Get the Handcuffs

When my mom saw my breast pump, she said something about how sleek and petite it looked compared to the monstrous pump she had to use back when she had me. I thought it would be fun to interview her about the differences in childbirth and its aftermath between now and then. It didn’t take long for the conversation to turn way more emotional than I’d expected. And I learned some kind of shocking things about hospital conventions in the 70s.

My dad snapped a bunch of shots with his contraband camera

My dad snapped a bunch of shots with his contraband camera

After my mom's arms were untied

My mom’s arms were tied down while she was in labor

And the nurses begrudgingly allowed her to nurse me in the NICU

The nurses begrudgingly allowed my mom to nurse me at the NICU

What kinds of things did YOUR mom experience that you couldn’t imagine happening today?
Tell us in the comments.

Photos: Richard Frank

11 thoughts on “EPISODE #7: Nurse, Get the Handcuffs

  1. When you say that your mom had the childbirth you wish you’d hoped for, it struck a chord with me. I had two c-sections, unwanted and sudden (the first one was especially) hard to get past. When I was pregnant with my second child, my sister gave birth to her first. When I hung up after getting the “she’s here!” call, I sobbed for almost half an hour. Jealousy? Mourning? Pregnancy Hormones? Anyway, she had the birth I wanted.

    The breastfeeding part of the interview is so touching, and I got weepy myself. Thanks to your mom for sharing this.

  2. Thanks for sharing this conversation with your mom, Hillary. That little noise she makes when you ask her about breastfeeding – I think that sums it all up.

    After I listened to this, I went to the next item in my Google Reader, and it happened to be this post at Marvelous Kiddo:


    It’s a birth story from 1975 by Carol Leonard, a pillar of the modern midwifery movement. Very, very similar to what your mom describes – indeed, Carol dared to touch the “prepped” area of her body and had her hands tied down as a result. She also left the hospital quickly against medical advice. Funny hearing/reading both of these one after the other.

  3. My mom had almost the exact same experience as yours; I was born in 1978. She nursed for about 3 months also, but at great personal expense and pain. I feel sooooo blessed to have access to multiple resources for breastfeeding help.

  4. My mother had a horrific experience with her first birth in 1969, she was restrained and given a spinal block an episiotimy and the baby was taken away. It was the reason she had many home births after that!

  5. In 1975, my mom was the first patient her OB had who wanted a natural childbirth. The nursing staff thought she would bother the other (medicated) patients, so they made her labor in the hallway! I badly wanted a natural childbirth and trained for months with Hypnobabies and Hypnobirthing, only to find out two weeks past my due date that my pelvis is shaped in a way that will never let a baby out. I never went in to labor and ended up with a C-section. It’s not the birth I wanted and that makes me sad sometimes but I am so thankful for modern medicine since my baby and I would not likely have survived without it.

  6. This blog is fantastic, how helpful it would have been 18 years ago! It struck me that you didn’t know about how your own breast feeding went…why would you?! I’ve always kept my 3 week attempt quiet- out of some short of shame… but it wasn’t working and once the Grandmas showed up with their fix of a bottle and assurance that everyone needed sleep I quickly succumbed to the peace of a full & happily snoring baby. But I’ve always felt a little guilty.

  7. Thank you for this conversation about breastfeeding and the story of you as a baby. I identify with your mom’s experience totally (except for the handcuffs) since it was so like mine. When my daughter was born, there was also a separate labor and delivery room, with nurses expecting a strict feeding schedule, and not really promoting breastfeeding. I felt like a radical to even consider it, but of course, am completely glad I did. Such incredibly healthy and free! food. I used the pump when I went back to work and remember that it was big and hard to manage, too. I

  8. My mom was always really open about stuff like this, so by the time I was in middle school, I’m pretty sure I’d heard about how I’d been born a million times. I was born in 1984 in a rural hospital. My mom wasn’t strapped down, but she was put in a bed and hooked up to an internal monitor and told she couldn’t even roll onto her side for her entire 12 hour labor. I remember her telling me more than once, “If they’d just let me get up and walk around, it wouldn’t have taken 12 hours.” She had an epidural and it was so strong, she couldn’t push at all, so I was delivered entirely by forceps. She said the pain before the epidural was horrible, but the rest of of it wasn’t that bad. I was whisked away to the nursery and my mom basically slept until it was time to go home. (When she found out the hospital where my daughter was born only did rooming in, she was baffled. “Why would anyone want to do that?! Don’t you want to rest?!”) She breastfed me for 2 weeks but gave up, which really wasn’t that big a deal because she’d only planned to breastfeed for 6 weeks until she went back to work and she didn’t know anyone–not her mother, not her sister, not a single one of her friends–who’d breastfed for more than a few weeks. Some of it is definitely weird to think about, like not being allowed to stand up at all, but I think by the 80s a lot of the crazier stuff from the 60s and 70s, like tying women down, had stopped for most births.

    It’s worth noting that when I had a c-section in 2012, though, at my progressive hospital, my arms were strapped down, and this is still a pretty common occurrence for women who have c-sections. That was an unpleasant surprise in the OR, since I’d assumed they hadn’t done anything like that in hospitals in over 30 years and had widely heard the practice panned as barbaric. Obviously, I was wrong.

    1. Katie,
      I think that is wrong what they did to you. They had no right to strap your down like that. I think you should have made a formal complaint to the hospital.
      I live in the UK and they don’t do this there that would be assault. I am sure it’s the same in the US .

      1. That’s intersting about the UK.
        My arms were strapped down during my c-section, too, but I always thought it had more to do with the strong shaking that happens as a result of the drugs. In my case, the anesthesiologist opted for a spinal instead of an epidural (first time I heard there was even a difference between the two). I shook so vigorously from my shoulders to my hands. Being strapped down did reinforce the feeling of a total loss of control. All in all, c-sections are intense (much like vaginal deliveries, I imagine)!

  9. Thank you for sharing your and your mother’s story! I love trying to imagine how it was for my mother when she was pregnant… I ask her questions, but she’s never really open about it… Maybe someday!

    If I could add a little something… You said at some point in the podcast that you were never breastfed… But you WERE! You were breastfed for three months, which was way longer than most infants at that time… Maybe that sentence was recorded before your mother said she breastfed you for three months… Or maybe I misunderstood!

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