Birth stories: an account written by a proud new father in 1919

What was it like to become a dad almost 100 years ago? Here you can read Hilding’s fantastic birth story about the day his first-born son Björn came into the world. The discovery of this account by the author’s great-grandson Robin coincided with the birth of his own first child earlier this year.

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Birth Stories: a diary entry from 1919.
Hilding’s diary with a birth story from 1919.
Photo: Robin Karlsson

Birth story: how I gave birth in the car

I shall attempt to record some brief details about the arrival of our first-born. It was glorious weather that day, with a clear blue sky: real Indian summer weather. Elsa had started feeling faint, fleeting pains in her abdomen on the evening before this memorable day and we had joked that it would not be long before “the boy” was here. This since we were taking it for granted that it would be a “lad”. Sometimes when we spoke about our unborn child, we were uncertain whether to use the feminine or masculine pronoun, but eventually we fell into the habit of saying “he”. Yet these pains were so insignificant that we did not believe that anything serious was in the offing.

We were uncertain whether to use the feminine or masculine pronoun.

But the next day (the 15th of September) at ten in the morning, these pains returned with a vengeance, although they were not severe enough to prevent Elsa from going out for groceries, including lingonberries that she made into jam that same morning. At noon, during lunchtime, she confided in me that she was in considerable discomfort. The pain had intensified by one o’clock. So I contacted my sister Elna on the telephone and asked her what should be done, suggesting that it might be time for her to come over now. She replied that she would come directly and she was as good as her word.

Birth story: my unplanned home birth

A strong and healthy boy.

When she arrived and saw Elsa, she assured me that it would all soon be over. I had difficulty believing that events would unfold so swiftly. I went down to the factory at two in the afternoon, after first carrying the bed and bedclothes down from the attic.

At twenty past four, Elna telephoned to congratulate me.

– You have a strong and healthy boy.

– What on earth are you saying, that is untrue and you should not joke about matters like this!

However, it was the truth and I instantly returned home, where I found Elsa smiling contentedly, with the boy lying beside her. Björn was born at ten past four in the afternoon and he weighed five-and-a-half pounds.

To my eye, he was nothing much to look at.

To my eye, he was nothing much to look at, but both Elna and Mrs Axelsson assured me that he was much more appealing than newborn infants are in general. The actual delivery had gone unusually fast. But there was no avoiding the pains that every woman has to endure. Elsa was unwilling to say much on this subject, but I gathered from the women’s remarks that these pains had been just about tolerable. It is now midnight and I am sitting up to keep watch over my little wife and big son.

Our son was christened Björn Åke Hilding on the 18th of October 1919, which was also our third wedding anniversary.

Birth story: Our preemie miracle

BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Birth Stories: Elsa, Hilding, and children Björn and Solveig in 1921.
Elsa and Hilding with son Björn and Elsa’s younger sister Solveig in 1921.

Important tips! How all dads can get involved in childbirth and breastfeeding

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BABYBJÖRN Magazine – Birth Stories: Robin and his son Elliot.

Robin Karlsson

Age: 32

Family: Partner Petra and son Elliot.

About Hilding and his family:

Hilding was founder and director of a chemicals company called AB De förenade Kemiska Fabriker which manufactured toothpaste, baking powder, glue and fruit salt. Elsa didn’t work while the children were young, but later she also worked in the factory. Their family included Björn’s younger brother Ulf and Elsa’s younger sister Solveig, who was raised as a sibling to the two boys.

Becoming a dad – then and now:

“I’ve just become a dad myself and that makes Hilding’s story resonate even more strongly with me. In 1919, it was unthinkable for the father to participate during childbirth and that makes me feel sorry for all the men who’ve missed out on this. Childbirth was an extremely intense experience, both terrifying and fantastic all at once, and it’s given me a whole new level of respect and admiration for my beloved Petra – and every other woman who’s given birth – that I wouldn’t want to be without. But Hilding had to make do with arranging some of the practical details and I sense from what he wrote that he found it frustrating not to be able to do more. He can’t conceal his tremendous pride in his “little wife and big son” once the delivery is safely over.