Saturday, October 26, 2013

Less hospital care, more after care

When we read about women of the past, we are often given an insight to things we might not normally see from other historical accounts. Unless we specifically look for the history of childbirth in this country, for example, we might only know things like live birth statistics and the like.

In the second volume of Nellie McClung's autobiography, The Stream Runs Fast, she comments about the birth of her first child. Initially, she is frustrated by the nausea which accompanied her pregnancy.  She shares an account of her discouragement of feeling controlled by her body, and wonders why God would create pregnancy to be accompanied by nausea. She later goes to see her doctor, who tells her that the nausea is probably due to nerves. Here in 2013, those of us who know better can only smirk a little. But remember, this is before the 20th century, and when you think of what doctors accomplished with such meagre understanding, we should feel astounded that anyone lived through illness or childbirth.

What I found interesting was the care provided for the mother in Manitou, Manitoba, in 1896:
The economic aspect of having a baby had no fears for us. Doctors were modest in their fees - twenty-five dollars covered everything, and there were no hospital fees, for no one went to a hospital for a little thing like having a baby, and there was no fee for the anaesthesist, for no anaesthetic was used, except when something went wrong. The practical nurse charged one dollar a day and had to be spoken for several months in advance. Then she wrote your name on the calendar above her kitchen table, and that was a solemn contract. She stayed with you for nine nights and went home at night for another two weeks. It was all very simple and satisfactory.
Compared to current childbirth practices, this is actually astounding. Nine nights of round the clock practical nursing help followed by two weeks of care in the day time; that is unheard of now. Of course, the McClungs could afford this. There was probably a whole host of people who could not. But it is clear that middle class mothers had far more help than do women today. When I had my first child in 1989, I was in the hospital for five days because I was a first time mother. By the time I had my third child in 1994, I was in for thirty-six hours. When I had my middle child, I had a C-section, and was obligated to stay for five days.  When I was in the hospital with my middle child, despite the pain of having had surgery, I had to have him in the room with me, which was not at all easy, especially when I began running a temperature.

Today, families are smaller, and more scattered. There are no sisters or aunts or cousins available to come and stay with a new mother for a while as she recovers from childbirth and gets used to a new baby. I personally think we should fuss less over a mother who is pregnant and help more on the other side. While it was very nice to have people give up their chair for me while I was at full-term pregnancy, once my second child was born, what I would have really valued was someone who could help as I adjusted to post-surgery life on top of having another toddler at home. And I had a lot of modern conveniences to help me. I can't imagine what women did when there were less amenities. Today, we have money and technology to help a mother adjust to a new baby as she recovers, but I don't often hear of any woman being given such help. The ones whom I do know that have been given helped have actually been looked upon as being a little too weak. I'm glad Nellie left this piece of information in her writings. It's a glimpse into the past I may not have had otherwise.