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My Bag Was Always Packed : The Life and Times of a Virginia Midwife

Claudine Curry Smith and Mildred H. B. Roberson

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About the Book

Claudine Curry Smith delivered over 500 babies in her three decades as a midwife in rural Virginia, traveling at all times of day and night and in all sorts of weather. Born in 1918, this remarkable woman grew up in the segregated South, married at seventeen, raised seven children, drove a school bus for 37 years, picked crabs, shucked oysters, cut and packed fish, picked and peeled tomatoes, shucked corn, took care of children and elderly people, looked after sick folks, and cooked and cleaned for White people as well as for her own family. Married for 67 years, she is a treasure trove of stories about her life and times.

When her first child was born with the help of a midwife, she was only 17 and living with her grandparents. To let the midwife, an aunt, know that labor had begun, someone rode by horseback to her home and she returned in her horse and buggy. Although there was no running water or electricity there, everything was ready for the midwife and the delivery went smoothly.

Mrs. Smith�s own practice as a midwife included many homes without running water or electricity, but she always knew what to do. She delivered several premature babies and even a set of twins. And in all her years of practice, she never lost a mother.

This book tells her story in her own words, with some background information written by the co-author to provide historical context. Her story illustrates the challenges and joys of a way of life unknown to much of contemporary American society but greatly valued by African Americans throughout the South. It offers one of the few written accounts of a time and practice largely ignored by history.

About the Author

Claudine Curry Smith was born in Baltimore MD and has lived in the Kilmarnock VA area since she was three months old. As a retired midwife, she has many memories of her thirty one years of practice in two rural counties, as well as of her extensive job experiences in other roles throughout much of the twentieth century. Five of her own seven children were delivered by a midwife, giving her an additional personal perspective on the midwifery experience. At 84 years of age, she is the last living midwife licensed (although retired) to practice in the Lower Northern Neck of Virginia.

Mildred HB Roberson was also born in Baltimore MD, where she grew up. She has had a home in Lancaster County VA for over 25 years. She is a retired nursing professor, with 40 years combined nursing education, service and administrative experience. She is a researcher/scholar of Southern African American health culture with 25 professional publications. Currently she is co-editing a community health nursing textbook (in progress). The authors have been friends for more than 20 years.

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But the worst one of all was when we had another heavy snow, this girl came over from Mollusk. She had said something to me about delivering her, but she hadn�t brought me a card. I think the doctor was kind of skeptical of her being delivered by me. But when she went to him, they owed him some money, and he didn�t deliver her, so they came on up to my house, where I used to live, about two miles from Kilmarnock and it was snowing.

When she got there I couldn�t deliver her �cause I didn�t have the go ahead. So I got in the car with her �cause she was having little pains, to go back down to the doctor�s to see if I could talk to him. But when we got down to the funeral parlor down by Calvary Church, about a mile and a half, something happened to the car. So in the meantime we carried her into the funeral parlor. See my cousin owned it, and he lived there too.

So they worked on the car, and after they got it started, the highway was so snowed in they couldn�t get out of there. And cousin Quentin said, �Cuz you probably gonna have to deliver her right here, do the best you can.�

And he didn�t have a wife, you know, just a man there, but in the meantime we lucked out, and the pains were about ten minutes apart and we saw the Highway Department coming along with a truck with a snow plow. So the men stopped 'em and told 'em what the problem was and came back and told me just what was what. I said that if I could get her to my house, I told the truck driver where I lived, I�d deliver her there.

He said, �okay, you all can get in the car, and I�ll open up the highway.�

So we drove behind that snow plow, and he went right to my house and made a drive on round my house. And we carried that girl in the house, and I rushed around and got everything ready. In less than fifteen minutes, she had a real big boy. I tied the cord and after the placenta came I went and called the doctor to see if I could cut the cord.

He said, �Sure, Claudine, it�s all right if everything looks normal, go ahead and cut it.�

So I cut the cord. That�s the only person, that and one other person that I can remember, are the only two people that owed me anything for delivering a baby. She paid hers down to ten dollars. She could have paid. She was a young girl, but her family made good money. Some people are just hard payers.



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