« »

19 responses to “The First Four Years; Chapter 4: Section 13”

  1. Debi

    I’ve often wondered why Laura and Almanzo never had any more children. I used to think it was due to his stroke. But, the baby boy was conceived after that, so it must not have affected his ability to produce children. Was Laura too distraught to try again? That just doesn’t seem like Laura! She was still quite young (22?). I suppose we may never know. Losing a baby is such a terrible thing. I know my friend who lost one said the hole in heart didn’t start to heal until she finally had another baby. And even then, it never healed completely. That part of the book always made me so sad.

    1. naomi

      I think this topic has been addressed in some previous chapters.

      But one thing that I don’t think was mentioned before was simple lack of opportunity. For most of the next 6 years or so they were living in a single room … and while it can be possible to snog with a toddler in the room, as Rose got older, they were going to have be much more discreet. And yes, hard work and poor diet meant less energy and lower fertility. I also wondered in my chapter if her two difficult pregnancies made her less eager to go through it all again.

      (The separate beds thing seems to have started much later in their life.)

      My big question on this chapter was the fact that the baby wasn’t named. These days it seems that for most young couples, ‘picking a name’ is the first thing on their mind after the positive pregnancy test. (Or before .. some teens seem to enjoy ‘collecting names’.)
      When Laura was pregnant with Rose, and she brought up the subject of names, Almanzo said they couldn’t name the baby because they didn’t know the sex. And Laura serenely predicted it would be a girl, and picked the name. But they apparently never discussed what baby would be named if it hadn’t been a girl.
      And now, they DO have a son, and over a week later, have failed to pick a name. WHAT was the problem? (And do Congregationalists not practice infant baptism?)
      Speculation time — perhaps there was an argument between the parents. In Almanzo’s family there was a definite trend towards … unusual names for boys. (Almanzo .. Perley … Royal..) Perhaps Almanzo wanted to name the baby for himself or one of this brothers, while Laura was holding out for something more normal. (Charles? James?).

  2. Michelle

    Re Debi’s comment, I always figured they didn’t have the energy/time/interest in further “intimate relations.” They had separate beds at Rocky Ridge, hardly conducive to canoodling. As a woman approaching 50, with a 9 yr old & a 3 yr old, my own business, DH working for me (so we spend almost too much time together), and a household to run (meal planning & cooking, & laundry – the rest of the housework doesn’t get done unless we have company over, & DH is our dishwasher), I have almost no time for myself except for moments like this when I should be emailing clients – I can tell you “romance” is the last thing on my mind these days! Of course, when I consider what Laura & Almanzo had to go through, I REALLY don’t have any problems….

    I still get irritated when I think of how Almanzo overextended himself/the 2 of them, by taking on the second claim, without the wherewithal to carry the work…..but I guess if they had had only the 1 claim they still would have lost everything……..(but I still don’t know why in heck Almanzo took on a $500 debt to build a house when a soddy would have done! didn’t they build them in those days?!? the only sod structure I can think of in the entire LH books is the barn on Plum Creek….they were standard here on the Canadian prairies right up to World War I and beyond – I know a man who was born in a soddy in Saskatchewan in 1930….)

  3. Becky Harris

    Pure speculation – but I wonder if something was wrong with the baby and they didn’t name him because they didn’t want to get too attached? Who knows. Maybe no more babies because of their financial struggles.

  4. Adkmilkmaid

    Twin beds were considered the height of sophistication in the 1920s and 30s, as well as a sign of prosperity (TWO BEDS). I don’t think the fact that they had twin beds had any bearing on the number of their children.

    Nor do I think it had much to do with opportunity or privacy. Remember that Ma and Pa managed to have THREE more children while sharing tiny, tiny houses (the dug-out really a cave) with Mary and Laura… by the time Freddie was born, those girls were pretty big!

    Though Laura and Manly thought Almanzo had had a stroke, he had not: it was a case of diphtheria which followed the normal course for its strain — apparent recovery and then swift collapse. I wrote about my research in a post reply somewhere on this site but unfortunately the comments are not searchable.

