Family Stories: Motherhood Through the Generations

Family Stories

Motherhood Through the Generations

I recently read a post on women reflecting the years of motherhood… and it gave me the inspiration for writing this specific post to celebrate Mother’s Day. Sadly I did not log the post that inspired me… and I’m still searching… so I might give credit. Update: I’ve finally found the blog which inspired this writing… love to have you stop by Jenns Midlife Crisis.

Having and raising a baby has changed so much over the years… whether for the good or bad… but nothing changes in the way a mother loves her children!

4 generations

Me, mom, Melissa and granddaughter McKinley

I can’t imagine how my grandmother, Ola Askew McKinley, handled her pregnancy in 1930 while living on a farm. As grandmama had always performed chores every day, I can only imagine being pregnant didn’t sideline her. She began every morning by starting up the warmth of the house… the kitchen cast iron stove. What I wouldn’t give to have had a glimpse of that stove in my many ramblings through granddaddy’s barns. I crawled all over those barns… so what happened to it? Maybe it was traded in when he bought grandmama her first electric stove, but my mind is wandering way ahead now.

When grandmamma gave birth to my mother on April 6, 1930, she already had one child… a son, Leroy Edgar McKinley had been born on May 19, 1924, in the log tenement cabin that Edgar Thomas and Ola Askew McKinley lived in. Granddaddy grew up firsthand helping his father to farm, so he was destined to be a farmer. By working someone else’s land, he shared a part of the crops… hence called sharecropping. This was widely done in the South, and if you managed the land well, you eventually saved enough to buy your own land… which granddaddy did. The land he worked was owned by the local doctor, Dr. William Hill Lewis. The very same doctor who delivered my mother, along with Mrs. Credille, the local midwife. In mama’s words, “I was born on a straw mattress, in a log cabin, on April 6, 1930.” I can’t imagine the endurance my grandmother had, to endure labor on a straw mattress.

In the late 1940’s Granddaddy finally relented and electricity was brought by poles down through his field, but Grandmama never seemed to take well to actually having electricity in the house… she often tried to blow out the bulb, just like she’d done all her life with the kerosene lamps. Hard to teach an old dog… new tricks! What a life event to have lived through!

What a sight that must have been when she first turned her new electric stove on and the “eyes” lit up… being from the South, we call the burners, the “eyes”, or at least my mother did. I can only imagine that she burned a lot of food, as on an electric stove, that “eye” turns red pretty quick… and if you’re not standing there… it burns!

Leroy boy man soldier_0006My grandfather, standing outside the very same log cabin where my mother was born. This photograph was taken in 1926 with their first child, Leroy McKinley. In looking through the door… you would be looking into the hallway where the very straw mattress lay… where my mother was born. The cabin is still standing and we visited it once several years ago, slightly trespassing… while it didn’t seem safe to walk into, we did peek inside to see the hallway mama often talked of and the stairs leading to the attic where she and Leroy played… losing all of grandmama’s thimbles playing “hide the thimble.

Times changed for the next generation of when my mother was pregnant with me in 1952… babies were no longer born at home. My mother was so determined to have me share her birthday, that she trudged off to the hospital on April 6th and told Dr. Lewis that she was having me on that day! He promptly laughed at her and told her to go home… I’m sure she trudged out of there very mad! Ten days later, she called her mother and told her she thought she was in labor and her parents soon arrived to take her to the hospital. I’m not quite sure where my father was or why she didn’t call him as he worked locally in town, but maybe she felt more comfortable calling her mother. They arrived to find her cleaning the house and mopping the floor. While they waited for her to finish, as she wouldn’t leave until she’d finished, her water broke. I imagine that was the deciding vote! Arriving at the hospital, Dr. Lewis chastised her for waiting so long as there wasn’t a long wait until I arrived on that very day of April 16th, 1952.

jeanne babyfix

Me with all my dark hair!

As my mother had lost a baby girl, Monica Yvonne, to Spina Bifida, it took much urging to convince mama that I was born perfect with no medical defects. I was born with a full head of dark hair… so much that the nurses took turns plaiting my hair with ribbons daily. Mama didn’t have much to do with me in the hospital, or for the next few months… she couldn’t bring herself to be convinced that I was truly perfect. My Aunt Chris came and lived with us at that time, taking care of me as Mama slowly came around and soon became herself again… finally becoming my mother. We soon bonded, and she quickly tied me to her hip… hardly ever letting me out of sight. If you’re an only child, do let me know if you felt your mother was as obsessive.

