My mom was over today, and as she sat with me while I nursed my son our conversation naturally turned to the subject at hand. How long I will nurse him. (Until he decides he’s done.) How long my mother nursed me. (Around a year.) How my grandmother didn’t nurse my mother. (Wait – what??)
The information registers with me. “At all?!” I gasp. I guess I just assumed that all of my ancestors fed their babies the same way. But my mother has explained that no one nursed at that time. It just wasn’t done. It was a different time. And my shock comes from realizing that I have a whole generation – at least – to edit in my understanding of American mothers.
My grandfather’s mother delivered him at home. She gave birth to three more babies over the years, each one in her home. She nursed them all.
My grandmother had to leave her job before she started “showing.” My grandpa was at home cooking dinner while she labored and delivered my mom in a hospital across town. In the 1940s it was common for women to be routinely sedated and for babies to be delivered from their unconscious mothers with forceps. It is likely that this was her experience. My grandma and her new baby spent their 10-day recovery period at her sister’s house.
My parents went to childbirth classes at the hospital together. My mother was offered the option of tests to see if there were any genetic defects and determine the baby’s sex (which she turned down due to the risk to the baby – and the fact that she was sure I was a boy!) She worked until the day before my birth. My father took her to the hospital, but went to work when the doctors said she wasn’t in active labor yet. He came back, and was in the room as I was born, holding up a picture for my mother to use as a focal point. I nursed until I was 13 months old.
I think back over the history of the births in my family, and in our society, and finally in that larger context, realize how lucky mothers today are.
You have a choice! You have support! You get to pick where you will deliver your baby, who will be there, what kind of experience it will be. You can say “yes” or “no” to every option presented to you during your pregnancy and birth. Your partner can accompany you in every part of your journey. You will be surrounded by information and by people who will support your choices.
And how lucky I am, too, because I get to witness your birth as a mother, see you empowered by your own informed decision-making, feel you swell with love as you are nurtured by the same. The American birth experience is still changing, being refined. But you and I occupy a pretty nice spot on the timeline.
I suppose it will be more personal, then, when our granddaughters someday say, “Grandma did what?”