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Birthing the Modern Way

by David Westheimer


We knew that becoming great grandparents for the first time would be rewarding but we didn't dream it would be so educational.

     Women don't have babies the way they used to. Oh, the basic mechanics haven't changed but getting from almost there to there has taken a sharp turn. In days of yore, which seem more yore every day, 'on your mark, get set, go,'  was signaled by water breaking. (Strange phrase, when you think about it. Water does not break, even though it divided once, for Moses. Ice breaks.) Then, the husband bundled the wife into their car with a bag full of necessities (if they had been provident enough to prepare one in advance), and drove to the hospital, where their obstetrician met them and hustled the wife off to a private place to continue the birthing process, leaving the husband to fret in a waiting room, often with another almost-dad or two. For the next several hours, first in a hospital room and then in a delivery room, the doctor and the wife would do what they do. The best the husband could hope for was to have the doctor or a nurse stick a head in the waiting room door from time to time to report all was going well.  The average husband didn't have an inkling of the torments his wife was going through.
     After a nervous wait, sometimes for hours, the doctor would come to the waiting room, smiling, and say "It's a boy," or "It's a girl," and make some little joke he (or she) used on such occasions, always getting a laugh. The husband would then be allowed into the wife's room (she'd been moved into it from the delivery room and spruced up a bit) where he could kiss his wife on a wan cheek and make daddy noises over the newborn baby in her arms. The baby was soon taken away and placed in a glass windowed viewing room with a bunch of other newborns to be cooed over from an antiseptic distance by such friends and relatives as had been summoned to celebrate. If it was "it's a boy," sometimes cigars would be handed around by the father.
      Well, they don't do like that no more. 
     The arrival of our great grand began in the traditional way. Our daughter-in-law phoned us from the hospital at 6:30 in the morning to tell us that her daughter's water had broken at nine the night before and her husband had taken her to the hospital. When we arrived at the hospital we joined an increasing throng of concerned relatives in a spacious lounge strewn with a number of other persons, none of whom seemed to be husbands-in-waiting, just folks waiting for the results of operations and other hospital functions. Our granddaughter was resting comfortably in her 'birthing room'.  Not a delivery room. Our daughter-in-law lead us there, all seven of us--our son (the soon-to-be grandpa); our granddaughter's brother and his wife; daughter-in-law's first husband and his wife, and my wife and me. There would have been an even ten but the husband's parents live in another state and granddaughter's sister was in the air, flying in from New York. Already in attendance were a nurse, the husband, his sister, and the doctor, who acted as a sort of master of ceremonies. Our granddaughter was in a regular hospital bed, a bit wan but otherwise not looking like someone on the verge of motherhood and contributing to the general conversation. Her husband sat at bedside holding her hand.
      In the background a rapid percussive sound overrode our animated conversation. I was to learn it was the baby's amplified heartbeat. I don't know how they managed that. Something scientific they didn't have when our children were born.
      From time to time the doctor would shoo us out to make an examination, leaving the husband clutching his wife's hand and his sister standing by to comfort them both and daughter-in-law to bring out bulletins. The rest of us trooped back to the waiting area, where our daughter-in-law visited us with progress reports until we were all invited back in. This happened twice more before our daughter-in-law came out to report all systems go. It would be within the hour. Actually it was within the two-hour that our daughter-in-law reported the eagle had landed and that as soon as the seven-pound eleven-ounce son and heir was 'cleaned up'  we were all invited back for the viewing. By this time the other great grandpa, 95 but looking younger and unfazed, had arrived, making eight of us in the touring contingent.
     Our granddaughter, now swollen-faced, exhausted and looking as if she had done at least part of the process the old-fashioned way, but awake, lay in the same bed where she had just a few hours before been chatting with us. Her husband sat by her in dogged silence with the swaddled baby clutched in his muscular arms. We crowded around en masse, but without pushing and shoving--I'll say that much for us--commenting in less than hushed tones, almost boisterous in fact, about how handsome the baby was. (Men usually lie when they say that; women mean it.) The comments, at least, were in the old tradition.
     There were no cigars.  At least I never got one.


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