And Father Makes Three

Leaving smoke-filled waiting rooms behind, more and more fathers today are taking an active role in the delivery room itself.

What is childbirth compared to the demise of Luca Brasi?

It wasn’t orthodox labor room procedure, but the thought was comforting as I watched my husband become absorbed in our readings aloud from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather . Anticipating lengthy labor prior to the birth of our first child, I had tossed the bestseller into my overnight bag as we left for the hospital.

I have only two children, but I don’t expect any awards from Planned Parenthood. I’m not much of a planner. I took Latin instead of home-ec in junior high, Eighteenth Century Novels instead of Marriage and Family in college.

So in 1970, the year that overpopulation ranked second only to Kent State in newsworthiness, I became a parent.

For one so ill prepared by inclination or education, the whole event could have been a disaster. First of all, I didn’t know an obstetrician and was loath to call my fertile friends who had been waiting for years to welcome me into the “sisterhood,” and who would set the legions of La Leche on me at first hint of nausea. I made my selection on the sole recommendation of an eminent and discreet medical malpractice trial attorney. (Try putting that on the office form under “Who Recommended Dr. ____” if you’d like a full confession from your OB of any malpractice involvement.)

The next hurdle was facing the headmaster of the private school where I had been teaching one month. How does one explain that the innocent commitment given six months earlier is now inoperative?

Fortunately, a private girls’ school can be flexible in its policies regarding pregnant teachers. Whether I was to be observed as a natural phenomenon or as a Hester Prynne figure to keep the wayward in line was never quite clear. However, my duties continued, and I had little time to dwell on the realities of childbirth.

Retiring at spring vacation, I allowed myself five weeks to get mentally prepared for parenthood. That’s long enough to read too many books on childbirth and to have too many nightmares about the way your spasmodic dieting has already assured your unborn child a seat in the slow reading group. It’s also long enough to make you glad you didn’t spend nine months thinking about being a mother.

In these five weeks, however, I did discover, quite by chance, that there are significant differences in maternity procedures at local hospitals.

Some doctors are on the staffs of more than one hospital and will deliver at the one of your choice unless an emergency prohibits it, but more than likely, your choice of obstetrician will determine the hospital. The Dallas hospitals did not differ in their efficiency or concern for the newborn, but in their attitudes toward the whole event.

It seems to boil down to a question of “Who’s flying this plane, me or you?” (A friend actually got that response from her OB when she became too inquisitive about his plans for her delivery.)

St. Paul’s Hospital in Dallas goes to great lengths to allow parents maximum participation in the birth of the child. Parent education classes which include films, a trial run tour from parking lot to delivery room, and exercises for natural or at least more comfortable childbirth are offered by the hospital. (See list for books used at St. Paul’s if your local hospital doesn’t offer such courses.)

BOOKS USED IN PARENT EDUCATION CLASSES (at St. Paul’s Hospital, Dallas)

  • Husband Coached Childbirth , Robert A. Bradley, M.D. (Harper & Row)
  • Nursing Your Baby , Karen Pryor (Harper & Row)
  • Painless Childbirth , Fernand Lamaze, M.D. (Regnery)
  • Preparing for Childbirth, A Manual for Expectant Parents , Frederick W. Goodrich, M.D. (Prentice-Hall)
  • Six Practical Lessons for an Easier Childbirth , Elisabeth Bing, R.P.T. (Bantam)
  • Thank You, Dr. Lamaze , Marjorie Karmel (Dolphin)

The father is not only permitted in the labor room, a standard procedure in most urban hospitals, but with doctor’s permission and instruction, he may also be present in scrub suit and mask for the delivery.

My husband and I were a little too old and inhibited for the group exercises and rhapsodic testimonials by breast feeding mothers, but we did weather enough sessions to permit his presence at the birth of both of our boys.

I refuse to bore people with the heroic details of my own childbirthing experiences. Suffice it to say that I wanted to be as alert as possible and found that the Lamaze natural childbirth techniques (which I confess I never practiced with any great discipline until we started down Inwood Road to the hospital) came quite naturally. My own conservative obstetrician, who still questions my judgment in refusing the miracles of Demerol, nevertheless indulged me in these my finest hours and discounts the whole thing as self-hypnosis.

The sense of family is encouraged at St. Paul’s beyond the delivery room. After a brief observation period in the nursery, healthy babies spend most of the day and part of the night with their mothers and, if their work schedule permits, their fathers. Fathers have unlimited visiting privileges until 10 p.m. and are permitted to hold, feed, and change the babies without the scrutiny of a mother-in-law or a practical nurse.

“Rooming in” (i.e., keeping the baby in the room with his mother) isn’t a new idea. It’s always been the price you paid if you had your babies on military bases. It’s not compulsory at St. Paul’s —just another choice you can make.

In contrast, at other Dallas hospitals, no fathers are allowed in the delivery room and babies are brought in only at feeding time, that is, on the hospital’s feeding schedule, not the baby’s. Baylor Hospital now allows fathers to assist with the evening feeding, and both Presbyterian and Baylor allow fathers to join mothers for breakfast. But fathers and babies don’t really get acquainted until departure from the hospital.

By the time we had our second child (1972), St. Paul’s had arranged a visiting

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