Not long after I graduated from nursing school and married, my husband and I moved to his new assignment at Glynco Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Georgia.
I was 21 and he was 22. We were newly wed, living in an unfamiliar part of the country with new jobs and excited to be experiencing many new things.
While my husband settled into his job in the radar tower on base, I found a job at Brunswick Memorial Hospital in Labor and Delivery (L&D).
Other than during nursing school, I had never worked in that area, but I thought L&D would be interesting and fun, what with all those cute babies and happy parents. As it turned out, as is so common in life, I was kind of right and kind of clueless.
It was interesting and fun and also frantic and heartbreaking. Brunswick Memorial was a busy little hospital with a very busy obstetrical department.
Some women arrived in early labor, having had regular prenatal care. Others arrived in active labor with no prenatal care and no doctor assigned to deliver their baby.
Women suffering from toxemia of pregnancy arrived with blood pressure so high that we feared for their lives and the lives of their babies. For those mothers, we instituted special precautions to lower their blood pressure and help them avoid one of the worst effects of toxemia, which was convulsions.
Some evenings we ran from one labor room to another in our overly full department, checking the progress of mothers who might be having their first or fifth baby or even their tenth. Admitting new patients, phoning doctors, getting orders and injecting the pain medication they wanted given every few hours.
We called doctors in, timing our calls to when we anticipated the birth to occur, and hoping they made it in on time, because sometimes they didn’t, especially at night.
We didn’t have birthing rooms, so we transferred women in late stage labor from their rooms to the narrow delivery beds, attaching their wrists to leather straps so they couldn’t interfere with the doctor’s work during delivery.
Many of the mothers were very medicated, and unaware that birth was imminent. They were unable to push, and I learned to place my arm strategically across the upper abdomen so I could exert pressure across and down during contractions, pushing the baby out.
Some of the medicated mothers were confused and fought and scratched and tried to bite us during contractions. My arms sometimes bore the scars. Others simply slept through the entire event.
Most mothers and babies, even those with little or no prenatal care, did surprising well, had few complications and went home a day or two later, healthy mother and healthy baby.
A few mothers left without their babies, who were too premature to live or were stillborn, never having taken even a first breath.
You might be wondering where the fathers were during all of this. They were not allowed to participate, and instead were installed in the Father’s Room, far from L&D, for the duration.
Family-centered care had not yet arrived in Brunswick, Georgia, in 1970.