“Everyone loves a baby.”
Such was the common saying of one Dr. Martin Couney, by all accounts the inventor of the infant incubator at the turn of the twentieth century.
And such is the inspiration behind my new novel coming September 3, Miracle at the Sideshow: An Astounding Novel of the First Infant Incubators.
At that time in history, medical care of babies born prematurely was non-existent. In fact, with eugenics on the rise, premature babies were thought of as “weaklings,” and the majority left to die in their mothers’ arms.
But not Dr. Martin Couney.
He and a handful of physicians in Europe developed the prototype for what is still used today in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs): the infant incubator.
As a nurse who has worked in the NICU, I was amazed at the resemblance of modern incubators to those Dr. Couney used in the early 1900’s. From the warming and oxygen delivery systems to the ways of feeding premature babies, his inventions indeed paved the way for today’s care techniques that save preemies as young as 23 weeks gestation. As such, I had to write this story.
Of course, this is a work of fiction as far as what Dr. Couney said and did in the setting of my novel. He had one daughter (ironically also born prematurely), but she did not marry or have children, so there are no relatives that I could have interviewed. Instead, I read articles about adults who were Dr. Couney babies. I read books and journal articles about Dr. Couney (who most likely was not actually a physician) and medical care of the time. And I chose to set the timing of this story in 1911, the spring of two of the most famous fires in New York City. The first was the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire which killed tens of women seamstresses and paved the way for long overdue workplace safety. The second was the fire that burned Dreamland, the site of Dr. Couney’s Infant Incubator Exhibit, to the ground. Along with the protagonist, Sophie Rosenfeld, a young immigrant from Eastern Europe, all of these events work together to tell a story of injustice and tragedy, but also one of great courage when people dared to change the world by doing things that made society consider them “crazy.”
If you are interested in the details behind this story, I invite you to peruse some of the most pivotal books I read during my research listed in the printable image below. They range from books about Dr. Couney to books about Coney Island and acrobats, the history of the sideshow and its marginalized “exhibits,” books about the foods and recipes common for immigrants of the time, and more.
I also highly recommend online and (if possible) in-person tours of The Tenement Museum in New York City. This museum was life-changing for me, and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to visit the first of March, 2020, just before the pandemic broke. The resources and stories there are truly life-changing.
I hope as you begin to learn more about the inspiration behind Miracle at the Sideshow: An Astounding Novel of the First Infant Incubators that you will be as excited as I am about its release!