    It is interesting about the lack of name for the baby. Are we completely sure he was not named? I ask simply because often people in the past were reticent and private about losses in a way unimaginable today. For example, Teddy Roosevelt never mentioned the existence and death of his first wife. Today we might assume he did not care about her. The reverse was true. Her loss was so utterly devastating that he never referred to it again. Speaking about deep emotion was thought to cheapen it.

    1. Melissa

      I have always wondered if maybe they had named him, but after his death, no one spoke of him, so anyone outside of the family that knew the name, forgot it. Alternatively, I wonder if he was born with some problem, so they knew he wouldn’t live long and therefore didn’t name him. That seems like “old time ” advice to me. “Don’t get too attached to him” No matter it is sad.

      1. LauriOH

        That’s what I think happened. It’s curious to me that they wouldn’t have known that there would be a problem, and had a name picked out (James?), but decided not to use it even for the stone.

  5. Becky Harris

    His gravestone at the DeSmet cemetary says Baby Son of A.J. Wilder. I would think they would have put his name on the grave but I guess it’s not proof one way or another.

  6. Joan Cresimore

    Here’s just another theory. Many couples who had children born with birth defects chose not to have more children for fear that future children would have the same problem. I had an aunt and uncle in 1941 who had a son born with spinal bifida and he only lived one day. They never had any other children because of their fears for future children. The chances for a repeat occurance were higher for them, but not a definate possibility. Little was known about birth defect issues even that recent. Now as to why no name was given I do not know. Was it a live birth? How long did he live? Customs may have been not to name the child if it was not a live birth.

  7. naomi

    He definitely was alive at birth — he lived over a week.

    But the idea that there have been some obvious problem at birth (whether a birth defect, or just a frail or sickly baby, or one who wouldn’t suckle), leading Laura to ‘not get too attached’ is an interesting one. Isn’t there a line about how Laura ‘wanted Rose more than ever’?

    1. Melissa

      Yes- “Laura was proud of the baby, but strangely she wanted Rose more than anything.” It goes on to talk about how Rose was kept away and the hired girl was taking indifferent care of her.

  8. Carla

    I tried back in September to post this, but my phone wouldn’t let me. O know from “country” experience in my mother’s VERY old-timey hometown that many, many babies weren’t named until they got to be of certain age. It WAS the old wisdom of “Don’t get attached.” Many headstones in her hometown just said “Infant Johnson” or whichever.

    1. Sparkysweet

      Even before the American Revolutionary War, many of the colonists waited until a child was of a certain age before they gave the child a name. It was the mentality of not becoming too attached to a child that might die. Especially if the child was sickly at birth. I am wondering if there is a death certificate for baby Wilder or records that the doctor may have kept that may explain the cause of death or if there was a birth defect. The baby was born before the doctor could arrive but he did arrive after the birth & he did arrive after the baby’s death. Maybe that doctor kept records of these two events.

  9. Mary Whitney

    Of course, no one really knows what goes on behind closed doors in a marriage (or in this instance maybe the opportunity for alone- time while children are far off playing in a creek). I’ve read the first hand accounts of the neighbor who helped Laura out after Almanzo died. She says that she found Laura holding him just after he died, like she couldn’t let him go. When the woman stayed the night to keep Laura company, Laura asked that she sleep in her bed just so she could sleep in Almanzo’s to be close to him.

    This makes me hypothesize (and it is really only a guess) that she and Almanzo were very physically intimate until the end (even if it wasn’t sexual in their old age). If she really hadn’t shared a bed with him for all those years, why would she still desire to be so close to him when he was gone?

    My theory on why they didn’t have another child is that their lives weren’t settled again and until they were long into living in Missouri. They were always on the road, and the last thing they needed was another mouth to feed.

    As for Rose’s belief that Laura hated sex, somewhere in my reading it’s said that Rose was very sexually active at a young age. That was one of the reasons she was shipped down to Eliza in Louisiana (otherwise why would Laura send her to a woman she disliked). Anyway, I think maybe Laura was trying to stop Rose’s sexual activity.

