On the eve of my 50th birthday, I just re-read my baby book. Yep, I know, when was the last time you did that? I figured, hey, I’m going to turn 50 tomorrow, so I thought I’d look at my baby book for a trip down memory lane. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about my baby book when I was organizing my photo albums. I thought tonight would be a good night to revisit that post and update it with some pictures and a little commentary.
So, this baby book was quite a treasure trove. There was, of course, a lot of really great stuff in there about my growth and development as a toddler, which was a lot of fun to read. It was great to see my mom as a young mother, noting the same things I noted about my own kids’ babyhoods. I can just see her in her psychedelic 1960’s outfits, with her Sophia Loren eye makeup and bouffant hairdo, chasing little me around trying to get me to eat my pureed peas.
My mom deserves all of the glory for raising me to be the person I am today. She did a lot, and with very little support from anyone. She was a very young mother, only 19 when I was born. My parents divorced when I was very young, and my mother raised me on her own. How she did it, I’ll never know. She worked two, sometimes three jobs to keep us fed and clothed and keep a roof over our heads. Financially, we were very poor, but we never lacked for fun or love. Mom always made sure of that. She did her absolute best for me, and it is because of that I have always worked to do more, to give more, to be more.
Doing her best for me began with doing her best for my birth. I was born in 1966, back at a time when most moms were knocked out for birth. The natural childbirth movement was just starting to gather momentum back then. Dr. Bradley had just published Husband Coached Childbirth the year before, but I don’t think my mom had read it before my birth. She did, however, read Grantly Dick-Read’s Childbirth Without Fear.
I was born at Forbes Air Force Base hospital in Topeka, Kansas. Here’s a picture of it. From what I understand, the hospital no longer exists, and I think the Air Force Base is no longer there either.
My dad wasn’t allowed in the room with my mom. My mother, having read Childbirth Without Fear, decided she wanted a natural childbirth. I, like many first babies, was late. According to my mom’s calculations, I was 3 weeks late. She ended up being induced. Despite the induction, mom insisted on having no pain medication. She says she remembers the pain was like waves, and she would just visualize ocean waves during the contractions to get through it. She remembers a very nice nurse who was very comforting and maternal towards her during her labor. When mom started to push, the doctor had the nurse strap a face mask to her leg. It had trilene gas, a popular anesthetic at the time. The nurse said it would be there for her if she needed it, and she could just grab it and inhale if the pain became too much to bear. At the moment of crowning, when mom was startled by the intensity of that moment, she grabbed the mask and inhaled, not knowing it wasn’t going to get any more difficult than it was right then, and she was knocked out. When she came to, she remembers hearing me cry, and she thought I was a cat meowing.
When mom tells the story of my birth, she gets really angry, and rightly so. She made it all the way to the end and then took the drugs because she didn’t know she was at the end. She never had any more children, so she missed her one chance to experience the moment of the birth of her child. As a woman who has experienced that moment for all 5 of my children, I really feel like my mom got ripped off.
I always thought that story was so sad, but I was so proud of my mom for trying hard for a natural birth back in those days. She was the only woman in the maternity ward who chose to breastfeed too. My mom was such a rebel. At the young age of 19, she knew already just how important natural birth and breastfeeding are. I am forever thankful for her choices and so proud of her for taking that path.
So, I was reading my baby book today and thinking about all that my mother went through when I was born, all of the challenges she faced. The baby book she had for me was part baby book/album and part baby care guide. It was really interesting to read what they had to say about birth, breastfeeding, and baby care. Here are some snippets I found particularly telling about the mindset surrounding birthing back in 1966:
“If you believe you are going into labor, do not eat any food until you speak with your doctor. Anesthetics are best tolerated on an empty stomach.”
“After the doctor has examined you, he usually orders the nurse to give you an enema.”
” ‘Natural Childbirth’ is a term that has been accepted by those mothers wishing to experience the birth of their babies without the aid of analgesia and anesthesia. Even those mothers, however, are frequently given a local anesthesia.”
“When you recover from your anesthesia and delivery, you will, of course, be tired and so you may fall off into a natural sleep for three to four hours. Following this rest … your first interest will be your baby and the nurse will bring him into your room as soon as you ask to see him.”
“(Rooming in) requires special nursing routines and special regulations concerning visitors that most hospitals do not customarily allow.”
“Most hospitals thoughtfully give the mother a bottle containing enough formula for 24 hours on her day of discharge from the hospital. This takes the pressure off the first day at home and makes the preparation of the first formula a pleasure rather than a hasty chore. You will be given a copy of the formula the baby has been receiving, and with the demonstration of formula preparation which you observed the day prior to discharge fresh in your mind, you will find that formula making is much easier than you may have anticipated.”
“All normal newborns receive a 2 1/2% sugar water solution twelve hours after birth and at intervals during the following twelve hours. 24 hours after birth, the baby is put to the mother’s breast for three to five minutes every four hours for one day. Feeding time is then gradually increased to the normal period of 20 minutes.”
“Some hospitals expose the infant to enough ultra-violet light to sunburn his name on his skin. Others place a large piece of adhesive on the infant’s back upon which his mother’s name is recorded.”
Seriously? WOW. I knew it was bad then, but wow. My mom traversed some pretty high obstacles just to even breastfeed back then. I saw in my baby book that she remained in the hospital until June 1st, which was 6 days after I was born. I can’t imagine not seeing my baby until 4 hours after the birth, nor can I imagine only being “allowed” to breastfeed my baby 24 hours after the birth, and then for only 3-5 minutes every 4 hours. Can you believe the stuff about the sugar water and not nursing for the first 24 hours??? The sunburn thing is absolutely barbaric!
My baby book was a real eye-opener in so many ways. It gave me a whole new respect for my mother’s courage and determination in the face of a very well-established system of obstetrical care. I find it absolutely amazing that she was able to do as much as she did. In fact, I find it pretty amazing that anyone breastfed or had natural births back then. It is pretty mind-boggling to think of what a radical shift in philosophy the natural childbirth movement was back then. It makes my current efforts seem tame by comparison. Now, when people call me a radical or a rebel, I’ll wear that label with pride and a little smile because I know I’m not nearly the rebel my mom’s generation was. I aspire to be that kind of rebel.