As a mom who has delivered a baby in each of the past four decades, Amy Nielsen reflects on how her pregnancy and childbirth experiences changed over time.
My husband often jokingly refers to me as the Gordy Howe of childbirth. Gordy was a hockey player who played across five decades. I’ve given birth across four, so Gordy’s got one up on me. My first daughter was born in the 1980s; my second daughter was born in the 1990s. My first son was born in the 2000s; my youngest son was born in the 2010s. When the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve to welcome 2020, it got me thinking about how pregnancy and childbirth have changed across the past four decades.
In the ’80s, almost no one had access to the internet in their home. Being pregnant in this decade meant I couldn’t Google my latest pregnancy symptom because Google didn’t exist. During my pregnancy, I was never asked what type of birth experience I wanted. Pregnant women in the ’80s had limited autonomy; doctors and insurance companies made most of the decisions for them. When the big day arrived, I labored in a large hospital room alongside several other women separated only by thin curtains. When it was time to give birth, I was rolled into a bright and cold delivery room greeted by a doctor I had never met. As soon as my daughter was born, I got a brief glance at her before she was whisked away to the nursery to be put on display behind a glass window. I’d only see her every four hours for her scheduled bottle-feedings. Because breastfeeding rates plummeted in the ’80s, I was given a pill after delivery to prevent breastmilk. Once the 24-hour post-partum mark hit, my daughter and I were discharged with very little instruction. I was young and terrified. Mother’s intuition and the experiences of other family members and friends were my only support.
By the time the ’90s rolled around, sonograms become more accessible and common. My first sonogram was at the Southern Women’s Show in Orlando. A couple of sonographers had an ultrasound machine in the exhibit hall offering a gender reveal for only $20! I hopped up on the table in the middle of the convention center surrounded by my friends and a growing crowd of other women. When I found out I was having another girl, the room erupted in cheers. During this decade, the number of women breastfeeding was on the rise, so I was prepared to nurse this go-around. By the time I went into labor with my ’90s baby, I had more say in what I wanted my birth experience to look like. I labored and delivered in the same private room using a midwife and surrounded by my family. I was able to decide what pain medication, if any, I wanted. After delivery, I stayed in the hospital for several days to recover, and my daughter shared the room with me. By the time we were discharged, I was well-informed about breastfeeding and what to expect over the next few weeks with my newborn.
When my first son was born in the 2000s, my pregnancy and delivery were very similar to my ’90s experience. The biggest difference was the impact of technology. Websites for expectant moms began to pop up all over the internet. I could sign up for weekly emails that would tell me which size fruit my baby was and what pregnancy symptoms I could expect. The 2000s also marked the rise of the birthing plan. Women were getting more input into what happened inside the delivery room. I remember watching a show on TLC called A Baby Story. Each episode highlighted a very different childbirth experience, opening up my eyes to the many options available to expectant moms. My 2000’s birth plan included having a doula as well as my midwife and having my son’s father participate in the delivery. Once home, on my bulky desktop computer, I could look up anything I needed to know about caring for my baby. Access to so much information was helpful, but also scary. Dr. Google was often guilty of improper diagnoses, sending scared mothers rushing to the emergency room. My son once got a goose egg on his forehead after bumping his head. After a few minutes on the web, I rushed him to the hospital concerned he might have a concussion. Thanks, Dr. Google — you could have told me he only needed an ice pack.
Fast-forward to the 2010s — in my forties, I joined a growing statistic of older women giving birth thanks to the increase in availability and affordability of IVF. My oldest daughter, now in her early thirties, is part of a growing number of professional women choosing to freeze their eggs to delay parenthood for a little longer. Surrogacy, egg and sperm donor banks and adoptable embryos offer a range of options for hopeful parents who would not have had such options in previous decades. Pregnancy and childbirth experiences now include things such as gender reveals, babymoons and giving birth in chic birthing centers that often resemble spas more than medical facilities. Smartphones make it easier than ever to record our growing bellies, join online pregnancy and mom groups and obsessively document our children’s milestones.
It is remarkable when I reflect on my pregnancies over the past four decades, and I realize just how much has changed. I also realize what a unique experience I’ve had giving birth across four decades. I remember what it was like to be a scared young mom in the ’80s, completely oblivious to what was happening to me, and I know what it’s like to be a confident pregnant woman in her forties, thanks to advances in medicine. It is hard to predict what the future of pregnancy and childbirth will look like, but one thing will never change — no matter how babies get here, those little fuzzy newborn heads will always smell so good!