real life

Childbirth in the '80s was scary

Working for a parenting website means I get to constantly relive all those bad/good pregnancy moments and the toddler wrangling years, find support during tween hell … and freak out about what lies ahead in the teen twilight zone.

Deep breaths, Alana, deep breaths.

In my travels, I stumbled across a story on iVillage yesterday about what it was like to have a baby 30 years ago. I’ve always been freaked out about the idea of squeezing out a baby in the ’60s when my mum birthed me, but I’d always thought the ’80s were pretty civilised. I mean, it was the era of fluoro bubble skirts, spiral perms and Boy George – how could it not be progressive?

But no, labour in the ’80s was terrifying. I am so bloody lucky I didn’t slip up on the birth control and join the ranks of teen mums.

Well, there was this one time I had to go to family planning, but I was supporting a friend. I swear. And I totally don’t remember pregnancy tests being like this:

“Back in the 80s it would mean an appointment with your GP, who might even ask you to wait until you’d missed two periods before they checked. They’d then send a urine sample off to the lab with a further agonising wait for up to 10 days before the results came back.”

Stressful! Especially for a 16-year-old. I much prefer the wee-on-a-stick innovation.

As for actually giving birth:

“Admission to the labour ward is pretty straightforward these days.  You turn up at some point during labour, get straight on with giving birth and no one tells you to take a shower.  In our mums’ time procedures were a little more regimented and no-one was taking any chances when it came to personal hygiene.

“Shaving and enemas (hot soapy water via a rubber tube or at least a pessary) were still routine in some hospitals, and you’d be expected to take a bath or shower before getting down to business.”


I also can’t believe this sort of thing was still happening:

“Before the late 70s most dads were firmly excluded from the delivery room. By the 80s health professionals were beginning to recognise the value of dads being present at the birth, although they would still be asked to leave if any medical procedure was carried out – even minor ones like injections or vaginal examinations.”


And this bit was just BARBARIC:

“Before the early 80s it was standard practice for women to give birth in a hospital bed – flat on their back with their feet in stirrups and strapped firmly to a foetal heart monitor. Giving birth on all fours or squatting was considered to be ‘animalistic behaviour’ and was famously banned by one consultant in a London hospital.”

But at least it was an improvement on how this former nurse describes childbirth in the 60s.

“Highlights” include:

At 1:06: “twilight sleep”, the “knock em out drag em out” technique of drugging the mother with narcotics then removing the baby with forceps.

At 1:13: leather restraints!

At 1:30: stirrups!

At 1:35: the “generous episiotomy”

At 1:45: the obligatory “lower forceps” delivery so the obstetrician could practise his forceps skills.

At 2:15: the “extraordinary use of fundal pressure” with the baby being forced out of the mother by a nurse using her full weight to push on the woman’s belly from under her ribs.

At 2:30: the terrifying mortality rate.

At 3:37: “fluffing up the babies” by frantically pumping oxygen into them.

At 3:56: the “husband stitch” to ensure the baby daddy had “good sex” after birth by sewing up “the vagina really tight so she’d be like a virgin”.


Is she telling the truth? Anyone who birthed bubs in the ’80s or ’60s, please set me straight.

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