According to family legend, my grandmother gave birth to my father three months early. The doctors told her that he was born prematurely, and would soon die. It was suggested that she take him home and call a priest.

So she took the infant home and lit the wood stove, and made a crib for him, which she placed on the open door of the stove’s oven. She would tell me this story as she was making holiday pies, and I would always imagine my father, very miniaturized, in a tiny crib sitting on the oven door in my grandmother’s kitchen.

One day I repeated that story back to some adults in my family and they laughed and laughed. Apparently there is an alternative explanation involving a full term pregnancy and a shotgun. But that is another story.

I mention this only as preface to an interesting story just out in the New York Times. The Global Health Initiative (out of Boston) has worked out plans for turning an old car into a baby incubator.

Mechanically, incubators are simple devices, providing a warm, clean, womblike environment in which a baby can mature (though state-of-the-art models may have accessories like built-in X-ray machines and rotating mattresses). Low birth weight and other problems make it especially difficult for newborns to regulate their body temperature, a condition that can lead to organ failure.

In the car parts incubator, infants born at 32 weeks’ gestation or longer can receive supplemental oxygen while their lungs gain strength, antibiotics if they have infections, and low-lit quiet in which to sleep if their mothers are away or are otherwise unable to hold them. In an emergency, the incubator’s bassinet can be removed and carried to another part of the building or even to another hospital.

The details of the story are here.

Too bad Grandma didn’t know about this. It would have been a much more interesting story had it involved the old Model A.


  1. #1 Romeo Vitelli
    December 26, 2008

    “Apparently there is an alternative explanation involving a full term pregnancy and a shotgun.”

    Don’t be dissing your grandma. You’re not too big for a trip to the woodshed.

  2. #2 Rogue Epidemiologist
    December 26, 2008

    ZOMG! Teen pregnancy existed in the olden days??? If only they had ABSTINENCE-ONLY sex education, then maybe … you wouldn’t exist?

  3. #3 Don Smith, FCD
    December 29, 2008

    That’s funny, my grandmother was about 1 1/2 lbs at birth (weighed her on the scales at the grocery store) and they wrapped her up and put her on the oven door. Car parts would not have been available however as that was in 1894.