real life

How has childbirth changed over the years?

Hint: A lot.

Wow, less than 10 hours after giving birth with her husband by her side, a glamorous Kate Middleton set off home with her baby. Of course the Duchess of Cambridge is in a castle with help and regular visits from midwives and top notch doctors, but it just goes to show how the process has changed in just a few generations.

There have been radical changes since our mothers gave birth to us. Childbirth has transformed for the better.

Kate Middleton set off home with her baby less than 10 hours after giving birth.

When I was born in the sixties things were diametrically different. Women in the throes of labour were checked in, put in a wheelchair and told to wave goodbye to their husbands. Nurses in stiff white uniforms shaved panting women’s pubic hair and then subjected them to an enema. They were told to get onto the bed and lie on their backs – many hospitals even tied women’s legs into stirrups. Pain relief was absent, or too often involved being knocked out with a drug cocktail. Upon entry to the world, the tiny newborns were often hung upside down and given a slap on the bottom to make them cry. Husbands paced in the waiting room with cigars at the ready.

The Madmen episode where Betty Draper (the main character’s wife) gives birth shows just how awful the experience could be. Betty is given a drug cocktail that brings on a trippy like hallucinogenic state and she wakes up with Gene in her arms. The entire birth process is a blank and she is so dissociated she seems in an altered state.

Many of us were born in this era where there was little respect for women, the power of their bodies and their right to decide how they give birth. What should be one of the most empowering and extraordinary experiences of their life was often traumatic, clinical or just wiped from their consciousness.

Betty Draper during the birth.

My mum stayed in hospital for two weeks after each of us were born. We were kept in a nursery with glass windows; our brothers and sisters couldn’t touch us, only wave through the glass.  Every four hours we were bought to our mothers for feeds by matrons in stiff caps and uniforms. If babies cried between feeds they were allowed to do so; it was good for their lungs and their mothers couldn’t hear their distress.

I came home from the hospital in an untethered bassinet placed on the back seat of the car. My mother then managed alone; using saggy, baggy cloth nappies and without a washing machine, she didn’t even have a car.

Things changed remarkably when my brothers were born in the seventies.

Read More Here: The No BS Version of Pregnancy

My father was an Obstetrician and at the forefront of the change to gentler birth experiences. He was the first to try the ‘Laboyer Method’, which aimed to make childbirth less traumatic, shocking, abrupt and violent. Dad turned the bright lights down and stopped the enemas. Women were allowed to move during labour and following birth, the baby was placed on the mother’s chest where it could hear her heartbeat. The cord was cut there and then the baby was given a warm bath. Husbands were then invited in to hold their child. It was so revolutionary he appeared on television to talk about it.

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When I had my own children 10 years ago things had radically changed again.

My kids came into this world in a hospital my husband and I had already toured and inspected. I had been to birth classes and gave birth how I wanted, after a lavender bath and lots of squirming and screaming on birthing balls and beanbags. I had pubes. I think I pooed. My husband was right beside me massaging my back and feeding me ice blocks. Even the swear words were thoroughly modern. After both births I lifted my babies onto my chest and they were assessed inches from my side and never out of sight. My parents and sister were in the room within the hour. I breastfed straight away.

Author, Sarah McDonald.

I stayed four days with my first baby in a crib beside me and often in the bed with me. I stayed a bit longer with my second baby to have a rest and because he was so sleepy we were worried he wasn’t feeding enough (he was and he’s never slept since). My friends and I all had very different births – home, water, Caesareans and in very different positions – on our backs, sides, on all fours and standing. We all had the births we wanted within the medical possibilities.

Now, 10 years on, women can have the Kate Middleton experience. In Australia you can leave hospital when you feel ready and the medical staff advise it’s safe. Women are actually encouraged to get out of the hospital system and into the home. On the Mamamia Facebook page, a discussion shows some mums and new babies are checking out after two three hours. Some go to hotels where midwifes do rounds, others are visited at home everyday. Like Kate Middleton they are choosing births and post-birth care that are intimate and non medicalised.

We often think that things are going to the dogs. That the world is getting worse. That things are not how they used to be. But you have to admit the way we treat women when they are giving birth is getting better.

How long were you in the hospital after giving birth before you went home? Let us know in the comments.

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