On 27 January 1859, Princess Victoria, the eldest daughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria gave birth to her first child, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. It was to be a traumatic experience, a breech birth that, though it remained unknown for some time, left him with a withered left arm. It would impact his childhood in particular and play a major role in the formation of his character, though it would be artfully disguised in later life.
Being the mother of nine children Queen Victoria knew all about the pain of childbirth but had found chloroform to be a great help and now recommended it to her daughter, and the Queen’s recommendations were rarely ignored. She also sent Vicky her long-time midwife, Mrs Innocent and her personal physician Dr James Clark.
There was little possibility of Queen Victoria leaving her daughter’s labour in the hands of German doctors alone.
Following the birth, Victoria’s husband Friedrich, heir to the Prussian throne, also known as Fritz, wrote to his Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert providing an account of the birth:
“After Vicky had been visited by pains of an unusual nature in the few days prior to the 27th, which had more than once given us a false alarm, she experienced sharp pains shortly before midnight on the 26th, and soon thereafter wetness, which induced me to call in Mrs Innocent. She soon informed me quietly that the time had come, but advised Vicky to try and get a little sleep.
This was no longer possible, as the above-mentioned pain recurred a short time later and Sir James was informed and Wegner. Countess Blucher was summoned. Vicky put on some warm loose clothes and paced to and fro for several hours supported by Countesses Perponcher and Blucher and myself, desperately clutching us or at a table whenever the pain set in. At around half past two in the morning, I went to my parents to announce that it had begun, and Vicky went into the bedroom, which had meanwhile been prepared for the decisive event; and there, she spent the night either walking or lying in the chaise lounge.
The pains gradually increased and by daybreak were no longer by any means negligible. At around 9 a.m., she lay down on the bed, the very place where my father was born; only somewhat later did Dr Wegner notice by chance as he examined her that the position of the baby was not quite the normal one.
Vicky’s pain, as well as her horrible screams and wails, became even more severe; however, whenever she was granted a respite from her suffering, she would ask for forgiveness from everyone for her screaming and impatience, but she could not help herself. When the final stage of labour began, I had to try with all my might to hold her head in place, so that she would not strain her neck over much. Every contraction meant a real fight between her and me, and even today, 29 January, my arms still feel quite weak.
To prevent her from gnashing and biting, we made sure that there was a handkerchief in her mouth at all times. Occasionally, I had to use all my strength to remove her fingers from her mouth, and also placed my own fingers in her mouth. With the strength of a giant, she was at times able to hold off two people, and thus the awful torture escalated until the moment of birth was so near that complete anaesthesia with chloroform was undertaken. Vicky was laid at right angles on the bed; she let forth one horrible, long scream, and was then anaesthetized.
Because the baby was lying in the breech position and Vicky had absorbed so much chloroform she was virtually comatose and unable to help in the delivery it had to be literally yanked from the womb. But it wasn’t breathing, everyone thought it was stillborn, and it was only the swift action of the midwife Fraulein Stahl who began to slap the baby’s face first lightly and then more vigorously that saved the young prince’s life.
Upon hearing his son’s first faint cries Friedrich wrote:
“The sound cut through me like an electric shock. I then staggered, in a half-faint, into the next room where the baby was in a bath, and first I fell into Mama’s arms, and then I sank to my knees.”