Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | October 29, 2011

A Birth in Vienna

She woke with a start, not quite sure what had roused her. It was still dark, the air crisp and cool in the wee hours of the late October morning. Out of the last few months’ habit, she reached down to feel the swell of her belly, and to her surprise found it taut and hard. It was usually the baby stomping on her full bladder that wakened her these days, but not today. She lay quietly as the muscle contraction reached a peak, more tight than painful, and then receded. Today might be the day, she thought with joy.

She let her mind wander for a few more minutes, loathe to wake her husband still sleeping peacefully at her side. Once he realized what was happening, she knew he would spring into action. Rousing little Shorshie to hustle him off to her mother’s house just on the other side of the garden, then helping her into the car, offering to let her lie down in the back seat if she wanted, though she was fine sitting up; then to the hospital to relinquish her into the care of the professionals. She allowed herself a fleeting daydream of him staying by her side instead, but that just wasn’t how it was done here in Vienna in 1930. Men usually sat in a nearby cafe sipping coffee and nibbling Sachertorte while waiting for word of new offspring.  She toyed with the idea of not saying anything at all until it was too late and having the baby born right here in their bed, but smiled at her own foolishness. There was nothing wrong with the hospital.

She decided to try getting up instead, and was immediately hit with another contraction. Solid; tight; tense; she couldn’t speak; she couldn’t think; it completely monopolized her attention. Yes indeed; this was the day.

“Bert,” she murmured.

Her husband stirred.

“Bert,” she repeated, a little louder. Now his eyes opened, and he regarded her gripping the bedpost.

“Is it time?” he asked.

She just nodded.

“Are you okay?”

Again she nodded. As long as she stood still, she was fine.

“Shall I get Shorshie up?”

A final nod. Carefully she put her clothes on, gripped by two more contractions in turn, as Bert bustled around getting ready. Poor little Shorshie didn’t understand what was happening; he wasn’t even a year and a half old yet, still just a baby himself. She could tell he was smart, though. She could see it in his eyes, even as they twitched abnormally; nystag-something, the doctors called it. It had something to do with his abnormally fair skin and bright blue eyes, so unlike everyone else in the family. She didn’t care, though she did hope the new baby wouldn’t be similarly afflicted.

The ride to the hospital passed in a blur of increasing contractions. The wheelchair, the bed, the twilight sleep; the next thing she knew, she was lying in a white iron bed in a small room, a tiny bassinet at her side, a large woman dressed in white bending over it.

“Oh, good. You’re awake,” said the nurse. “Would you like to hold your daughter?”

Wordlessly, she reached out for the baby, tightly wrapped in flannel.

“I’ll be back in a moment with a bottle,” said the nurse as she swished out of the room.

Carefully, delicately, she unwrapped the tiny bundle. Ten fingers; ten toes; definitely a girl; and best of all, a full head of dark hair, with deep brown eyes that regarded her steadily. Gently she kissed the baby on the forehead, then surreptitiously pulled up her own gown to lay the baby against her chest, skin to skin. The nurse would likely fuss at her for letting the baby get chilled, but she covered them both over with gown, flannel, sheet and blanket. The baby would be fine.

She imagined taking the baby for walks around the magnificent grounds of Shoenbrun not far from where they lived. She smiled as she thought of her children growing up here in beautiful, peaceful Vienna. No reason why they shouldn’t.

She thought about the name they had decided upon, and rolled it around in her head before saying it aloud for the first time. It sounded like an artist’s name, and she imagined magnificent oil canvases, scenes of wild animals, signed with it in red down in the corner.

The baby stirred in her arms as she pulled the infant to her.

“My little Johanna Bettina,” she murmured.



  1. Your mother, I bet. I wait with some apprehension, given the place and the date, for more of the story.

  2. And the COG’s wife, alas, his late wife.

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