real life

'What I learned about birth and smoking dope as a 1970s mum.'

I had my first child at 22 and launched into motherhood with unfounded self-confidence. I read no books on parenting and I didn’t ask my mother for advice.

After a few unhappy experiences with the local childcare nurse I decided to go it alone. The state-funded Baby Health Centre, where you took your newborn weekly for weighing and advice, was almost compulsory in the 1970s. When I dropped out they came looking for me, checked out my routine, and agreed I could manage without their support.

With hindsight it was the arrogance of youth. Regardless, the children survived and went on to present me with 11 grandchildren who are the joy of my life.

Mary and her 11 grandkids. Image: supplied.

Watching my own children’s generation become parents has taught me a lot. Here are my top 10 observations of then and now!

1.  A pregnant belly is a thing of great beauty.

We hid our burgeoning body-shape inside a tent dress large enough for a family holiday. Now I love seeing young women proudly accentuating their rounded bellies with shape-hugging clothes. In my day many women stopped working several months before their due date, hiding out of sight at home (however I did rebelliously work until the day before my first baby was born).

2. Birth is just as much the task and responsibility of the parents as of the midwives and medicos.

I loved reading pregnancy and birth books and naively assumed I knew what to expect. However, when it came to the crunch I handed myself over to the hospital staff, and surrendered all decision-making and responsibility. I was on my own and felt powerless. It’s wonderful that parents now are actively involved in, and more in control of their births. I have been at the births of most of my grandchildren – it would never have occurred to me to ask my mother to help me in labour.

Mary with her grandson, Owen. Image: supplied.

3. It’s not good to smoke in the maternity ward.

Back in the 70’s the hospital supplied metal ashtrays so the new mums could enjoy a puff between visits from the baby  - in those days babies were kept in the nursery except at feed time. It meant you got a good night’s sleep (they would often let mums sleep through night feeds and give the baby a formula supplement). It made the ‘reality’ adjustment when you got home quite traumatic.

4. It’s better to sit down and relax when breastfeeding.

My life has always been filled with too much busyness, and sitting for long periods with babe at breast frustrated me. So the baby had to adjust. I swear I could cook a baked dinner on a wood stove, stoking the fire, turning the crispy potatoes and making gravy with one hand while suckling a newborn. I would garden with a baby strapped to my chest, feeding as I was weeding. I was so touched to see my daughter and daughter-in-laws surrendering to the sheer pleasure of breastfeeding, without a need to multi-task. Bravo girls.

"I had my first child at twenty-two and launched into motherhood with unfounded self-confidence." Mary and her late husband, David Hannay. Image: supplied.

5. Six-week-old babies do not require meat broth or mashed lamb’s brains.

That’s right, we were encouraged to introduce solids at a ridiculous age. All my babies could bolt down steak and kidney pie (mashed) by six months and it caused a ripple in the family when my daughter had her first baby and caught me spooning gravy into his mouth at 10 weeks. I have since learnt that milk is all they need during those early months and judging by the chubbiness of these babes, pureed roast vegetables are not on the menu.

6. Babies cannot be toilet trained at 3 months.

This was one of the reasons I dropped out of the local baby health centre. The nurses insisted we record every time the baby did a pooh and then ‘hold the baby out’ over several sheets of newspaper at the same time every day. The notion of dangling a half naked infant in the air so it would never enjoy that warm squishy sensation that only comes with baby pooh, was too much for me. My children are horrified when I mention this antiquated mothering tip!

Mary's grandkids. Image: supplied.

7. A father CAN hear a baby crying at night.

I thought only mothers were attuned to the nighttime needs of a tiny baby, and that Dad’s must have their rest. Piffle. I applaud my sons and son-in-law for learning that babies wake up at ridiculous times and need a nappy change or just a cuddle.


8. Your children are your children, and not your best friends.

YES, I was one of those irritating mothers who always wanted to remain on loving and cosy terms with my offspring. When they were little I had rules and boundaries, but when they started pushing against these restrictions, I was inclined to buckle. I relaxed the rules for the sake of peace and family harmony. These days I would stick to my guns.

9. That marijuana is a harmless right of passage.

As a teenager of the 1960’s I experimented with dope smoking and was quickly bored by it. By the time my children were the same age, the drug scene had evolved and marijuana was hydroponically grown, highly concentrated and readily available. This had a huge impact on their generation, with several of their friends developing life long schizophrenia. At the time I was happy the teenagers weren’t getting drunk and crashing cars. I wish I had known better.

A younger Mary with her kids. Image: supplied.

10. Parental love is everything

I think I always knew this one. Children will thrive where they are loved. Parental love transcends socio-economic boundaries and even family dysfunction. In the poorest and most crazy households children will survive if they know they are loved.

As someone once said, Love Conquers All.

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