by Ruthie Richardson
As another mother’s day rolls around, I was reminiscing about motherhood, and everything that word meant, back in the good old days. Things sure have changed since I was ‘in the family way.’ And boy, they have REALLY changed since my grandma’s day. I saw a very pregnant girl at the beach this spring wearing a little string bikini, and I swear you could see the baby kicking inside her tanned, enormous, and bare tummy. Even though I realize how awe-inspiring, beautiful, and magical the entire birth process is, I sometimes find myself frowning.
Babies, who were on their way, back in those good old days, were a very precious, very special, and a very secret thing. Once they arrived it was a wonderfully exciting time for celebrations, announcements and sharing the big news. But before that grand entrance, expecting a baby was not something that was discussed in mixed company, and never when there were children around. I remember when Lucille Ball was expecting in real life and insisted her condition be written into the story line of her hit series, I Love Lucy. This just was not done, and it goes to show the power and influence she had in the entertainment industry that she could break that taboo. I remember that it was forbidden for her to even use the word pregnant: the censors thought that word was too vulgar. Google says scripts for the episode were reviewed by a rabbi, a minister, and a priest in order to make sure it would not be offensive. But Little Ricky was on the way, and Lucy was not going to hide it. The episode of this groundbreaking birth received higher ratings than the inauguration of President Eisenhower.
Ladies who were ‘expecting’ (the proper word for it) in those days did everything they could to camouflage their condition. Maternity clothes were mandatory. Propriety dictated that no hint of the growing bundle of joy should be apparent. As the pregnancy progressed the clothing became bigger and baggier. As a little girl, I remember visiting friend’s houses with my parents– and all of a sudden, there would be a new baby in the house. We never knew where those babies came from; we certainly had never suspected the lady of the house had been carrying it around under all those ruffles! And as for Lucy and Ricky, we would never have guessed how this all came about anyway, since,–even though they were married–they weren’t allowed to be shown sleeping in the same bed. It was twin beds only on television* up until the 1960’s when Herman and Lilly Munster hit the sack together, fol-lowed shortly thereafter by Samantha and Darrin Stevens. And suddenly it seemed, the invisible door of modesty had quietly been opened a crack. We were in new censorship territory, and Katie couldn’t bar the door any longer.
The decision to have a baby has always been a giant step in any young couple’s lives. But there weren’t always the alternatives available in this de-cision-making process that we see in today’s society. And the decision NOT to have a baby was an even much big-ger burden in days gone by. Although I hesitate in writing about these things, it is all a matter of history. So I will be as proper and sensitive as possible in the retelling of these realities. Birth control. There, I said it. And back in those days there sure wasn’t much of it to choose from. If you didn’t want to have a baby, the common sense solution, the one beaten into our heads, was NOT to have … well, you know … s-e-x. Unwanted pregnancy was a huge deterrent in the behavior of the dating class of teens back in the old days. Even young marrieds faced the dilemma of how to postpone or avoid an addition to the family. Al-though the Catholics had it written out for them in black and white and had to attest to it in the classes they took BEFORE they got married. It was suggested by the Church of Rome, quite enthusiastically, that they were to have babies, lots of little Catholic babies. And to try and stop ‘God’s will’ in that process was frowned upon. The only birth control even hesitantly mentioned to the Catholic couple was the rhythm method, and I’m not talk-ing about dancing. It meant they had to figure out the little woman’s ‘cycle’ and work around it. Good luck with that.
I remember sitting with my mom and grandma one afternoon in the ‘60’s, and my Grandma was telling us she heard on the news about a new medical breakthrough. It was called ‘The Pill,’ and grandma thought it was quite a leap forward for womanhood. She continued that we modern day girls were so much luckier than when she was a new bride. She said they didn’t have the ability to plan their families the way we did. She said the only option she and my grandfather had in deciding whether to have another baby or not were those ‘dang overcoats.’ I remember my mom and I looking at each other and bursting into fits of giggles over that term. Grandma didn’t understand what we found so amusing.
