The Vintage 1970’s Maternity Ward
We’ve come a long way baby!
Some of the stories I want to tell are about maternity life as an OB nurse in the 70 ‘s. This is what I remember and not any type of historical reference. Try to picture this as I attempt to set the stage for some of the other stories I wish to tell.
When I first started to learn the business of birthing babies, I was taught by nurses who had already been doing this for 25 or 30 years…. They all wore scrub DRESSES not “scrubs” and some wore their nurses caps. These ladies were seasoned, experienced, somewhat hardened nurses and they referred to me as… “the young whipper-snapper”. This could be because I was practically a teenager, barely 20 yrs old !! I also immediately hemmed my scrub dresses up to a mini skirt length! Even though I was so very naive, I was very eager to learn and fell in love with the birth process…. I soaked up everything they taught me.
We probably had 700- 800 births a year at the time. Most vaginal deliveries stayed 4-5 days and Cesareans about 7 – 8 days. Seemed busy a lot of the time as far as the census.
Many of the mom’s in labor opted to be “put under” which didn’t happened until they were moved to the delivery room, crowning. Seem so ridiculous now…I mean it’s just about over! Our Labor Rooms were doubles. No privacy, with one bathroom for 4 beds. When a mother was admitted to the labor room, she was given a full shave prep, and a soap suds enema. Remember, one bathroom for 4 beds. Fathers were NOT “allowed” in…. much later they were “allowed”..but only if they were married AND could produce a certificate of some kind that they had gone to a childbirth class!! Even then, just learning, I hated the regimented mentality and all the rules!
We did not initially have a fetal monitor. When we did get one, it was used only if the doctor thought there was a need or if we saw meconium. Mostly we used a DeLee-Hillis Fetoscope (looks like a unicorn on your head) or a Leff Fetoscope (a heavy round metal disc we called it a Leffscope). We would get fetal heat tones on admission and every 15 or 30 mins or so. I know there is a lot of controversy now about fetal monitoring. I get it…both sides of the debate. I respect that. In the 70’s, we didn’t have it, didn’t know much about it so there were many unanticipated needs for newborn resuscitation. These poor girls would be in labor, often with out anyone to help them. Many of the nurses would be out having coffee and cigarettes while labor progressed until it was time to push. There was virtually NO paperwork compared to today. The mom’s would push in the labor room until it was time to go to the delivery room……THEN we would move this poor lady onto a stretcher, barely cover her with a sheet and head across the hall into the Delivery Room where she had to move once again onto the Delivery Table.
The Delivery Room was treated with the respect of an operating room. Everything had to be “sterile” and everyone had to be dressed like we were doing open-heart surgery. We would crank crank crank the bed to move the bottom half away and the mom would get all draped up to her neck. For care of the baby, we used a Kreiselman Bassinet Resuscitator. This is an old green baby bed with a warmer over the top and oxygen/ suction/ positive pressure assisted breathing attachments. If the baby was in any trouble, we would call anesthesia to help if they were not already there giving the mom her requested “put me out” gases. Most babies were just fine, only sluggish and sleepy. If mom did get put out..she probably didn’t see her baby until many many hours later. Can you imagine? Twins were often a surprise…. this was before ultrasound. An episiotomy always seemed to be the norm.
Once delivered, the baby went to the nursery and became the immediate property of the nurses, only to be seen from a window and allowed to be with the mother at token intervals. The poor little baby was often keep without food/ only water for the first 12 hrs. (Breastfeeding was something only the hippies did.) The mother would be once again moved to a stretcher and taken to the Recovery Room where she was awoken, told if she had a boy or girl AND allowed a visit by her husband.
I am so very happy that things are so much better now. Some of the stories I wish to share in the future will reflect the times and our knowledge as it was then.