Friday, July 3, 2015

The Lansdowne House Letters: Shacks Filled with Babies Revisited

My sister Barb suggested that I repost
Shacks Filled with Babies,
a post I first published on October 22, 2012.

This might seem unrelated to my Northern posts,
but it really isn't.

Both of my parents were impacted 
by their personal experiences 
and by what they saw around them;
and they were keenly aware of poverty
exacerbated by very large families.

Whether observing starving Indians in the North (post)
or impoverished French Canadians in New Brunswick,
or the poor in so many other places,
my parents saw the problems that came
when it was difficult to limit family size.

They became early proponents of birth control,
but it was my mother who had the biggest impact on me.
Here is the unforgettable lesson she taught me in 1956:

Twilight deepened over the Restigouche River, 
and lights winked on in the small village along its southern bank.

Supper was over, the dishes done, the kitchen tidied.  
My mother said, “Come on, Louise.  Let’s go for a walk.” 

Restigouche River

I think we lived on Notre Dame Street.  
It was along time ago.  
But, I can never forget the pervasive smell 
of the pulp and paper mill across the street.
Something else I can never forget 
is the shacks filled with babies.

Pulp and Paper Mill

Donnie with Her Dolly
Across from the Pulp and Paper Mill
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

We walked the quiet streets, 
and my mother pointed out home after home.  
“You see that shack, Louise?  
Seventeen children live there.  
And sixteen there.  
And eighteen there.  
The man who lives in that two-room shack over there; 
he has a good job at the mill.  
He’s a chemical engineer, 
but he’s got too many children.  
That’s why he lives in a shack.  
People can’t afford to have baby after baby after baby.”

We walked on in the warm night, and my mother continued, 
“But this will never happen to you, Louise!  
You won’t be forced to have baby after baby.  
You see, the most wonderful thing has happened!  
They’ve invented a pill.  
Scientists have invented a pill that stops women 
from having baby after baby.  

That means that you, as a woman Louise, 
can be whom you want and do what you want.  
You can go to university, get a good job.  
You can stand on your own two feet.  
You will never have to live in a shack, 
because you will never have to have 
a baby you can’t afford.”

These startling words branded my six-year old mind.  
I might not remember the name of our street, 
but I will never forget the shacks filled with babies.

 Mom and I:  
Lessons from Blowing Bubbles to Birth Control
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Sometime afterward my mother disappeared from my life.   
She was seriously ill and had left our village for medical care.  

Nana came.  
Snow fell deeply.  
Snow melted into early spring.  
Nana left.  

Mom returned in time to bake my birthday cake, 
frost it with boiled white icing, 
and decorate it with gumdrop balloons.  

These events were not startling to me.  
I had heard the whispered words Grave’s Disease.

Mom went on to have baby number five 
and became one of the earliest women 
in that time and place to go on the pill.   

Doctors had told her after baby two, 
“Another baby might kill you, Sara.” 

I knew these things because I had Big Ears 
and listened to secret conversations.  

I am forever grateful for babies three, four, and five, 
for they are my sisters.  
Lawyer, landman, teachers; 
pianist, singer, writers; 
we have not lived in shacks filled with babies.

Number Three Graduates from Acadia
with a Proud and Determined Mother Pushing Us All Forward
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Number Five:  The Author
Colorado Council of the International Reading Association, 2009
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Now I live in a purple state, 
where red and blue are duking it out fiercely 
in the presidential race.  
I hear the slogans.  Jobs!  Jobs!  Jobs!  
This race is about job creation, not social issues!  
It’s the economy, stupid!

It is the economy, stupid!  
I want more for our daughters and nieces 
than shacks filled with babies.

Donnie, Me, and Roy
Atholville, New Brunswick, 1957
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I still live in a purple state
and we are ramping up for another presidential election.
I can't believe we are still struggling to maintain
the right to access birth control and family planning.

I will always remember shacks filled with babies
and the starving Indians in the North. 
I cannot forget.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Note:  I've omitted the political messages that were in my early Shacks;
some videos were taken down from the internet and now some pages can't be found.


  1. Interesting read of that repost, and lovely photos as always. Have a nice weekend!

  2. Shacks with babies, ugg that would be crazy having that many kids. One pill that is worth it to have haha rather sad how still struggling to access it and such though.

  3. Great post Louise and thanks for reposting it! Mom was an amazing person and our great role model in life. Hugs Barb

  4. These are words embedded in your memory, and look at you all, huge achievements, , your Mum with her determination for each of you, your Dad who left ,to isolation, to give you all a better chance, I often think that my parents made huge sacrifices, and went without, so I could have a good education, and more. but at the time they kept this from me, and realisation comes way too late to say thank you.

  5. Sad but true. People had a lot of kids back then because there was no way to control it.Your mother imparted some wise words.

  6. Your Mum was a wise woman and I am so glad that she was able to take the pill to protect her health but also that she survived through your extra siblings.x

  7. Dearest Louise, it is so nice to see your post in my news feed! Your photos are beautiful, as always.

  8. Your mother was a good teacher and a very wise woman indeed, Louise!
    What a good lesson to learn. I remember this post and it is good to reread it again.

  9. Amen, Louise. I adore your mother for imparting that to you at such a young age. I often think of women in the past who couldn't control how many children they had and when. I can hardly think about it because my two girls drive me so crazy (ha ha!). Living in a shack with 17 children. Well, I just don't think I'd survive that. How lucky I am that I don't have to worry about it. I think of all the opportunities I had before I had children and I'm so grateful every day for those experiences. So grateful. And there's really not much I wouldn't do to fight for my girls to have the same! Men who preach about what women should and shouldn't be allowed to do ~ nothing infuriates me more. It should be up to women. It's one of the things in this world I feel the most passionate about! Thank you for this post!

  10. Hi Everyone! I have a brief Internet connection from the middle of nowhere! Thanks for your wonderful and appreciated comments! I'll be visiting all your awesome blogs, replying, and posting as soon as I can. My little internet onramp is overwhelmed by everyone trying to access it from our wilderness location. So have a wonderful day! Miss you all!


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