A Look Back: My Birth Experiences In The 1970s
By Felice Eisner, written on May 4, 1980
The routine practiced by my obstetrician didn’t have the personal warmth I think every pregnancy deserves. The imminent birth of my first child was both exciting and scary. The doctor treated me as just one more nervous woman in his busy office. He was patronizing and business-like, just as were his two partners. Each office visit lasted about five minutes, after hours in the waiting room, and consisted of a cursory examination. Questions were handled impatiently and routinely, while my husband was totally excluded. It was against orders for him to hear the fetal heartbeat. Although it could be heard by anyone outside the tiny examining cubicle, due to extreme amplification, the nurse said she would try to “sneak” Sol in from the waiting room. She did—just too late for him to hear the baby.
The delivery itself went well, although here again it seemed that the convenience of the hospital staff took precedence over the birth of a new life. Sol and I had attended prepared childbirth classes and were confident and nervous. Sol stayed with me in the labor room, except during examinations, when he was asked to leave. Luckily, the labor itself was short, and we waved to each other in the hall as I was wheeled into the delivery room. The nurse who switched me from the rolling bed to the delivery table was rather curt, slapping my knee to bend my leg into the stirrups. She muttered that she had to catch a bus to the country. We had apparently chosen a bad time to have a baby—Friday afternoon. The anesthetist was also in a hurry and exclaimed, “Let’s see if we can get this over by 3:30.” As far as I was concerned, he could have gone immediately; in prepared childbirth, an anesthetist is required only in emergencies. However, I still had to pay his bill.
We entered the delivery room at 3 p.m. and, as the labor progressed rapidly, the anesthetist suggested to the doctor that the delivery could occur sooner if he would press down on my abdomen and push the baby out. The doctor agreed and my daughter was delivered at exactly 3:30 p.m. The doctor placed the baby on my stomach for a token “bonding” moment then whisked her into a warming bassinet. Still strapped to the delivery table, I held her tiny fingers as the placenta was delivered and thrown into a wastebasket. Then the doctor, the anesthetist, and a different nurse (who had replaced the first one) all left. To my amazed anger, the janitor then came in to mop the floor.
Finally, after about a half hour, a nurse appeared with the comment, “What is the baby doing here!” She scooped my daughter out of the room, and another nurse arrived to deposit me in the hallway, where I waited for another hour. Sol joined me until I was taken to my room. The baby was brought only on schedule, as the hospital did not have rooming in or demand feeding at that time.
The whole experience seemed to me to be full of unnecessary unpleasantness, so when I became pregnant the second time, I recalled a friend telling me about the nurse/midwife team at a different local hospital. She had given birth there a few weeks after my Tova had been born and the type of care she had received sounded like the kind of warm professional service that I needed. My sister and I visited the midwives and were delighted to find three lovely, capable women who visited with us for almost an hour, free of charge, discussing the midwife program, and giving us a short tour of the lying-in rooms and bedrooms. The midwives accepted only low-risk mothers; high-risk patients and those with a history of complications were referred to the doctors on the staff. The labor rooms were just a few steps from the delivery room, and a doctor was always on call in case of unforeseen complications. An additional plus for the midwife program was that it accepted only a limited number of patients to ensure that each woman gets proper attention and undivided care. The obstetricians I had previously seen were all too eager to accept as many patients as possible, of necessity limiting the amount of time that could be spent with each one. After talking to the midwives, I immediately entered the program.
Each office visit included the usual check-up I had received from the doctor in my first pregnancy. In addition, the nurses requested an exact report of everything I ate in a 48-hour period. Thus, they were able to offer sound nutritional advice to aid the development of the unborn child. Because of a family history of diabetes (my mother was diabetic), they ran specific tests throughout the pregnancy to make sure pregnancy-related diabetes did not develop. The doctor who attended my first pregnancy merely made a notation in my chart.
