A Tale of Three Pregnancies. Part One: 1968

In honor of my sister’s birthday, today I am sharing the story of her birth. This is the first of three birth stories I will be sharing over the next few weeks.

After months of my (mostly polite) nagging, my mum has written down her birth stories and I’m so excited to finally share them. There are three of us: my sister was born in 1968, followed by my brother in 1970, and the “happy accident” at the end was me, in 1980. Over the span of twelve years there were many changes in maternity care and (as you will read), a woman’s resulting experience.

 

My daughter, Erica, suggested that I give an account of my three pregnancies, each a very different experience as the styles of obstetricians changed. This was in 1968, 1970 and 1980, probably before many of you reading this were born.

I was born in England, became a Registered Nurse in 1966, and moved to the USA in 1967 with my scientist husband. My understanding was we would return to England after two years.

My British qualifications were not recognized although I was “allowed” to work as a Graduate Nurse for 6 months. In 1968 at age 24 I delivered a girl, full term 5lb 9oz.

Things do change; in 2014 I am still living here in the USA.

In November 1967 I was newly pregnant and at my first OB visit. The internal exam seemed to go on indefinitely with uncomfortable manipulations. I learned the hard way that my uterus was “retroverted” and it had “just been fixed”. During that first doctor/patient interaction I asked if my husband would be allowed into the delivery room. The firm answer, “No,” came across loud and clear. My response was “I thought I would ask because it is very common in England” and his response, “Yes, and so are home deliveries and I don’t agree with those either.” Wow, that answer put me in my place.

I read “Childbirth Without Fear” by Grantly Dick Read, cover to cover, learned as much as I could about the relaxation technique and was determined that this birth would be one I would participate in; that is as much as was physically possible in 1968. As a teen I had suffered with Dysmenorrhea, treated on occasion with narcotics. I had two D&C’s and was eventually treated with Hormone Therapy; a “false pregnancy” where I controlled the amount of estrogen and progesterone that I took for six months. I either increased or decreased these drugs according to side effects from them. During this time I did not menstruate. The pill had only been recently been approved and was not widely used. It was common for me to have to retire to bed for several days or stay in a hot bath with the hot tap running. My Mother would comfort me with the words; “if you think this is bad, wait until you have a baby”. So it was natural for me to be apprehensive about body changes and what would await me giving birth.

The only pre-natal class available given by the local Visiting Nurse Association focused mostly on the psychology of birth and newborn care. I was an only child and babysitting was not commonly done by teens at that time in England, so really I was very green around the gills.

The pregnancy itself was as normal as could be; I had the usual first trimester nausea and lethargy but nothing out of the ordinary. I was told that I could gain up to 14 lb. and no more than 2 lb. in any one month! I worked out my own due date and gave the info to the OB who raised his eyebrows at me; not used to a patient taking control. There were two partners in the practice, neither one any nicer than the other but in a small town there is not a lot of choice. No midwives were available for me back then either. Toward the end of the pregnancy I was told not to expect a big baby. “This one is a peanut.”

My husband left for a scientific cruise in the Azores at the beginning of my last month of pregnancy. He actually said “No baby is born on their due date.” I had no family around and was dependent on friends if any problems occurred.  He was due home August 13th and my due date was August 18th. With only 3 flights a week out of the Azores I knew this was cutting it close. He arrived home as planned and I also kept my plan of delivering on the 18th.

Early labor began mid-afternoon on the 17th; me sitting on the grass outside a friends house while my husband helped them move into a new home. When I started to feel uncomfortable we returned home. My husband, who had not been coached to help, suggested I go to bed with a watch and time the contractions and let him know when we should leave for the hospital. Having none of this I suggested a game of Scrabble instead, stopping every once in a while to get through a contraction. By 7pm we were on our way to the hospital.

Admission exam showed that I was only 2cm dilated. I was given an enema “to speed things along” and was told, “This baby won’t be here for a long time, maybe another 12 hours.” A nurse friend had warned me to refuse “Scope” (Scopolamine) at all costs and I kept this in mind.

The enema actually did bring me into active labor and I avoided meds for several hours. Shifts changed and I had a new nurse, a fantastic coach. My husband stayed until my bloody show and had he kept quiet about it I am sure he would have been able to stick around for the birth. Once he pointed it out he was shown the door. My new nurse encouraged me to accept a low dose of Morphine to get me through transition. I accepted, reluctantly saying “but no Scope.” With just about 30 minutes of pushing I kept my promise to myself that I would be as quiet as a church mouse until I finally let out a few roars. Once crowning, the nurse flew to the OB’s room to wake him and announce the impending birth. I was wheeled into the OR, told to turn on my side and was given an epidural. Yes, this was done after crowning and with birth imminent! Episiotomy was routine, there was no choice.

At 12.35 am on August 18th 1968 my baby girl was born weighing 5lb 9oz. The OB did not utter one word to me during the delivery. The baby did not breathe spontaneously. Why wasn’t she crying? I hung off the OR table trying to see what was happening as they were stimulating her. “She’s a lazy breather” was all I got in response and I was told I could see her later. I was wheeled into a postpartum room. Back then Rules were Rules.

Excitement and recalling the events held sleep at bay and my filling bladder began to give me tremendous discomfort. After multiple unsuccessful tries with a bedpan and walking to the bathroom I was catheterized. This was excruciatingly painful; the same nurse who had been an excellent labor coach had a terrible time trying to find my urethra with my swollen vulva. To this day I have a chronic bladder disease often brought on by bladder trauma. I am convinced this stems back to that incident. I remember thinking that the labor and delivery was a breeze compared to my period pains and this time I had a reward for my hard work. I think I probably told the nurse that I would see her again next year. I was on a high!

mum&Jill 1968

I had been asking for what seemed like ages to hold my baby and at 5AM she was brought to me. The curtains were drawn around me and the Nursery Nurse said, “Here she is. You’re the one that wants to breastfeed, right?” I was the only one to breastfeed in the Maternity section and no help or advice was offered or given. I felt so alone. I was also very frustrated with the nurses because they would come to pick my baby up after I had nursed, weigh her and then feed her formula. I would go chasing down the hall anxious to hear the amount taken. It was never more than 1/4-1/2 ounce. I couldn’t wait to go home but 4 days was the rule and no changing it. My rear end hurt, my breasts hurt and I lied to get out of having the “necessary” enema before discharge.

On the positive side, my mother-in-law, Irene, arrived from England and as soon as she saw the state I was in at the hospital she put my fears to rest. She would show me the tricks I needed to breastfeed as soon as I was discharged. My own mother had died the year before. Once I was home Irene gave me the confidence that I lacked; helped with correcting the head position until the baby latched. The fact that I was engorged and this was a very tiny baby was a challenge. Her weight was just 5lb 2 oz when I took her home. We did well for a while and the visiting nurse came for weekly visits. At 6 weeks my baby started losing interest if the let down didn’t happen right away. I contacted my pediatrician who told me to switch to formula and the next time the nurse visited she sat on the bed for a whole hour talking me out of breastfeeding. There were no folks around offering support. No LaLeche, no MD , and no RN who would back me up. My husband was emotionally supportive but couldn’t fix the problem and there were no other family members around. I succumbed to the pressure, put her on formula and the little devil gained a whole pound the first week. 

 

 

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