September 22, 2014
Today is a big day – it is 40 years since the birth of my first child Erik and the day I became a mother! It’s hard to believe that 40 years have passed. Today we spent nearly an hour having a Face Time conversation, as we live on different continents now. Three more siblings were born after him, and my motherhood took a professional turn towards the work I love doing now helping other new parents get off to a good start. September 22, 1974 was a pivotal moment for me, but I was unaware of it at the time.
At the start of my childbirth preparation courses, I used to tell the stories of my children’s births as a way of introducing myself and my experiences with birth to my clients. Each birth was different but the telling of the stories was a way of letting them know that my knowledge and experience was authentic. It certainly kept the stories alive for me, and since my departure from teaching birth preparation, I haven’t told the stories and I realize I’m beginning to forget some of the details. In honor of Erik, and the 40th anniversary of his birth, I thought I’d tell the story of my first childbirth experience.
During my pregnancy, I seemed to be bigger than others at my stage, and at one point we wondered if there were twins in there (they run in the family). I decided to have a sonogram, which in those days was relatively primitive compared to what is possible now with ultrasound. There were very few hospitals that had ultrasound equipment in 1974, and the only one in uptown Manhattan was at Mount Sinai Hospital (not the one I gave birth in). There was no real time ultrasound, just a black and white polaroid shot of the head circumference! However, based on that measurement, they told me I was more pregnant than I thought, and would be due at the end of August, not September 21. For three weeks I thought it could happen at any moment. As the days passed in September and I began to approach the original due date, I was getting antsy – after all, I was starting to feel late! What the technology did not account for in those days was the possibility that the baby had a well-developed head!
This is it!
My husband and I took a very long walk around the city one evening as my ‘second’ due date was nearing. When we got home, we retired for the night soon after arriving home. Something woke me in the morning the moment before my water broke, as the warm water gushed over a good area of the sheets beneath me. Luckily we had put a waterproof sheet underneath it as suggested in the Lamaze class we took to prepare for birth. We got up with a good deal of excitement that this would be the day – which happened to be my due date.
We organized all the things we were going to take with us to the hospital, and contacted the doctor to say that my water had broken. I really wasn’t having any contractions other than one here and another there. The doctor informed me that I had to be in the hospital by 12 hours after my membranes ruptured. We hung around the house for most of the day with very little happening other than being excited that the birth was imminent. 12 hours was 10:00 pm. When speaking to the doctor again, I said there were only occasional contractions and it didn’t seem like we needed to go to the hospital. But we were obedient regarding the rule and took a taxi to the hospital and checked in.
Two things annoyed me about this hospital experience. I had been told that I could do anything and have anything I wanted for the birth, but the hospital didn’t agree with the doctor. I wanted to take pictures, but that was forbidden. I didn’t know how to fight it, so I gave in. We also wanted to have a mirror to see what was happening during the late pushing stage. That was also not allowed. However, I found out that my obstetrician’s wife, who gave birth four days after me, did have those privileges. These disappointments had a powerful impact on me and where I chose to give birth in future pregnancies, but I’ll save that for the next blog!
Old School Procedures
The first thing that happened after I got into my hospital jonny was the enema! They were still being routinely administered in those days, and it was the first I’d ever had in my life. When the effects of that wore off, I was glad to shift from the toilet to the bed. The doctor came in to check me, and I have no idea if I was dilated at all, but he gave the order for the Pitocin to be started, and my induction began at 11:00 pm. An IV was started and the synthetic oxytocin that dripped into it instigated my labor contractions. I didn’t know any better and spent all of the time in bed, lying down.
As the sensations became more painful and intense, someone suggested Demerol, a form of analgesia to relieve the pain. The slogan of the day was that Demerol ‘will take the edge off’. It made me a little sleepy but it did nothing for the pain, so I just let it wear off. The one thing that really sticks out in my mind about this birth was the stocky nurse that sat down on my bed when I reached 7 centimetres and proclaimed “this is where we find out if you make it or you break it.” Bitch. My husband was putting a wet wash cloth on my forehead, and once I grabbed that washcloth and through it across the room. Yep – transition! I just kept going and reached full dilation, but I had absolutely no urge to push.
Push him out, push him out, way out!
Once it was determined that I was fully dilated around 6:30 am, the chorus of staff started cheerleading around the bed for me to P – U – S – H. And I did. I’d start a contraction, let them know, and they would cheer for me to push. This went on for nearly two hours, and at some point they told me I wasn’t doing it right. But I wasn’t told how to do it better, so I just continued to push in the classic semi-recumbent position. The doctor had the idea of moving me into the delivery room, and that seemed to be just what I needed to move things [Erik] along! By the time I made it into the delivery room, I was crowning, had an episiotomy, and Erik was born at 8:21 am. A beautiful sunny Sunday morning!
Erik Alexander Speier
He was taken away to do the things that were done to babies in those days before bonding became the rage – cleaning him up, weighing him, wrapping him in a blanket, and all the other identifying processes. He was shown to us before being sent off to the nursery, and I cannot tell you when it was we were reunited for the first breastfeeding, but it was several hours later. I can still remember the look on the doctor’s face as they wheeled me into the recovery room. Astonishment that I had pulled off a natural childbirth. Many people talked about it, but few actually did. I was taken back to my private room, a necessary option if I wanted to room-in with my baby, which was a major exception to the rule of the day. Erik stayed with me in my room, and that also meant I was fully in charge, from feeding to diaper changes. I can tell you now the first diaper went on backwards!
We were both thrilled to have a baby boy, and Erik’s father went home that day through Central Park kicking his heels. It was an uneventful induction, well tolerated in terms of the pain involved, and I pushed him out on my own power. Not the cascade of interventions that is the norm today. Forty years ago. Some of it feels like yesterday. Happy Birthday, Erik!