Mountain Midwifeby Vickie Brown
Mountain Midwife is the story of Isabella Brown Neal, a hard-working, smart, outspoken old mountain woman. Belle, as she was known, traveled day and night through the hills of Clay County, West Virginia delivering babies and nursing the area’s poorest families. Belle walked or rode her old nag, often traveling alone with just a doctor’s bag of herbs, a… See more details below
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Mountain Midwife is the story of Isabella Brown Neal, a hard-working, smart, outspoken old mountain woman. Belle, as she was known, traveled day and night through the hills of Clay County, West Virginia delivering babies and nursing the area’s poorest families. Belle walked or rode her old nag, often traveling alone with just a doctor’s bag of herbs, a lantern, and a shotgun.
Belle learned about caring for the sick from her father, Dr. Anthony Brown, and her uncle, Dr. Wash Brown, who both practiced medicine in Clay and Clay County, West Virginia. She quickly recognized the great need for a midwife, and became a Certified Midwife of West Virginia. Primarily delivering babies, Belle would be called upon for other doctoring tasks if no doctor was available, or when large tragedies occurred at a coal mine or railroad.
Belle herself had seven children, one of whom lived with Belle and her husband into their old age. Raising and caring for children was second nature to her. More often than not Belle needed to care for not only the new baby she had just delivered, but also all the many brothers and sisters underfoot. She fed and cleaned entire families, sometimes turning a house and its inhabitants upside down while she helped them get a handle on the meals and housekeeping. Lucky was the woman who had Belle care for her family!
Two qualities stand out when reading about Belle Neal. One is her selflessness. Called into service no matter the weather, the distance, the time of day or night, Belle would quickly respond to her patients with little thought given to her own needs. The other is the commonsense, self-sufficient manner in which she lived. When, in typical fashion, a wild-eyed, exhausted, anxious, 10 year old appeared in the middle of the night with orders to bring Belle for a birthing, she would quickly and calmly fix him cornbread and buttermilk. While she gathered her birthing materials, she would wisely reassure the youngster that he had done his job—the responsibility was on her shoulders now. The two would jump on Belle’s old nag and head out.
It is estimated that Belle delivered over 3,000 babies in her 40-year career. Some of her ancestors still reside in Clay County, and she is often fondly recalled when the topic of childbearing arises.
Belle is a lost breed. She never expected payment, and often didn’t receive it. When she did receive pay, more often than not it was a ham, chicken, or other farm good. Occasionally she received a silver dollar or two. If the family had very little, Belle preferred to refuse payment. While Belle could be stubborn and outspoken, she spent her life caring for families when they needed it most, and delighted in the work.
- Quarrier Press
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