I read somewhere recently that 40%of births today are out of wedlock. Back in 40’s and 50’s, that percentage, as far as we knew, was 0%. I’m sure there were the so-called ‘illegitimate’ babies born back then. And what a terrible term, as if those innocent babies were somehow illegitimate. I think we should have referred to the parents as the illegitimate ones. At any rate, it just wasn’t done. If the un-thinkable happened, and a girl found herself in a delicate condition, there was no hesitation, no talking of options; because there were only two. Option #1 – there would be a wedding … probably the following weekend.
Shotgun or no shotgun, love or no love, the happy couple was gittin’ hitched! They would quit school and set up housekeeping The fresh-faced young husband would get a job, and the new little wifey would stay home and raise the baby. No more high school sports, no more dances or parties, no more education, no proms or graduation or college. That life was over; they would settle into domestic bliss and grow up quickly, with the arrival of their eight pound, premature baby a mere six months later. It was the solution to make everything legitimate.
Option #2 – The girl would suddenly go to live with her aunt, or grandma in another city for a while. You know, just for a little visit. The next school year, she would return, a little older, a little wiser, and a little sadder, to finish up her education. These incidents where whispered about but never really confirmed. We all had heard of Homes for Unwed Mothers, where those unplanned babies were born and given up for adoption. And we were told about the shame and heart-ache for everyone involved. Those stories were also a great example to help formulate our behavior. This old adage was beaten into our heads, “You make your bed, and you will have to sleep in it.” And the fear of that unknown journey did a great job of throwing cold water on our youthful libidos.
And now, on to the happier scenario of all the newly-wedded young couples, the high school or college graduates, the ones who were settled into their new little homes, making a nice salary and looking forward to adding a brand new bundle of joy to make the picture complete. I remember when that biological alarm clock went off for me. I was 22, and Doug was 24. We had been living in wedded bliss for three years, owned our own home (well, at least we had a mortgage on it), were both working, and had saved a tidy little sum of about $300 big fat dollars. Plenty enough to raise a child in our opinion, even considering the fact that I would quit my job to stay home to take care of the baby! As the signs of impending motherhood star-ted to make themselves apparent to me, I decided to see the doctor on my own. I didn’t want to get my hopes up early and have us both be disappointed if it was a false alarm. In those days, the doctor wouldn’t even see you until you were ‘late’ by two months. And to determine if your lives were about to be blessed by a visit from the stork, you needed a pregnancy test: and that test included a rabbit. If the rabbit died, you were given the happy news that the stork, was indeed on its way. Thus the phrase, The Rabbit Died!
We expectant moms of the ‘60’s were just beginning to read up on what exactly was involved in this exciting new condition we found ourselves in. There were actual books starting to be written to help us figure it all out: books by Dr. Lamaze and Dr. Benja-min Spock. Our mom’s generation had no such information at hand. They only had the opinions and suggestions from THEIR mothers, and that was even sketchier. The doctors took care of all the decisions, and the new mom didn’t need to know anything about anything. In my grandmother’s day, most all babies were born at home. If the doctor couldn’t get there, a mid-wife was called. My grandma told me that after her babies were born, she was told not to get out of bed for a week. And while most of our mothers gave birth in an actual hospital, they were none too sure of what was going on, either. It just wasn’t discussed.
Most moms-to-be in the 40’s and 50’s were given an injection to induce ‘Twilight Sleep’ once they arrived at the hospital in labor. I guess it was a knock-out punch because when it wore off, the baby was in their arms, and they had no memory of what had tran-spired. Even worse, before that, the sedation of choice for childbirth was chloroform. By the time the ‘60’s rolled around, modern medicine had evolved, and now we were offered the epidural or spinal block. You could still be ‘knocked out’ if that is what you wanted, but now you had a choice. And while men had always been banned from witnessing any part of labor, let alone the actual birthing process, starting in the ‘60’s that rule was beginning to be relaxed somewhat. Before that, all expectant daddies were relegated to a smoky waiting room to pace and worry and some-times listen to distant screams from the rooms down the hall where their wives had been taken. No contact between them was allowed until after delivery, and that could be hours and hours.
