Peter Shelton

Changing times in the birthing room

Posted in Confessions of a Grandpa, Watch columns by pshelton on October 22, 2010

Cecily called the afternoon of Oct. 8 from Elk Meadows, said things were happening, things were different in her body. What she had thought might be contractions were now definitely contractions, and could we meet them at the Sinclair station and take the dog?

That had been the plan: we’d take sweet, sleepy old Tor home with us and await word from the hospital in Montrose. That’s the way Cec and Mike wanted to do it.

Each grandbaby’s birth has been different. Cloe and Adam wanted everybody to be there in the room for the arrival of their first, Alexander. Ellen and I sped down to Albuquerque the day before. Cecily burst in the door not much more than an hour before Alex popped out. She got to help, holding one of Cloe’s legs while she was pushing. With the nurses and midwives and doctors, we made quite a menagerie. But the birthing room at University Hospital was spacious; it had comfy chairs and nice lighting and plenty of space for everybody to hover.

I thought Cloe was really brave, and unselfconscious, to give birth like that. It wasn’t the way we did it, or the way our parents did it. But she was comforted, and comfortable, with the family there.

For her second, Lily, the circumstances had changed. Cloe might have wished we could be with her again for support, but Alex was 20 months old; he would be a handful at the hospital – in fact, the hospital had rules about it – and Ellen and I could be most helpful staying at their house watching the little guy. And that’s what we did, driving downtown for a visit when Lily was just an hour or two old and Cloe and Adam were flush with their accomplishment. They did just fine without us.

The idea of having a choice – family, no family; even husbands in the room – is relatively new. It would never have occurred to my parents to have Father, let alone Grandfather, present.

Ellen was pregnant with Cloe when we moved to Telluride 1976. We were 1,000 miles distant from my parents, 2,000 miles away from hers. But had we been next door, I doubt we’d have thought to include them in the birthing.

We joined a Lamaze class – there was a baby boom happening in Telluride at the time. And we signed up with Dr. John Peters, who presided at the Norwood clinic and was adored by local moms.

When Ellen’s water broke on Jan. 31, he said on the phone that we should probably head down to Montrose, that he’d meet us there in a little while. There was no special birthing room at the hospital then, just a regular private room preceding a trip down the hall to the stainless-steel delivery room. The nurses didn’t like it that I was in with Ellen during her long labor, timing her contractions, holding her hand. But Dr. Peters gave them a look – he strode the halls like a colossus – and they backed off.

When it came time to go into the delivery room, though, the head nurse put her foot down: I was not to join them. Hospital policy. I want to say Dr. Peters snapped his fingers. Maybe he just employed the look again. In any case the nurse shrank back, he tossed me a set of green scrubs and said, Follow me.

Cecily was almost born in the VW bus. Things often happen more quickly, I’m told, the second time around. We were flying down the highway at Tortuga’s maximum hull speed. I remember turning to Ellen, who was lying in the back, just as we were passing the Cookie Tree Ranch (buried now under the Ridgway Reservoir), and asking her did she want me to stop? Because we could stop, I said bravely, and deliver this baby right here!

We didn’t need to stop, but it was close. We went straight to the delivery room. Montrose policy regarding fathers had changed completely by 1979.

Cec and Mike had a beautiful room: nice pictures on the walls, a couch, a table full of food, an open-door policy. Mike was there the whole time (in shorts and climbing shoes) helping Cec walk through her labor pains.

As copacetic as the hospital situations have become, both girls took their babies home just as soon as they could get checked out. My mother laughs about this. When she was having her babies in the 1940s and 50s, she stayed a week after the birth. It was the custom. Nurses swept in with the little bundle at feeding time, then swept them out again to let the new mother rest. She luxuriated in that rest. As a housewife with four kids, this was her ultimate vacation. While my father, who remained outside the glass – pretty much left out of the whole thing – paced the waiting room and handed out cigars.



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