There Are Still Perfectly Good Forty Dollar Babies.

Speaking of babies, I was interested in the article in a recent number of The Century reciting the high cost (in terms of money) of bringing them into the world. The figures quoted were accurate enough as regards the conditions stated, but I imagine some of our grandmothers would have smiled at the modern young woman’s idea that from one to two thousand dollars are necessary to usher a baby in. Of course this idea prevails principally among those in certain social strata, and the figures mentioned apply in the main to babies born in a large metropolis. Country babies are not so expensive, though even they and their small town brethren can command a forbidding figure if introduced with due pomp and ceremony.

It is perhaps very foolhardy to rush blindly into big adventures counting the cost, and seeing one’s way through to a finish, yet it is a platitude to say that few important steps would be undertaken if one had always first to be sure of the outcome. Certainly no one would ever marry if a satisfactory conclusion to that adventure had first to be assured. This is a gambler’s world and might as well be accepted as such.

Jim and I were married when he had been practicing law one year. The neophytes of the law in Chicago, where we live and he moves, receive in most of the leading firms the handsome salary of fifteen dollars a week. After a year of this and slight increases as his portion, Jim had saved nothing. On the contrary- he had had to borrow on his life insurance to make ends meet. At the end of a year he was making thirty five; so in spite of the fact that he had saved nothing, and I, with three self-supporting years behind me, had saved no staggering amount, we were married.

“But don’t you think it’s risky to marry on only thirty five dollars a week?” my sister asked me, as I was ecstatically talking of Jim and our contemplated step.

“I’d marry Jimmy if he were making five a week.”

But father approved, having met Jim, and so the important step was taken.

After the manner of modern young people, we presently discussed out future family. We proposed to have six children. With no increase in salary in view, we decided to have our first forthwith. I doubt if we thought very much about the financial phase of the matter in reaching this decision. I had heard my sisters and married friends discuss the appalling cost of babies, but their accounts must have fallen on barren ground with me, for I was confident we could manage even on thirty five dollars a week.

We were married in August. For the first few months thereafter I was so busy teaching school and keeping house in our kitchenette apartment that I made no preparation for the heir we expected in May. From the two or three friends, of whom I made inquiries regarding doctors and hospitals, I received conflicting advice. “Don’t go to a maternity hospital,” counseled one young mother. “They’re so expensive and so strict there. You can see your husband only at stated hours.” Followed a veritable philippic against maternity hospitals. She herself had gone to a small, imperfectly equipped hospital, and been attended by a doctor whose chief recommendation, according to her, was that he never made “surgical cases of his patients, but allowed nature to take its course.” Another friend, a nurse, championed a maternity hospital as the place to get the best care and technique obtainable. She further suggested, being apprised of the state of our finances, that if I did not mind entering a ward and being attended by house physician, my bill would probably not amount to a hundred dollars. This was good news to me, for the family exchequer was rather low. Accordingly I went to the Lying in Hospital to make inquiries about reservations and hospital fees. I had never seen a hospital ward except in the movies and I pictured the endless rows of beds that I had seen on the screen from time to time. However, we could not have a thousand dollar baby, so I was willing to enter one of those corridor like wards, provided only the hospital would take me. Stepping up to the desk clerk, I inquired about reservations.

“Have you a doctor?”

“No. I understood one might have the services of a house doctor.”

I was referred to the social service department. Miss Allen, a charmingly beautiful woman, received me I stated my case. I had to have, told my sympathetic listener, an inexpensive a baby as possible. Had I been first lady of the land, Miss Allen could not have treated me with greater consideration. Perhaps I wouldn’t mind entering a ward. The fee was three dollars a day for a bed, which included nurses’ care. There would be no doctor’s fee; I needn’t feel any anxiety about having a house doctor, for only skilled specialists were in attendance (my visions of being practiced on by green interns were at once dispelled): there would be an additional fee of five or ten dollars; I would be in the hospital about ten days, so that my bill would total about thirty five or forty dollars. Could I manage that? I most emphatically that I could. I was enrolled at once and told I had better see the doctor that day. Clinics were held once a week. It was then twelve o’clock on Saturday.

At one o’clock the frequenters of the clinic began to surge in. Holidays indeed. Women of nearly every nationality under heaven. All kinds of gibberish greeted my ears. A bit dismayed, I thought of Miss Allen and of her assurance that in that hospital I would have excellent care and almost certainly a perfect baby. ”Even if I do draw some wildly picturesque roommates” I reflected, “my perfect thirty five dollar baby will more than make up to me for any inconvenience in that quarter.” So I sat huddled in one corner of a bench, reading my “Outlook” and waiting for my number to be called.

The weeks wore on. The time for my great adventure arrived. I kept my rendezvous (rode two streetcars and walked eight blocks to keep it), and after the usual baptism of fire and several hours of unconsciousness, I drifted back through a confused world to find my husband sitting beside me. Before I could ask the inevitable question, it was answered for me. “It’s a boy.”

