November the Eleventh 1960, baby number two began to let me know it was urgently wanting to make an appearance. My husband dropped me and my suitcase, full of ‘maternity list’ must haves, bought from ‘Saba’s Drapery’ and shoes up Featherston’s main street, on the doorstep of the little Maternity home. No men allowed. Remembering my horrible experience the first time around, I waited for admission, feeling nervous and anxious to avoid a replay.
My fears were well founded. My first shock, the revelation of, the indignity and horrors of prepping! that I had missed out on first time around.
Prepping was, taking a bath, having a complete stranger scrapping around down below in your private parts with a man’s razor trying to get rid of all your short and curlys. The end result was, you ended up looking sort of like the ‘chook’ we ‘plucked’ for Christmas dinner. Worst of all though, came, the indignity of an even more ghastly event, the ‘enema’. The nurse sticking a tube up your back passage to fill you up with liquid that triggered a mad, waddle-dash, to the dunny to empty out. According to her, ‘enemas’ were to avoid the possibility you might ‘poo’ during the birth, and upset the doctor.
At the same time as all this was going on, I was in the same predicament as my first birth. Trying to convince the nurse that the baby really really did want to get out now, being told it was too early and go and squat on the enema-loo. Baby had the final say. Forcing its way out and proving, time theories can be wrong.
Following a mad rush from the loo to the delivery table, baby number two, a little girl, speedily, slipped out, with minimal discomfit, to everyone’s amazement. For a fleeting moment after giving birth, the nurse dangled my new baby girl before my eyes for just the briefest of glimpses, before she was whisked away to join the others in the rows of cots lined up in the nursery.
After the birth, my bed was wheeled into a shared ward with the other mums to have my now empty, saggy baggy tummy bound up in a linen binder. A long strip of calico cloth that got wrapped around your middle, like a mummy, (not trying to be funny), and fastened tight with safety pins. The theory behind this ritual was, the slack stomach muscles and droopy areas would be forced back into their proper place. It reminded me of my Nana’s story about how the Japanese stunted their kids feet from growing, by wrapping them in bandages, because they liked little feet.
Giving birth turned out to be a lot easier than coping with fourteen days of ‘confinement’, as they called it, without going batty! The maternity home’s draconian rules, regulations, and regimentation had definite similarities to prison life. Every waking and sleeping minute of our day was completely dictated by routines which the nurses with dogged, determination rigidly maintained.
Mothers contact with their new babies was restricted to a four hourly feeding schedule and bath-times. Even then, if we took too long the nurses were hovering around, ready to pounce and snatch the babies away back to the nursery. For unsettled babies who never got enough feed down in the time allowed, it was tough luck, they were forced to cry their hearts out until the next four hourly feed! It made no sense to me then or now.
Listening to the babies away in the nursery getting into a right state, and unable to go to the rescue, drove me as crazy as, when, they separated bobby calves and mothers on the farm. I felt the same helpless feelings as the cow mothers running up and down the fence-line bellowing out. It was the same upset for them inside, when as a kid at our Khandallah babysitter’s house, all the babies got left in cots crying all day. We mothers moaned to each other about not being allowed to pick our babies up but none of us actually had the guts to buck the system.
New mums were kept bed-ridden for the first week of their two week ‘confinement’. Visits to the dunny or a bath were forbidden, considered to be too unhygenic, and not safe. Before permission was granted to get out of bed, stainless steel bowls for washing and bedpans were the order of the day.
Bedpans, fortunately for our bums were warmed beforehand and arrived at set times. Nurses using long handled wooden tongs and cotton wool balls soaked in warm water washed down our privates, before we sat up to do our business. Another embarrassingly intrusive and ghastly happening for all involved!
Meticulous records on peeing, bowel movements, and blot clots passed, were kept, with questions like, ‘have your bowels moved today’ becoming of major importance. Taking your first ‘poo’ after the birth, had better not go over three days, or the big guns were brought out. Suppositories, the little explosives stuck up your back passage that made short work of getting you going, clearing out everything real fast. Of course, to avoid this fate, everyone lied through their teeth.
However, no excuses were good enough to get released from taking part in the daily bed drills, exercises, performed right after morning tea. Flat out on our backs on top of the bed-covers, no pillows allowed, all together in unison, we mums waved our legs around to the nurse’s instructions. Up and down, side to side, in and out, scissors, and finally a round of mad bicycle pedaling.
Exercise was followed by naptime, an hour’s kip until lunch at noon. Nurse shutting the curtains to darken the room, insisted all eyes to be closed, and face down snoozing on tummies to help the flattening process.
The one big enjoyable ‘highlight’, of maternity home ‘confinement’ was the top notch lady cook. All the mums eagerly looked forward to her delicious old fashioned home made meals. For me, a holiday from being the chief cook and bottle-washer was something to relish as much as the food. It was a real treat sitting up in bed, tucking into her creations.
Visiting times were enforced with the same, inflexible rules, as the rest of the home. Two to four pm, each afternoon for all visitors, and fathers allotted an extra two hours in the evening. Geoff’s work and babysitting made it impossible for him to visit and I began to get overcome with sadness and loneliness. Mum, my sister and our family friend, Mrs W, made the trip over the hill in the little blue bug for an afternoon visit, they really lifted my spirits.
Endlessly, pestering, the doctor to let me and baby go home early, paid off, and got me released from ‘confinement’ two days earlier than two weeks. Back home, with baby all tucked up in the cane bassinet, now adorned with white netting and girlie frills, made by mother in law, Elsie, I discovered two children equals two times the work.
Never ending cycles, of breast feeding, bathing, changing, washing and pegging out of dozens of napkins for baby and the little toddler, had to be kept up and added to my regular chores. I was left constantly exhausted with no help from Geoff. He expected everything to keep rolling along as usual, him doing his work and me mine.