Being an only child had its advantages, but it also had disadvantages. You had no one to break the ice for you in growing up… in as mama had lost one child, burying her at six months… she kept me close, and sometimes I felt too close and smothered. While I never considered myself “spoiled”, I never wanted for anything. As a young child, mama said I never asked for anything even when she took me to town… and in asking me if I’d like this or that… I usually showed no interest and said no. At times, she was frustrated as she wanted to buy me things… but I didn’t seem to want them. That quickly changed as a teenager… I never refused, especially when my grandfather offered to buy me my first car! I was his only grandchild, so he had no one else to splurge on! My first car was a 1965 yellow Mustang! What could be better!

Being an only child has its drawbacks, as I”m finding out now with my mom (88) presently in rehab after a fall, breaking two ribs. While I’ve seen a change in the past few years with memory issues, she still remained living alone with Boo… her kitty. I’m not sure where this is all heading, as the memory seems to have worsened. She’s walking, with a walker at present, and striving to leave there… which I hope she will… or it will be devastating to her, not to return home, but…! This is the hard part, having no one to shoulder the questions to of what decisions to make… it’s just me! My husband has been my lifeline on this, helping me to clean, or rather he’s doing the cleaning of her house and yard, as we’re hoping to bring her home. One of the hardest parts is that my mother lives almost a thousand miles from me… we’ve just returned home after spending almost four weeks at her house. I’ve now left her in rehab, while I return home for a while before returning… hopefully to bring her back to her home. Decisions, decisions, decisions… I’m not enjoying the making of them!

When I first became pregnant, I lost my first child around 5 weeks into the pregnancy… a condition known as placenta previa. It wasn’t until about three years later before my son was born. It was difficult in losing my first child, I couldn’t handle being around anyone who was pregnant and I’d just about given up hopes of getting pregnant again until… I came home from the laundromat with a tiny baby sock amongst my clothes… a sign! Somehow that gave me hope again, and not long after… I was finally pregnant! I never had a difficult time during those nine months… hardly any nausea or even cravings. The only craving I remember was the want for oranges… not quite sure why the orange unless my body needed more vitamin C. I didn’t gain much weight, only about twenty-three pounds and often you couldn’t even tell I was pregnant from behind. I carried all in front… and all

Not having my mother nearby, my mother-in-law and all hubby’s aunts offered the stories of their births… some being horror “war” stories I didn’t really want to hear. Sometimes I think back, and wonder if they wished their pain on me. For the most part, I just ignored them, as I felt wonderful during those long nine months… I was out and about, even trudging to OTB (off track betting) to play our daily horse bets. When OTB came to the state, we were hooked for a short time… having fun playing the trotters, and for the most part, we won! I bought my rocking chair with one of those winning tickets! Even at almost nine months, I was still playing our tickets… I’m sure I got some looks! Hubby worked 11 to 7 a.m., so I was usually on my own during the day while he slept.

On the early morning hours of Nov. 12th, 1976, I called the doctor to tell him I had stomach cramps… must have been something I ate, or so I thought… as I wasn’t due for a couple of weeks! He asked me how far apart, and when I replied, “oh about five minutes“… he replied, “what are you waiting for, for the baby to be born at home, get to the hospital.” I called hubby at work, and within a half hour, we were on our way. Upon arriving at the hospital, after being checked… I heard, “get this woman in delivery, she’s having a baby.” Hubby was whisked away by a nurse to “gown up“… just about making it into the delivery room before he heard “it’s a boy.” My son was born within thirty minutes of finally arriving at the hospital? After he was born, the doctor yelled at me for waiting so long… well, what did I know? It was my first child, and I thought I was just having a stomach ache from something I ate… who knew I was in labor! I knew nothing about babies… much less having one!

Hubby was so excited that our son was born before his work shift ended, that he returned to work to punch out… or to gloat that he was a father! I was left alone with this new little guy that petrified me to even hold… while hubby was taken out to the bar at 7 a.m. to celebrate. There’s something wrong with this picture… I did all the work and I celebrated by laying in a hospital bed! Later when he called me before laying down to get a little sleep… I could tell he had had a few drinks!

Stephen XmasStocking 1year oldFIX

Baby No. 1 – My Son Stephen Joseph – Age 1

As the doctors had all agreed I was having a boy, we thought of only boy names… actually I only thought of one… my husband’s name Steve. After much balking on his part… I finally said, “ok, then I won’t name him after you.” All things quickly changed with that phrase… and the baby soon became Stephen Joseph Insalaco… with the Joseph middle name coming from his grandfather.

My mother wanted me to name him Bryan… using my maiden name, but I didn’t like it as a first name… later I felt bad that I didn’t contemplate using it, especially since my daughter named her first daughter after my mother’s maiden name of McKinley. I was determined to name this baby boy after my husband.

I knew nothing about babies… growing up with no siblings or any family around with babies… I had no experience in even holding them. As my son lay in that little plastic bassinette next to me, I remember being afraid to even pick him up… and the thought of changing a diaper petrified me! Hubby, on the other hand, had all the experience as he had babysat all the family cousins, being the oldest, and changed plenty of diapers. Good thing at least one of us had! It wasn’t long before I became a pro!