Tova*, then two years old, was included in my office visits, since there were no internal exams. Tova helped to “check Mommy,” measuring my growing stomach and listening to the fetal heartbeat on a special stethoscope. My husband asked to join us, and I was scheduled for evening appointments, when he would be free, so that he could hear the baby’s heartbeat and ask questions about the birth and his part in the proceedings. A visit could last half an hour and include discussions about child rearing, the possible jealousy Tova would feel, and reassurances about the delivery.
Each midwife shared the qualities we sought: calm, friendly professionalism without coldness. The midwives would treat each patient and unborn child as unique. This attitude was exactly what I had been looking for: the feeling that my baby was someone extraordinary, not one more baby off the assembly line.
Early on March 1, 1979, I called the midwifery office to say I was in labor, although my contractions were sporadic and weak. One of the midwives told me to wait until the contractions were strong, regular, and close together before coming to the hospital.
At 4:30 a.m., I called my mother to let her know that we were bringing Tova over since labor seemed to be progressing rapidly. All labor stopped as soon as we arrived at my mother’s home. As the day progressed and labor didn’t, with contractions remaining sporadic, I grew increasingly nervous. Everyone watched me as if I were going to explode. About noon, I asked Sol if we might go for a drive and get out from under everyone’s eyes. We said goodbye to Tova, telling her that the baby was almost ready to come, and left with my suitcase. We drove around a neighborhood park several times. Each time, I told Sol that the contractions were coming more regularly and getting stronger. Finally, as we went around the park for the fourth time, I said, “Okay, now we can go to the hospital.” We stopped to call the midwifery office again, then looked for parking near the hospital. Although my contractions were now four minutes apart, I felt very little discomfort, only waiting for the contraction to pass before walking to the hospital.
The midwife on call examined me and told us to have a cup of tea in the hospital cafeteria. We went down the three flights to the café, but before we could buy the tea, I told Sol that we’d better go back. I felt I had to lie down.
The midwife examined me again, this time in the labor room where the baby would be born. She was surprised that labor had advanced so rapidly and left briefly to change into surgical greens. She said later that she had never changed so fast. As we had discussed, the labor and delivery were to take place in the same room. The bedside light was on, as well as a spotlight at the foot of the bed. The only other people in the room were a pediatric nurse and a female technician who was waiting for the placenta to be delivered. The midwife sat at the foot of the bed, and I pushed against her when the time came. Sol sat at the head of the bed, relaying Nancy’s instructions into my ear. Her voice seemed a little distant, while he spoke clearly, close to me. “Push, push! Wait for a minute. Now push again!” I gave a final push, and the midwife cried, “Felice, put out your hands!” My daughter was born into my own hands! I held her and stroked her tiny body as the midwife cleared her mouth and nose. Then, she handed Sol a scissors and said, “Now you cut the cord.” With a shaking hand, he completed the step that brought his child fully into the world.
I had been aware of the pediatric nurse and the technician during the delivery as they called out encouragement. The technician, especially, at the birth itself, called out, “Oh, beautiful, beautiful!” She later told me she hoped that her children would be born like my daughter, saying it was “a perfect delivery.”
After I held the baby for a little while, the pediatric nurse came forward and asked for the child. She seemed to understand perfectly when I said I wanted to hold her a little longer. She waited patiently and then took the baby for taking weight and footprints. She took Sol along, and he returned shortly, without the nurse, holding his newborn daughter in his arms. Still in the same bed, I nursed the baby for the first time. She was about a half hour old. As I lay quietly, Sol held the baby and we talked softly about the great experience we had just gone through. Another midwife came in and took pictures at my request of our family and the attending midwife.
While the midwife took me to my room in a wheelchair, Sol carried the baby beside me to the rooming-in nursery, just a few feet from my bed. We were not separated at all in the hospital, and left the next day. We returned to my mother’s house for a two-week postpartum stay.
*Felice’s daughter, Tova, is now a La Leche League Leader with LLL of Marine Park/Madison (Brooklyn, New York).