . and she had enough faith in me, in the nurses, it wasn’t in me exactly. . . it was in the nurses, that if she had the nurses she’d have a live baby.

So I said, “Well, if you’ll come to clinic every time I want you to, and do everything that I want you to do, I may be able to take you at home.”

Well, her eyes . . . she brightened up at that. And I said, “Now, I’ll do my best, but you’ll have to promise me to come, and if you don’t, the first time you miss, I shall have to say I’m sorry, I can’t come.”

So she said she’d come and I said, “I will come over and see where you live,” because I wanted to see that she would have everything ready, I mean she’d have the things that I needed. I’d have to tell her what to get ready for me. So she did and, of course, I was really not in trouble but I . . . the assistant directors were on my tail. So I thought my best plan to do is to go over your heads to Mrs. Breckinridge, and I did.

And she said to me, “Betty, you cannot leave your own patients. You cannot neglect your own patients for an outsider. If you’ll promise me that, that you won’t neglect your own work to go over there, you can go because you can ride. I know you can, and you’ve got a good horse and I know you can do it. But,” she said, “you mustn’t neglect your own work.”

Well, of course, I said, “I wouldn’t dream of it, Mrs. Breckinridge. If you’ll let me go just for the delivery and just for the post-partum, if she comes to me for her pre-natals, will it be all right?”

And she said, “Yes.”

So I did go. The man came for me in the middle of one night and we had all of this seven miles to ride. Got there, she was in labor but she took a long time and she had . . . if she’d had a granny midwife–even though I say that myself as a midwife–if she’d had a granny midwife, a local midwife, I don’t think she’d have had a live baby because it was a very difficult delivery and I did have quite a hard time. I sweat blood getting the baby, but I got it and I got a live baby, so it was worth it.

And that baby grew up. It was a girl. She married. She was pregnant and I saw her. And I went . . . and she was going to have her baby in the hospital. So I went to the people in the hospital and I said, “May I come into the delivery room when she has her baby?”

“Well, you can . . . you can take the baby if you want to.”

The Graduate School had started by this time. “You can conduct the delivery supervising the student.”

Well, I said, “Well, I thank you very much, I’ll do that then.”

So I did that. So we had a live baby. Everything was all right. It was a boy. That boy grew up, and it shows how old I am. [Chuckle] That boy grew up and married, and his wife was going to have a baby, and they saw me again.

“Well,” I said, “I’m not going to do anything about it this time, but I will be in the delivery room.”

So I went to the supervisors again and said, “Please can I observe this delivery?”

And they said, “Yes.”

So I sat in the back of the room and watched it. So I’m a great- grandmother. So that’s that. That’s my outstanding story.

Betty Lester
Hyden, KY
Lester served as a practicing nurse midwife at the Frontier Nursing Service, Wendover, KY, beginning in 1928; interviewed by Jonathan Fried on March 3rd, 1978 by Frontier Nursing Service Oral History Project (FNS001:78OH146FNS06), Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky

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