Thursday, February 4, 2010

Taking it back

My mom brought me my baby book around the time Will was born, and yesterday I was looking through it to see when I got my first teeth (Will hasn't gotten any teeth yet). On the first page of the baby book, my mom had taped the information pamphlet given to her by the maternity ward of the hospital where she had me. I read through it, and at first it made me want to cry. Then it made me mad. Really mad.


What made me so mad was the hospital policy of separating mothers and babies. Look at the bottom left. "...please instruct your friends, relatives, husband, etc., of the time when babies are in the room as you are not permitted to answer the phone when you have your baby." Then they list the times when you have your baby. 9:30-10:30am. 1-2pm. 4:30-5:30pm. Three hours a day. Three hours a day!


I mean seriously. I would have just liked to see some one try to come between me and Will after he was born. Several of their limbs would have been torn off. I can't imagine anything more cruel and inhumane than separating a mother and her baby. What was the purpose of this? What was it supposed to achieve? Did doctors really believe women were only capable of seeing their babies for 3 hours a day? And that they couldn't even handle talking on the phone while the baby was present? What did these doctors think that women were going to do once they got home?

On the bottom right of the pamphlet (see below), it does say that this hospital allowed the option of "rooming in" on request. I asked my mom if she had roomed in with me. "Oh Lord no," she said. "It was unheard of. I was in a room with three other women. Your dad couldn't even be in the room when they brought you in for me to nurse."

I expressed my outrage at such idiotic policy, and my mother shared the sentiment. She recalled that she was furious and that she even got "lippy" with the nurses (to no avail, of course). "Yes, it was inhumane," she agreed with me. "They totally ignored women back then. But what did we know? We had no choice. And I certainly didn't want to have you alone at home."

That's the thing about this. The thing that makes me so mad.

The right side of the pamphlet, in the middle of the page, indicates that women weren't allowed to get up and use the bathroom for six to eight hours after giving birth. Even then you had to have a written order from the doctor, granting you permission. My mom said she didn't remember this part. What she remembers is that her neck hurt so bad while she was lying in that hospital bed, and she asked the nurses for a heating pad. They told her they couldn't give her one without a doctor's order, and it was nighttime, so they didn't want to call and disturb him. "So as I think about it, my neck has hurt for the last 30 years," she told me.


Many things infuriate me about all of this, but perhaps what infuriates me the most is that these policies make breastfeeding impossible. My mother always told me that she wanted to breastfeed, but she couldn't. After reading this pamphlet, I'm all, NO SHIT, SHERLOCK. If you are only "allowed" to see the baby 3 times a day, for an hour each time, how on earth is your milk going to come in? And even if it does, how on earth are you going to make enough milk to feed the baby? Clearly, while the babies were being kept away from their mothers in the sterile environment of the nursery, they would have to have been given formula or sugar water or whatever other crap doctors thought was "best" back then. Formula companies got rich while breastfeeding almost became a lost art in this country, and most women probably blamed themselves for not being able to do it.

I was terrified of giving birth in a hospital, for fear that it would be the same sort of patriarchal, assembly line experience that my mother had had and that it would end with me being unable to breastfeed. But things have changed in the last 30 years. I labored in a tub and on my knees and on all fours or standing or sitting-- however it felt bearable. I had a midwife and a female obstetrician and a doula who whispered encouragement to me for at least 12 hours straight and who advocated for me so that they didn't give me pitocin when I stalled at 5-cm for 4 hours. I got to have my husband with me the whole time, and I got to hold my naked, bloody, writhing baby the moment he entered this world. He never left my side after that, and no one gave him formula (even though the doctors told me I should). I had a lactation consultant who worked with us for weeks and weeks to get this baby to latch right and to get me to make enough milk for him, when despite everything that we had going for us, I still almost wasn't able to do it. I had to fight every step of the way for every last little thing, but not fighting was never an option.

I look at the policies under which I was born, written out in black and white like that, and it makes me wonder when birth was taken away from the mother, and why. I realize this is why I felt so strongly about giving birth the way I did and about breastfeeding. I was fighting to take it back.


Anonymous said...

YOU DID!!!!! For all us mothers of the 70's who were told what and when to do whatever we did and we pretty much were made to feel we had NO CHOICE and IT was for OUR best interests!!!!! Maybe that's why to this day I am NOW, very, very, very, ANTI dr's ,hospital's, and most things connected with them!!!! As you are aware, of all the HUNDREDS of medical people I've dealt with over my "HUNDREDS" of years of life,,,,,, there are a TINY few on my page of 'OK"DOCTORS! I may be a BIT harsh, but most of them don't appear to know much more than me, with" MY W/D" degree!!( that would be Woman's day' for all you young people out there!!!) SOOOOO, you will find as you go thru life with little Will, you will encounter many obstacles........ but, I see the Mother LION in you, and he will be protected cuz you will do the" BEST YOU CAN"!!!!! Back to 30 years ago, in spite of the WRETCHEDNESS of the HOSPITAL POLICIES, RULES and STUPIDNESS,,, LOOK what an~ AWESOME JOB~ we did with you and WITHOUT BOOKS and WHAT NOT !!! You are a great mama to WILL, just hang in there thru the tuff times!!!!! luv you, mama

Ragfield said...

Well, at least they wanted the mother to be "well-acquainted with (her) baby by the time (she) goes home."

Nice to meet you.

Unknown said...

Wow! So glad I had Michael in the 2000's! Michael and Robert were in my room 24/7. I was in the bathroom on my own 2 hours after delivery. They wouldn't remove my IV until I did!

Teach said...

Interesting read...about the teeth thing, Macy didn't get her first tooth until just AFTER her first birthday. William will be just fine! He is adorable by the way.

amypfan said...

This sounds like something out of the Dark Ages. Oh, wait, women were probably better off in the Dark Ages, laboring by themselves in the woods or whatever.

Anonymous said...

But women in pre-modern times didn't labor by themselves. Far from it! Except in very unusual circumstances they were surrounded by other women.