    Of course, the tragic narrative that negates our hopes in THGY is that Laura didn’t want sex after the baby boy’s death because sex led to babies which led to heartbreak and hardship. I don’t know … that kind of negativity just doesn’t seem to jibe with their overall never ending optimism.

    Finally, I think the Little House books are a romantic love letter to Almanzo who was her hero even later in life. She may have hen-pecked him, but he seemed to always joke about it – at her expense. I think they shared that sympathy she talked about until the very end.

    1. Carla

      Mary, I totally agree with your comments here. Also, I’ve tried to post this elsewhere, but I have a stupid phone (as opposed to a smart one!) There I’d all kind of evidence toward some sort of secondary infertility with Laura and Almanzo. First, I read where she’d told Rose they’d prayed for another baby, but it didn’t happen. Second, has anyone read recently about the genetic disposition of Henry VIII? It seems that he had a sex-linked genetic on the Y-Chromosome that caused a host of problems, including secondary infertility., especially with baby boys. Laura was of Gaelic descent. It’s possible, given her family history, that X she likewise suffered.

  10. naomi

    I’ve just been checking out some links on your theory about Laura’s fertility.
    Henry VIII’s ‘genetic disposition’ seems to be something called the Kell Protein. This was proposed as a possible explanation for his wives’ many miscarriages. It doesn’t seem to cause infertility (secondary or otherwise), but repeated, usually late miscarriages or neonatal deaths due to severe anemia. Henry’s wives were fertile (Catherine A and Anne B conceived early and often — they just had trouble carrying to term.) Whether Jane would have had another child if she hadn’t died one can only speculate. Anne of Cleve’s marriage was never consummated, and very likely the last two weren’t either due to Henry’s failing health. (Or at least there wasn’t enough sex to make pregnancy likely.) The articles also mention that even for Henry this diagnosis might be a stretch. (Mary wasn’t Catherine’s first baby, and the Kell factor usually results in a healthy, full-term first baby, followed by many miscarriages.)

    Some sort of genetic subfertility for Laura is definitly possible (Grace had no children, and Rose herself wasn’t conceived until 7 months into the marriage … a longer-than-expected lag for two healthy newly-weds.) But I’ve never seen any mention that Laura ever conceived after losing their son, let alone had any late miscarriages/still-births. (And when you look at Laura’s extended family on both her parent’s sides, most of her aunts and uncles had many, many healthy children.) Or it could be some other form of secondary infertility, due to any of a million health issues or pregnancy complications.

    1. Tracy Sapp

      Didn’t Charles & Caroline Ingalls marry in 1860 & they didn’t have Mary until 1865? Is there any mention of Ma having miscarriages or stillbirths in this time period? That is a long time to be married & not conceive. Rose also had a stillbirth or a late term miscarriage when she was married to Lane.

  11. naomi

    For the first few years of their marriage, Charles and Caroline spent much of the time living with his parents and siblings, all crammed into a small house. So there probably wasn’t much … opportunity there. (Because once they did start having children, they arrived with reasonable regularity — 2-3 years apart. )

    It’s unclear whether Rose’s baby was stillborn or died soon after birth. But there is no reason to assume that it was a genetic issue — from what we know it was more likely to have been a complicated birth. (Rose had to have surgery afterwards, which left her unable to have more children.)

  12. Anita

    It is notable that three generations of women (Caroline, Laura and her sisters, and Rose) had no sons survive early infancy. While this could of course be a coincidence it would be consistent with them carrying an X chromozone linked genetic disorder which caused miscarriage or death in males during gestation and early infancy.

    It is quite possible that there were many miscarriages for these women for which there is no record. In some cases, the women may not even have known they were briefly pregnant and when they were aware of miscarriages, it would likely not have been talked about much or widely known. My own miscarriage is no secret but I would be surprised if very many people who know me remember or ever knew that I had one.

    I find it interesting that the Boasts assumed that Laura and Almanzo could have another but in fact Rose was the only child they were able to raise. Having suffered from infertility myself, I find their desperation for a child sadly credible. (Fortunately for me, in modern times, my options for building a family were much more extensive.)

Leave a Reply