Birth on a Stormy Winter Night
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“Birth on a Stormy Winter Night,” Ensign, July 1993, 52–53

Birth on a Stormy Winter Night

A horrible influenza epidemic was sweeping through the country in the winter of 1918. When our town of Burley, Idaho, was hard hit, my grandmother, Maude Brown, in addition to caring for her five children, was expecting a sixth child.

One day just before Christmas, her oldest boy, Howard, came home from school and hid out on the back porch under the coats. Upon finding him, the family was concerned at his strange behavior. When they brought him in, they found that he had a very high temperature. Howard had been hiding so as not to infect the rest of the family. So contagious was this flu that when one person in a family came down with it, it quickly spread to other members. People everywhere were dying from the terrible illness; it was a frightening and deadly thing.

Still, Maude’s family was determined to celebrate the holidays and not be overcome with worry about the danger. Maude made doll clothes and other toys for gifts. She always worked hard getting ready for Christmas, but this time she overdid things and weakened herself.

Next, Maude’s daughter Vera became sick and was in bed for a week. Then on New Year’s Day, Maude became desperately ill with flu. Relatives brought food but were afraid to bring it into the house. Fearing for their own health, they would set the food on the porch and leave.

Soon Maude’s flu turned into pneumonia, and then she started into labor. The baby wasn’t due for another six weeks. The family couldn’t get anyone to come and administer to her because everyone was afraid of getting sick and passing the sickness on. So Walter, her husband, gathered the children around her bed, and they knelt and prayed. Then Maude asked her husband to read from her patriarchal blessing, which promised that she would live to an old age.

One of the boys called the doctor and told him of Maude’s condition, and he said, “Well, Son, there’s no use calling me, just call the undertaker.” But Maude insisted that the doctor come, and when he did, he found her temperature was 106 degrees.

Throughout her labor, the doctor worried that the baby would not live because of the high fever. The infant he delivered weighed only four pounds. Placing the tiny baby in fourteen-year-old Elva’s hands, the doctor again indicated that he was without hope that the baby would live.

Though the baby was tiny and weak—she was unable even to cry—her sisters, Elva and Vera, who desperately wanted a baby sister, were determined to give her every chance to live. Opening the oven door for warmth, they wrapped the baby in a blanket and put her in a shoe box. Feeding her with an eye dropper, they gradually nursed her to health.

That tiny baby grew up to become my mother. She later would write in her journal, “I owe my life to my two sisters, who wanted me so badly.

“But even after I was delivered,” my mother’s journal continues, “Mother was in a bad way. For the next several weeks, Daddy and the five children would kneel around her bed and pray several times a day.”

Grandmother recovered from the flu and went on to rear her family, which grew to include two more children.

The story of my mother’s miraculous birth was told repeatedly throughout her childhood, and she grew more thankful with each hearing. The story and her gratitude were passed on to her own children and will continue to be told with love and appreciation to our children and to theirs.

Illustrated by Dikayl Dunkley