Perms, Shoulder Pads and Pethidine.

My mum shares my birth story from 1981.

Birth and babies remain the same no matter what generation we are from, but how we cope and deal with it changes with knowledge and trends and even maybe our expectations. There is no right or wrong way, just your way.

With my first baby I had been sick, morning, noon and night. It was a traumatic birth ending in forceps and his admission to what was then called the Special Care Baby Unit. So I had to pluck up courage to go for it again, especially with a toddler in tow.

Thankfully my pregnancy with Kate was so different. Only morning sickness until around 4-5 months when it tailed off. I was working 2 nights a week on the Haemodialysis Unit at my local hospital. My job was to put patients on and take them off their kidney machines. It sometimes entailed removing blood clots from the lines in their arms, that connected them to the machines. Until I was pregnant this had never bothered me, but it did now and I was often queasy. I was tired, more from lack of sleep than anything else, a lively toddler doesn’t want to sleep much, so I only ever got an hour or so catch up during the day, if I could entice him for a nap.

As usual practice then in nursing I gave up work around 29 – 30 weeks (none of this working ‘til you drop in those days) and I caught up with my sleep. As before, 42 weeks came and went, so I was booked for induction. I was optimistic, that as with most 2nd babies, it might be quicker and easier and I was not disappointed. Birth in the seventies and early eighties was a more prescriptive affair with not much choice, no birth plans or grand ideas for water births or candles. You really just did what you were told!

I was admitted the night before, normal practice then, the usual examinations preceded the Brazilian shave and enema. Even as a nurse I am not entirely sure what the rationale was for shaving, I presume infection control, it’s not as though they couldn’t find their way out! The enema I could understand a little more, it did prevent accidents when pushing but nowadays it’s not thought necessary and people are admitted later in labour so isn’t time relevant really. There were 4 of us for induction next morning and 3 toilets in a block. We were all given enemas at the same time, poor planning there, so someone was going to be caught short! I made sure it wasn’t me by sitting outside the loos and grabbing a cubicle before needed.

I was given a pessary the night before, which was repeated the next morning, to soften the cervix. After a fretful night with period type pains I was taken up to delivery ward about 9 am. Dave had been told to meet me there around 10 am. This would be after the breaking of waters with an instrument resembling a crochet hook and insertion of a drip with drugs to stimulate contractions. Husbands were not allowed to witness such things! As induced births then could sometimes start off quite rapidly and painfully, epidurals were commonly offered. I wasn’t sure I wanted another epidural, I had one with my son, as it had been a long, painful labour and forceps delivery. I decided to go with some pethidine this time. It took a while to get going, but eventually regular contractions started.

Labour those days was spent immobile on a hospital bed and food/ snacks not given in case a section under general was needed. With just water to drink you soon got tired, just at the time you needed a lot of energy to push them out. However as with all labours this was different, much quicker and by 7pm Kate was ready to emerge. The pethidine had long worn off and it was too late for another, so au natural this time. I hadn’t felt the pushing stage last time so it was a bit of a shock and I felt the worst part. It was like a melon stretching your perineum, the wait until the next push seemed interminable with this baby half in half out! This was the only time I lost it a bit and swore at everyone, husband included. I think I said “I’d had enough, wasn’t having this baby now and was going home” or more colourful words to that effect.

I will never forget as the midwife shouted “It’s a girl”. I had never dared hope for a girl, one of each! Dave later said he was worried as Kate’s head emerged as a cylindrical, cone shape and he thought something seriously wrong with her. I hadn’t thought to warn him how normal moulding was in the birth process. My son had been whipped out with forceps and although battered and bruised was a perfect round shape. As she was handed to me I was amazed how much like she looked like her brother as a new-born and I kept remarking on it.

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Kate fed immediately on the breast (my children certainly liked their food!) whilst I was stitched up. Episiotomies very much the norm in those days as it was felt a clean-cut healed better than a jagged tear. Back to the ward for the 5 days’ recovery! Pros and cons to that, a rest maybe, but after the first day gazing adoringly at my baby I just wanted to go home, especially with a toddler staying at grandparents. My father was quite a strict man and I am not sure my son enjoyed it. I was later told he kept telling grandad to go to work.

The babies still remained in the nursery for the majority of the time and brought out for visiting and feeding. I never had the blues with my first but this time I had a tearful day wanting to be home, imagining how my son must feel without me and no reassuring would calm me. They let me out a day early.

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Reflecting on my birth story I realise now just how medicalised births were then, procedures and protocols followed with little discussion or choice for the parents. We were expected to be stoical and not make a fuss. At the time we knew no different so it was still a joyous occasion but I cannot help but think I would like to try it a different way!

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Jan xxxx

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