By the time our much-anticipated baby was ready to greet the world, dads were allowed to remain with their wives in the labor rooms, but when it was time for delivery, out they went, back to the daddy waiting room. I remember Doug begging my obstetrician to allow him to be with me for the actual birth. When the time came, the fabulous Dr. Conte had me wheeled into the delivery room while he went out into the hallway, got Doug, and secretly took him into the doctor’s lounge. He told him to put on a pair of scrubs, a hat and mask, and follow him. Doug was instructed to sit quietly beside me and not say a word. But he was there, by my side, against regulations, to witness the birth of our daughter, Nicole. Although they whisked her away quickly, we got to see her, and hear her first sweet cries together. I didn’t get to see her again for 12 hours, because that was the hospital regulation for babies to be allowed to leave the nursery and go to their moms. It never occurred to me to demand to see my baby, and we were not allowed out of bed until we got the OK the next day from the doctor. It was the longest 12 hours of my life. Meanwhile, every member of our families and all of our friends were mooning over my new little angel down the hall in the nursery. And as for the poor daddies, they were never allowed to be in the room when the baby was with mom. They could only see their new little offspring through the glass window
of the nursery.
Today, not only can’t the public see any new babies, they can’t even get onto the maternity floor without what seems like top-secret clearance. Babies stay in the rooms with their moms from the first breath and are equipped with tiny little Lojack devices because, in this day and age, peo-ple actually sneak into the hospital and steal babies. Not so back then. All the babies in the nursery were on full and delightful display for anyone who cared to look. You could point one out to the nurse, and she would wheel it over to the windows so you could have a closer look. Little cards were on each crib with the baby’s date of birth, length, weight and parents names: pink cards for girls and blue for boys. All the birth announcements were also published in the Latrobe Bulletin, along with all the hospital admissions names and all the discharges. I’m surprised they didn’t add a little blurb by each name stating the reason for being in the hospital. The HIPAA folks would be jumping off the top floor of the parking garage if they had been around back then!
After my daughter was born, I was in the hospital for five days back in 1970. That was the standard stay for a standard birth. A C-section could keep you there for a week or two, depending on how you progressed. But there weren’t many C-sections done back then. That procedure was re-served for emergency situations.
When it was time to take our little bundle of joy home, we dressed her up in one of her new little outfits, and the nurse wheeled us to the front lobby where our car was waiting. Into the front seat of our convertible I climbed, the nurse placed my little sweetie in my arms, and off we drove. Not only was there no such thing as infant car seats, there weren’t even any seat belts.
Today, the delivery room is the ‘birthing room.’ It seems like the whole family and half the neighborhood are invited to witness the miracle, if they can find a seat around the film crew. I agree that the regulations in place in my day were much too restrictive, but I think we may have swung the pendulum a little too far. And the new mommy and baby are thrown out of the hospital in what seems like about 20 minutes after the cord cutting ceremony, which is now done by some pretty reluctant looking and queasy new daddies, if you ask me.
Maybe the regulations and the protocol have evolved over the years, but the miracle remains the same. When that brand new little face, with those brand new little eyes look into yours for the first time, you realize your life has been changed profoundly … and you will never be the same again. You become trans-formed, from the moment you see that furrowed little brow, that has just endured what must be a pretty difficult entry into this world, and watch it turn into a contented sleepy face upon hearing the soothing voice that has become so familiar: the voice of mommy.
Motherhood – the best decision I have ever made. It was also the most exhausting, confusing, worrisome, hand-wringing and worthwhile journey a person will ever choose to take. You are forever changed, from the first moment you look at that little face and fall so completely in love that it takes your breath away. My mommy felt the same way; she told me so while cupping my face in her hands as she was loosing her battle with breast cancer. Thank you, mom, for your never-ending love and understanding. I miss you every day. And thank you, Nicole, for giving me more joy than a heart is prepared to hold. I think that’s why the happy tears roll down my cheeks sometimes when I look at your beautiful face. It’s just that because of you, my cup runneth over.
Editor’s Note: Several sources cite the “Mary Kay and Johnny Show” from 1947 as the first appearance of a married couple sharing a bed. However, it has been dismissed as a blip, and most consider“Bewitched” as the first official shift from the Hayes Codes, a series of rules and regulations designed to moderate the action of Hollywood film industry directors and producers in the 1930s. For more on the specifics of these TV guidelines, see www.tvacres.com/broad_bed.htm.
Ruthie grew up in an idyllic and magical place – a 1950’s childhood, and she loves to share these memories with you. Stay in touch: email her at: Ruth-Elaine@comcast.net, and look for her on Facebook.