Moms Then and Now
How motherhood expectations have changed over the years
How Times Have Changed
Imagine sitting in a waiting room at the pediatrician’s office holding your brand new baby in your arms, and striking up a conversation with the woman next to you. She, in turn, is cuddling a newborn and humming softly. You start off with the typical banter concerning the babies’ sleeping and eating habits, and as you continue to chat, you can’t help but wonder where she’s from. For instance, when you mention that your obstetrician was also expecting, the woman shakes her head and says, “A female obstetrician. Now that’s something. I’ve lived in three states and my OBs were always men. I never met a woman OB-GYN.”
OK, that could just be an aberration, but then she mentions that she never had a single ultrasound. Just when you’re beginning to think that things couldn’t get weirder, she tells you that she has no memory of the labor and delivery of her firstborn: She was knocked out cold and woke up to find out she’d had a healthy baby boy. The final shocker comes when she describes feeding her second child rice cereal when he was just 4 weeks old!
What is wrong with this woman? Is she pulling your leg?
No. She’s the baby’s grandmother, and she’s describing the life of a typical new mom more than 30 years ago.
Congratulations, You’re Pregnant! Let’s Party!
New grandmother Diana says, “My friends and I often joke about how things have changed over the years and how did our children ever survive pregnancy and birth? We were given very few guidelines about foods during pregnancy, especially the first three months.” As strange as it sounds to mothers today, little was understood 30 years ago concerning the physiological relationship between a mother and her growing fetus. Moderate smoking and drinking during pregnancy were commonplace.
“I have this hilarious and disturbing picture of my mother relaxing with a cigarette when she’s about 8 months pregnant with me,” describes 34-year-old Amy. “She’s tapping ashes into a dish that’s resting on her enormous belly.”
My, my, how times have changed. Millennium moms not only shun tobacco and alcohol, they avoid soft cheeses, caffeine, aspirin, swordfish, sushi, even hair dye. On the other hand, while our moms ate and drank on the wild side, they tended to take it easy from a physical standpoint, for fear of harming the baby or causing a miscarriage. Now we know that the womb is one secure little cocoon, so moms-to-be are sweating it out on tennis courts, doing aerobics, running, and of course, practicing the uber-popular yoga.
Breastfeeding? That’s for Hippies.
The only trend more popular than prenatal yoga it seems is breastfeeding. Today’s mostly bottle-fed mothers are nursing their babies in record numbers. What was viewed as unhealthy and somewhat primitive just three decades ago is now touted as “the healthiest choice” in the literature on the back of formula cans. The percentage of US breastfeeding mothers reached an all-time low in the 1970s. “At that time, breastfeeding was frowned upon,” explains Jerri, grandmother of a 4-year-old.
Jo-Ann, whose daughter-in-law has been nursing her grandson for the last 10 months, confirms that view. “Your friends discouraged it. Doctors discouraged it,” she says. “Back then, you didn’t question your doctors. They were gods. If your doctor said it, you did it!”
Hospital Births: What Baby?
What else did doctors recommend in those days? That moms spend four days in the hospital resting up while the nurses took care of the babies. In sharp contrast to the current focus on mother-child bonding via rooming in, the prevailing wisdom, which unarguably has its merits, was that labor and delivery (even if performed while unconscious) was tough work, so mothers should get all the sleep and recuperation time they could before going home. Newborns were brought in to their mothers every few hours for a bottle of formula, but most of the time, “Babies were in the nursery. I don’t think they brought them to me at night at all,” remembers Jo-Ann.
“I can’t even imagine that,” exclaims Karen, a mother of a 1-year-old. “My daughter spent every minute in the room with me and slept with me, skin-to-skin, at night. I used to get antsy if she was gone for more than 30 minutes for all those newborn tests.” Chances are that while Karen probably felt more comfortable taking her new baby home after a couple of days of nonstop contact, her mother went home more rested and ready to take on the challenge of full-time parenting. Both approaches have their pros and cons, and both babies flourished at home.
Safety First … Ha!
“There are so many more safety products today than when my children were small,” recalls Jerri. If you thought smoking during pregnancy was bad, how about a mother allowing her toddler to bounce around the backseat (or front seat) of the car without so much as a seatbelt?
“Stuffing crowds of people into VW Beetles wasn’t just a college stunt,” remembers Karen. “When I was a kid, we used to go out to eat with my dad in the driver’s seat, my mom in the passenger seat, three kids sitting across the backseat and a child sitting in each floorboard.” Jerri says that when her daughter was little, she actually fell out of a moving car and rolled on the pavement!
Car seats made their debut in the early 1970s and resembled hard plastic booster seats with trays. They weren’t required to face backward or even to be placed in the backseat, but they were a good start. Modern-day moms can have their car seats professionally installed at police stations and hospitals while they unwrap their new video baby monitors and sleep apnea alarms. Their babies will eat organic baby food and start education early with baby gym classes and high-contrast color crib mobiles. Later, they’ll color with nontoxic, washable crayons in coloring books made of recycled paper. It’s a brave new world!
Between putting batteries in the talking phonics ExerSaucer and attending Mom and Tot Pilates, millennium mothers are a busy bunch. “Moms in my generation had the gift of a slower pace and not as many outside pressures,” Diana says. “Our kids played with friends after school and had fewer organized activities. They learned to have down time and entertain themselves. Our lives are on high speed today. Technology has allowed us to obtain information and solve problems in an instant. Often I see moms and dads responding to their children’s needs and wants in that same fast-paced manner. They want quick fixes for everything from school problems to the common cold, if it doesn’t happen quickly someone is at fault. Actually, no one is at fault. Sometimes it just takes time! Slowing down gives common sense a chance to kick in, and hopefully remembering that ultimately they are responsible for their children.”
Though a grandmother for a mere three months, Diana’s already a wise counselor. “Moms are not perfect people, and each generation is confronted with different challenges,” she reminds us. “We are also products of our own upbringing, the good and the bad, although we fervently vow that we will ‘never do that to our children!’ But no matter what generation we’re in, we are all moms stumbling through the best job in the world.”
Read even more about how mothering has changed over the years here!
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