August: Dog Days of Summer

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Back Story

I must tell a bit of back story. Back story, in my opinion, is vital to knowing and understanding the entire picture. And I do have alot of back story to tell. I will be interjecting it from time to time, as you may have noticed with some previous posts (My story- parts 1 and 2) both being pregnancy related back stories. I also plan to infill with things from my childhood and how I was raised. If nothing else, it makes for an interesting read- and you'll get to know me so well. Don't think that this means you can just come over and put your feet up on my coffee table though. I do have some boundaries. Tonight's back story is my birth. My mother loved to tell the story of my birth, especially to embarrass my Dad.
Chicago, July 1968. Saturday.  I don’t know the exact reason, but my mother was going in to the hospital to be induced the next day. The hospital was Michael Reese, on the south side of the city. My mother, my father, my aunt, my grandmother and grandfather and both of my brothers had been born there. Because of the recent turmoil in the city, (Race riots, Democratic National convention, forthcoming elections, war protests, etc.) Chicago was a powder keg. There were National Guard soldiers posted all over the city, slinging rifles and machine guns. Imagine my mother, very sheltered, suburban housewife, VERY pregnant, very independent, driving herself from the very sheltered northern suburbs into the south side of the city, with a small suitcase beside her. It’s already an interesting scene. Now imagine that she pulls into the hospital parking lot, only to be stopped by two National Guard soldiers with their machine guns at the ready, poking their noses into the family wood-sided station wagon to see what appears to be a pregnant woman, with a small suitcase. I doubt either of these well-intentioned gentlemen was married, or the scene would have appeared entirely differently from how they perceived it. They made her get out of the car and PROVE that she was actually pregnant, and NOT, in fact, hiding a bomb under her dress. Now my mom, although she was an actress, was actually surprisingly shy. I bet she just loved this. (Not.) Well, obviously, the two guards were convinced, and probably extraordinarily embarrassed. Mom checked in, and presumably went right to sleep. A bit of back story here: in 1968, they were still using twilight sleep medications during many births. Twilight sleep is a basic term for any combination of medications that cause laboring moms to retain no memory of pain. It was not a pain blocker in any way, rather, a form of medicinally imposed amnesia. Women who were given twilight sleep often thought that they were the “modern” women who didn’t have to experience the pain, mess and discomfort of childbirth. Paradoxically, they actually DID experience all of these things- they just had no memory of it.  Consequently, these women often experienced side effects from the medications which caused their inhibitions to also be blocked. They were “wild” in their labors, kicking and screaming, and sometimes doing harm to themselves or to their helpers. More often than not, they had to be strapped to their beds. Straps lined with lamb’s wool was the norm, so as not to leave obvious bruising and alarm husbands. Sadly, these husbands were not allowed into birthing rooms as it was considered “inappropriate”, not to mention most husbands would probably have yanked their wives right out of there upon witnessing these barbaric practices. But this was how childbirth had gone in this country for a long time- beginning around the turn of the century, when these combinations of drugs were first used and found to be the “modern woman’s” alternative to painful home births. Birth moved from homes and away from midwives, into hospitals with doctors and nurses carefully administering pain-killing medications, and maintaining (the illusion of) completely sterile environments. Usually, these drugs were any combination of pain killers and amnesiacs. Commonly, the cocktail was a mixture of morphine and a drug called scopolamine. Morphine acted as a very strong analgesic, or pain reliever, and is actually (surprisingly) derived from poppies (ala opium.) Scopolamine is a drug that inhibits certain neuro transmitters; thus the loss of memory portion, and is derived from a plant called Deadly Nightshade (which can be poisonous.) Charming combination, don’t you think? Poison and Opium. Good times.  Both of my brothers had been born while my mother was in twilight sleep, and she fully intended to do the same with me. To her and everyone else’s surprise, I had other plans. I was very small (weighed in at 5lbs 3oz.), and I was also mom’s third baby. When she was given an enema very early the next morning, she went right into active labor. She bypassed first stage labor, and went immediately into active dilation. It took her a total of 3 hours to fully dilate, during which time (reason unknown) no drugs were administered. When it came time to push, she asked for Trilline- an inhaled narcotic pain blocker. I came literally flying out of her so fast, presumably with her very first push, that she said they almost didn’t catch me and I nearly went flying off of the delivery table. The attending OB/GYN wrote in my baby book himself that they only used 65cents worth of Trilline on my mom- barely enough for a single breath, which I’m sure she didn’t even get in all the excitement. Like it or not Mom, I was born au-natural! I love that part of the story. A bit more back story: Mom and Dad had already had two boys. In 1968, they were not doing routine ultrasounds (or even had the technology to do them at all?) to foretell a baby’s sex. Mom spent her entire pregnancy with me hoping for a girl, and my Dad too. When I was born, the doctor (who was also a family friend and knew of this wish by both of my parents), decided to play a practical joke on my Dad; He wrapped me in a towel right away (without so much as a sponge-off) and brought me out of the delivery room into the “Dad’s waiting room” and presented me, all bloody and covered with vernix, genitals first, to my shocked father and declared, “It’s another boy!” I guess my Dad was so shocked that he didn’t even notice the lack of a penis and just sort of went, “uuhhh….ooohhhhh” I’m not sure how long it did take him before he knew he had a daughter, but I can only assume it wasn’t too long.
Twilight sleep- we've come a long way, baby.

No comments:

Post a Comment