When visiting hours was over, I became more clearly aware of my surroundings. There were four beds in a room which was undeniably pleasant, in good taste, and spotlessly clean. The ceiling was gray, the walls a faint pink, the beds and chiffonier dark brown. As for the occupants of the room, because of the recently acquired shapeliness of our forms, I am sure we all appeared to greater advantage that in the clinic corridor on Saturdays. The outlandish specimens I had expected were not present. In one bed was a fair-haired girl who had been a telephone operator before she married, in another bed a bobbed haired young woman who had been a salesgirl. My third companion was a fascinating, pretty little black haired girl of French and Russian extraction. She had been married five years but had lost her husband shortly before her child was to be born. All three were twenty one years old. We were all there with our first born, all boys incidentally. After a few days the little French widow gave up her bed to a new arrival, a golden haired, bobbed headed young mother of four, her latest a boy.

A mother who is convalescing from the birth of a child is in most cases not ill. She is tired and needs rest, but unless she is normally a bundle of nerves, the presence of others does not retard her recovery. In fact, the society of others, whether they are congenial companions or not, may do much to keep her from brooding over her recent trying experience. As the little telephone girl remarked, when on her ninth day she returned to the room after a stroll in the hall where she had seen some private patients walking about in the pretty negligees which ward patients are not allowed: “Gee, I could have had a private room, but I thought I’d be too lonesome in one. I think its swell in here.”

Swell it was indeed. We had excellent care. The nurses and doctors could not have been kinder and more attentive. There was conversation when one desired it and silence when it was preferred. On the whole, a most restful and satisfactory experience. As for the costs. because of complications in the birth room. My bill was forty seven dollars and fifty cents. Truly a very cheap baby.

Sixteen months later I went again to the same hospital under the same conditions. One of my ward companions this time was a young missionary home on a furlough from India. The picturesque was at last supplied by a Serbian Gipsy, who entertained not only her roommates and the nurses in attendance but doctors, office clerks, and private patients, brought thither by tales of her quaintness and fortune telling skills. To me fell the honor of suggesting a name for her latest born? It was her eleventh child, and her supply of names was exhausted.

“What are you going to name your boy?” asked the clerk whose duty it was to tabulate data regarding births.

“I don’t know. I got no name. I got ten children already. What I should name him?” This to me, who had lent an attentive ear to all her tales and troubles.

“Why don’t you call him Peter? Have you a son named Peter?”

“No. I thank you. I call him Peter. I tell his father tonight.” Whereupon Peter was recorded, and I that evening received due thanks from his burly father.
As for my little daughter, she was as perfect and no more expensive that her brother.

I realize that until I am rich enough to endow a hospital bed I shall be indebted to my hospital for the invaluable service it rendered me. With medical fees what they are today, I paid but a small fraction of the debt I owe for the service I received. The question arises: should we have followed modern business methods, mortgaged our financial future, and had our first two babies “on time,” paying for their advent little by little until they were of age; should we have waited to have children until we could afford the huge fee and accompanying luxuries common to and expected of our class; or were we quite justified in taking advantage of a charity that is intended largely for the very poor? Our income at the advent of our first born did not equal that of the upholstered husband of my erstwhile telephone operator roommate. In all modesty, I can affirm that we have for more to give our children that she and my Gipsy friend have to give theirs. Shall our children remain unborn for lack of sufficient wherewithal to guarantee a luxurious reception while they replenish the earth? Our answer has been given. But what about the hundreds and thousands of gently bred woman of rich heritage, who, though married, are either childless or possessed of only one or two children because they feel they cannot afford any or more as the case may be? I know many young couples, who because they felt they could not afford children when first married, have remained childless until they ceased to desire children. In the meantime, they have been busy collecting expensive furniture, automobiles, other necessities; but children are still too much of a luxury.

Of course, children are expensive. Granted a moderate initial cost, the upkeep may well give one pause. In general, however, those best fixed for parenthood would find it possible to give their children a generous share of the real riches of life for they presumably are wise enough to sift out the wheat from the chaff. It is they, too, who are possessed of superlative qualities which are matters of heritage, not of acquisition, which should not be allowed to die out, but which too often do die out because their possessors, hard pressed by the economic situation, hesitate to pass on the torch. Yet how much better for the race if they and their kind were perpetuated. As it is, statistics indicate that they are approaching the vanishing point, while those less richly endowed are encumbering the earth.

Perhaps in all material things, those of the gently bred who continue to produce their kind (a kind not frequently inclined toward money making) may gradually have to give way to their more lowly brethren. That they are doing so increasingly is true. An instance of this fact was impressed on me rather forcible not long ago. I entered, on my daily marketing excursion, the shop of my greengrocer. There behind the counter sat the fat swarthy wife of the Greek proprietor with her newly arrived infant. I asked her how her baby was doing. In the conversation which ensued, she informed me:  “Of course, I had a private room in a hospital and my own doctor. It ain’t every one that has their own doctor.”

“No,” I reflected, “it isn’t.”


Louise Haskew Turner

(Article reprinted from The Century Magazine, June 1926, pp 213 – 217)