Baby no. 2 came just three years later… I was determined to not have an only child! The doctors constantly called as my due date neared, asking if I was having contractions… telling me that if I didn’t come in early, I’d be having my baby at home, or in the car en route! I don’t think they scared me, but when the time came, she also made a quick entrance upon arriving at the hospital…  born one hour after arriving.

Hubby had a little more time to suit up for the delivery room when baby two was born, but when the doctor said: “it’s a girl“… we both looked at each other and said, “I thought we were having a boy?” From all the doctor visits, all three doctors assured me I was having a boy again, by the heartbeat… boy were “they” all wrong! We had been prepared with a name for no. 2, naming him Paul after my grandfather Paul Pinkney Bryan… so now what? We hadn’t even picked out a girls name, although we had talked about a few… me wanting Scarlet… hubby definitely squashed it! He liked Melissa or Melanie after two favorite singers of his. He won with Melissa, and I added my middle name of Lee to name her Melissa Lee Insalaco… we both agreed!

Melissa with Dolls cropped

Baby No. 2 – My daughter Melissa Lee – Age 3 months

As things had been a little hectic in the delivery room with Melissa, I didn’t get a close look at her when she was born. It wasn’t until I was in my room did they bring her to me… and after taking one look at her, I told the nurse, “this isn’t my baby, she has red hair.” I’m sure that nurse thought me bonkers, but she quickly took her back to the nursery, but soon arrived back with her, assuring me… she was mine! I called hubby right away, telling him how could this baby be ours… I have brown hair and he has dark hair… so why was she a red hair! While there was some red in his beard, I never thought that enough, but in talking to mama she assured me that many in our family had auburn hair, and later I discovered that many of his great aunts had auburn hair when they were young! Seems all that red hair skipped a generation to show up in our family. One of the funny things about having a redhead is going to parties with “one” little redhead running around… and hearing people question as to who does this little redhead belong to… and how did that happen!

A big change in labor and delivery came with my daughter Melissa became pregnant –  the fourth generation of women in my family giving birth. Melissa always hoped for a short delivery after hearing my stories on labor, but it didn’t work out that way. After almost 29 hours of labor, I finally got a phone call to come to the hospital that she was going to have a cesarean; she now wanted mommy there! I hadn’t gone earlier, as she’d only wanted her husband… we stayed home until we were called that our first grandchild had arrived. How different from my time… she knew exactly what she was having. Today’s mommies have sonograms and see pictures of there baby instantly, and if lucky…. they see onscreen the sex of the baby! By the time we arrived at the hospital, mother and baby were waiting to greet us… my baby had had a baby! I think I just aged a few extra years! Now I was a grandmother… but I already knew I wasn’t going to be called grandma… I was going to be called GiGi. This little-redheaded bundle of cuteness was named McKinley Lee… McKinley after my mother’s maiden name and Lee is my middle name, as well as Melissa’s! Did I mention my daughter is also a redhead?


Redhead No. 1 – McKinley Lee Gillon

Two years later, Melissa was having another baby… and another girl. McKinley stayed with us when mommy went to the hospital and of course, we took her shopping for her own new baby and carrier so she wouldn’t feel left out. Baby no. 2 was a planned cesarean since her sister took the same route after a long labor. Red-head no. 2 arrived on April 25th, the very birthday of her paternal great-grandfather, Guiseppe Cambino. As her sister McKinley was named after my side of the family, this little red-head was to be named after the paternal side; Grace Kathryn is named after her grandfather’s mother, Grace Kathryn Gillon.

mckinley daddy and grace

Redhead No. 2 – Grace Kathryn Gillon

While sitting in the waiting room… we began hearing a baby cry… hubby and I both looked at each other and said… “that’s Grace, she’s arrived.” We were both right, Grace Kathryn was letting everyone know that red-head no. 2 had finally made her entrance into the world… and she was a force to be reckoned with. Lucky for daddy Frank… having not one, but three redheads in his life!

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My three redheads: McKinley and Grace with mom Melissa

By the time these two redheads marry and have children, what will change in how babies are born? Nothing can change with the nine months of carrying that little bundle, but maybe delivery will improve for the moms… hopefully, I’ll be around to see!

I’ve truly been blessed with five granddaughters!

Happy Mother’s Day to all!


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© 2018, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved

About Jeanne Bryan Insalaco

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3 Responses to Family Stories: Motherhood Through the Generations

  1. KD says:

    Those red hair genes are strong! Beautiful photos and a wonderful keepsake story of the generations of women in your family. Hope you had a lovely Mother’s Day.

    Liked by 1 person

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