When St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne celebrated 75 years of maternity care recently, they described conditions at the hospital when it opened in 1937.
Wow. How times have changed.
“In 1937, when St Vincent’s Private opened, women rested on horsehair mattresses in hospital for up to a week before they were due to give birth. Their husbands went home or to the pub and waited for the news of their child’s arrival.
“The child was then given a dummy filled with condensed milk and the mother spent at least another week on bed rest in hospital before heading home.”
Fast forward to now and my latest maternity hospital experience was quite a bit different.
Firstly, I didn’t get a lot of rest in the week before I was due to give birth – I was still doing the odd bit of work from home and was chasing after an 18-month-old. If I did rest it was probably on our futon – which was from Ikea so I’m almost certain that no horses were harmed (or trimmed) in the making of it.
Then, during childbirth, my partner was right by my side, feeding me sips of water through a straw and mopping my brow. I can’t say I’d have been very impressed if he’d headed to the pub instead.
The hospital did not offer my baby a dummy and if they’d come near her with condensed milk I would have been very confused to say the least.
Plus, I was back home in just more than 24 hours after the birth.
We’ve certainly come a long way since 1937 … or have we?
I’m all for the non-medicalisation of birth (where safe of course): pregnancy isn’t a disease and childbirth is something we women have been doing for quite a while now.
And I was more than happy to be back home the day after my baby was born … but I’m wondering, have we lost some respect for birth and labour along the way?
While my 1937 counterpart was in hospital on bed rest five days after her baby was born, I was at the local shopping centre carrying mine around in a carrier. At the end of the day, I was more than exhausted and my body gave in a little – enough to warrant a worried phonecall to the hospital.
I guess I figured that if the hospital had sent me home then I was good to go … I felt fine and I had so far recovered well but I didn’t fully respect the effect that labour and birth had had on my body. I rested a bit, but not enough.
Plus I kept thinking about the ‘rice paddy story’ – how women worked in the field right up till the birth of their baby. They’d squat down, have the baby, then strap it to them and continue with their job.
Now, I don’t know how much of the ‘rice paddy story’ is true and I imagine that any woman who gives birth in a rice paddy then continues to work probably is doing it out of necessity. But I thought, if they could continue to work that rice field then certainly I could head out to Westfield Carindale to buy a couple of cute outfits for my baby girl and pick up some groceries … couldn’t I?
Turns out I couldn’t. I should have stayed in, rested up and given my body the respect it deserved after pushing out a 9 pound 2 baby girl.
I know now that even though pregnancy, labour and birth isn’t a sickness you still need to recover from it.
And if there’s ever a next time I’ll make sure to find a nice comfy horsehair mattress to relax on …