The Commercial Review

The food was as delicious as it was expensive.

We were having brunch on a Sunday at Farm in Bloomington with daughter Sally and her husband Ben.

And we were talking about babies. Our babies, and their baby to be born this week.

As they detailed us on the extensive pre-baby work they had been doing, we couldn’t help but reflect back upon how clueless we had been when our own children were born.

Sally and Ben have taken serious parenting classes. They’ve made lists. They’ve consulted with experts. They have the baby’s pediatrician already lined up. For that matter, they’ve already reserved a spot for the kid at the best nearby day-care facility to be put to use after Sally goes back to work as an attorney for Indiana University.

And us?

We were not in that league.

Yes, we did take an evening class at Jay County Hospital — the old hospital, the one on Arch Street in Portland that was torn down years ago — but as I recall, most of the instruction came down to informing me that I should tell my wife to breathe.

In labor, with a couple of twins trying to make their escape from the womb into the larger world, how much help exactly would I be by telling Connie to breathe? I figured she’d do that on her own.

The “breathe” instruction mostly seemed something to give the husband to do. Even if he screwed that up, chances were pretty good that the laboring mom wouldn’t suddenly forget such a basic function.

But that was back in 1977, when our twins were born, and things were different then.

Take that hospital building, for example. The old building on Arch Street, where I had been born and all my siblings had been born, had a few shortcomings, especially when it came to childbirth.

For instance, mothers preparing to give birth were taken to the hospital’s operating rooms. There was no such thing as a birthing room.

And using the O.R. meant using the narrow operating table, which was about 18 inches wide at the most for the convenience of surgeons. And if you were a pregnant mother in labor plonked on an operating room table, that meant you had to be strapped down with a surcingle, so you wouldn’t fall off.

The room was also cold. Very cold. Surgeons are used to wearing multiple layers of clothing to make sure the sterile field around the patient is protected. That means, for the doctors’ comfort, the room is cold.

But for moms, it was an icebox.

And then there were the drugs.

During the 1940s through the 1960s, standard procedure was to give an expectant mother a dose of scopolamine, which essentially knocked her out. She’d wake up with a new baby and next to no memory of the birthing experience.

By the late 1970s, that was starting to change. Even in Jay County, there was talk of natural childbirth. And expectant mothers were much more informed than their parents had been.

Just the same, that transition carried its own complications.

When we checked into the hospital on the cusp of the birth of our twins, Connie told the nurse that she didn’t want to be drugged with scopolamine. But when there was a shift change while she was in labor, that somehow was translated into giving her no pain-killers at all.

She survived. The twins flourished.

But as we shared these stories with Sally and Ben over that brunch in Bloomington, we felt like pioneers. No, we hadn’t had to hitch up the mules to take a wagon to the hospital. No, Connie hadn’t had to grit her teeth on a strip of rawhide to try to control the pain.

But it was clearly a different world.