Back in the day: Birth stories from our grandparents

This week in honor of Grandparents Day (on Sunday the 11th), we're featuring stories from our own grandmothers chronicling their birth experiences from years ago.

Today, Associate Editor Rachel Reiff Ellis shares a letter written to her from her grandmother that tells the story of the birth of Rachel’s dad, Joe.

Dearest Rachel,

Me and my big mouth!Iwas laughing when Itold you Ishould write my story, remembering the hilarity of living through my first pregnancy in a single men’s dorm at a theology school. Your granddad was in his final year of study and was director of the dorm, receiving a small salary plus a nice apartment and our three meals a day with the men in the refectory. But Ihaven’t written anything in eons—it’s hard work, and we 80-somethings shouldn’t have to work! Nor should would have to remember details from the dark ages. But since you’ve asked, I will try.

Here is the story of your dad, Joseph Tillman Reiff born in Dallas, Texas in April of 1954.

At my regular checkup, more than two weeks past the supposed due date for the birth of our first child, the doctor told me that everything seemed to be ready … except the baby. He or she was in no hurry to leave that snug little nest. Itold him Iwas very ready to lay this burden down. His reply:”You’ll just have to pick it up again.” He predicted I was carrying a 7 pound girl, teasing, I think, because I looked like Iwas carrying an elephant. Then he said if I wanted to try castor oil to get the contractions started it was all right with him.

Castor oil had been my mother’s remedy for many of our childhood ills, but taken one tablespoon at a time—not a whole bottle! Iwas tired of my awkwardness and of the fellows saying “You’re still here?!”each time I went down for a meal. So that night I drank the horrid stuff and while it cleaned me out I cleaned out the clothes closet, impatient to see the last of those supposedly camouflage garments we wore back then. Heaven forbid that anyone see the outline of the baby bump!

Very early the next morning we called the doctor and headed out, unaware that we were being chased by the friend who was going to be handling your grandfather’s early morning paper route. In his hurry and excitement, your grandfather had forgotten that the equipment the friend would need was still in our car’s trunk, so our arrival at the hospital was announced by a blaring horn!

It was Good Friday, 1954, and that Easter weekend was the last that any babies would be born at Florence Nightingale Hospital in Dallas. The new Women’s Hospital would open that Monday, but we would not be moved and so were treated royally. I was taken to a private room and your grandfather quickly parked and joined me. Such a wonderful new idea—my husband could stay with me until I was taken to the delivery room!

It was a long day for him. The first time I complained of pain I was put to sleep and knew nothing else until I woke about 24 hours later. No such remedy for the dad. He says I kept him entertained with several off-the-wall comments like when I reached over and patted his hand and said, “Poor dear. I guess the fish aren’t biting today.” He, whose idea of a good fishing trip is reading about it!

Not a daughter but a 9 pound, 7 ounce boy was born to us at 11:00 that night. I met him about 8 hours later. He was brought in all bundled up, sweet smelling and looking at me with big blue eyes. He had double chins just like the grandfather for whom he was named. His daddy came in and soon all four grandparents adn some old family friends crowded in. The baby had been whisked back to he nursery and they had met Baby Joe through the window.

My dad returned to Houston, but Mother stayed for two weeks and what a blessing that was!Ilearned a lot as she helped me tend to Joe’s needs. The first time we went down to the refectory we were greeted with cheers and Joe soon had many doting “uncles.”

Your mom and dad knew you, Rachel, from the moment you were born and you and Luke knew each of your two as quickly. I can only wonder what that was like. I’ll never know and have some regret, but have learned there is no point in wishing to change the past. It’s passed! So I give thanks that our two precious baby boys managed to grow into remarkable men who seem to love me anyway!

I love you and wish for the years ahead to be full of good things for you and yours.


Send us your birth story! Whether you had a home birth, hospital birth, 37-hour labor or emergency C-section, we’d love to read the tale of your little one’s grand entrance. Write up your birth story (click here for tips on getting started) and email it, along with a few photos, to We’ll share it on our Birth Day blog and may even print it in an upcoming issue!

By Gerry

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