Posted in:

The miles to motherhood

How rural birth stories have and haven’t changed.

MMy great grandmother Gudrun had her first of what would be twelve children in 1915.

Twelve children in rural western North Dakota during a time where a trip to the post office took a good day on horseback and ordering disposable diapers on wasn’t even close to a thing.

I think about her often now that I’m a mother out here working on raising a child thirty miles and 45 minutes from the nearest grocery store and emergency room. I thought about her more when I was pregnant and trying to prepare myself for what could possibly be an emergency three-hour drive to deliver my child.

I wondered what her labors were like in that small house out on the prairie. I wondered if there was a particular neighbor woman who was designated to help women deliver at the time. I wondered if her oldest daughters were involved in helping bring the new babies into the world.

I wondered if twelve children ever felt completely overwhelming.

I wondered if she was as scared and nervous as I was?

In the hundred years that have passed since then so many things have changed in the field of obstetrics. From the invention of birth control to the role that infertility treatment and medical intervention plays in creating hope for starting a family, women and families have more choices and the potential of more control over building their families than ever before.

But even after all these years, out here where we live in rural Western North Dakota, unless you choose to give birth at home the way of our ancestors, the distance to the nearest hospital where you can receive prenatal care or give birth has not shrunk. Actually, for us, since my mom delivered me in our small hospital in Watford City in 1983, it has grown.

One of my best friends and neighbors just gave birth to twins, two little blessings who came into this world because of the availability of access to infertility treatment. But it wasn’t an easy, or short road.

Their oldest daughter was born three years ago after years of making the 150 mile round trip drive from their ranch to the clinic to receive painful and expensive fertility treatment before consulting with an infertility doctor who travels to the area from Minneapolis to partner with North Dakota clinics because he believes in the need for providing infertility care to rural communities. He ultimately recommended in vitro fertilization, a procedure that required a thousand mile round trip and multiple day stay in Minneapolis for the couple.

They made the trip once to become pregnant with their first daughter and twice before they became pregnant with twins.

This same doctor helped us answer the issue with my body that was preventing me from carrying babies to full term for over eight years.

In 1915, my friend and I very likely would have been living out here, isolated and unexplainably childless.

And while the population boom that has occurred here in Western North Dakota has sprung many healthcare facilities like Dickinson, Williston and now Watford City into expanding their maternity space and obstetrics services, families like us who are raising and having babies on rural farms or in small towns will always feel a little remote, those miles between home and the hospital seemingly so much longer with a baby that could be on the way any minute.

This month’s feature tells some of those crazy birth stories, where the long road between a baby on the way and the delivery room created some unorthodox and intense birthdays. That literal long road, to infertility treatment, to prenatal care, to the delivery room, is a topic that’s unique to our area and one I believe many of you moms and dads can relate to.

But hidden among all of these stories is a common theme of thankfulness for the quality of research and healthcare and choices we have access to in our modern world, the dedication of our rural first responders and healthcare providers and the quality of care we have access to out here on the prairie, no matter the miles.

And, because the story doesn’t stop after our babies are born, I share my notes for getting through the first months on the prairie with a newborn. Spoiler alert: It involves and someone who’s willing to be your personal grocery-store runner.

Have your own rural birth story experience or tips? We’d love to hear from you!
Share in the comments or visit us on at to start the conversation.

Written by Jessie Veeder

Jessie Veeder

Jessie is a singer/songwriter/writer and statewide columnist living on her family’s ranch near Watford City with her husband and daughter. She blogs at . Reach her at (


52 posts