A hospital visit nowadays is brief and very functional. Go in, get the procedure and go home, sometimes all in one day, very rarely more than two or three.
However, back in the 60’s and 70’s hospital in England, was a real occasion and something to prepare for well in advance.
Almost every woman I knew had a hospital nightie and husbands had a good pair of pyjamas for the occasion too.
Many women had their first experience in hospital on the birth of their first child. They were primed for the occasion by monthly visits to a maternity clinic where they were weighed, had blood pressure checks and had their urine tested.
In those days, women were asked to take a urine ample with them on their appointments as a specimen collected first thing in the morning was required. This was before plastics were widely available and dollar stores were yet to be thought of, so women had to find a suitable container for their specimen.
It was quite common for young women to be seen on buses with a big, glass soda pop bottle sticking out of their shopping bag as this was the most suitable container they could find in their home. Jam jars were also a ready commodity, found in every home so the collection of large and small bottles and jars, all appropriately labelled with the donor’s name, would arrive on the desk of the check-in clerk, on clinic days.
The clinic visit would be quite a social affair and, as a doctor or midwife’s exam was given at every clinic visit, the women would take along a suitable nightdress to wear. It was quite usual to see a large row of chairs where quite scantily clad young women, in various stages of pregnancy, waited to be seen by the doctor.
After many of these visits, the young wives were quite ready for the hospital stay, prior and after the delivery of their child. This was long before the advent of sterile, sexless hospital gowns, so the maternity ward looked more like Victoria’s Secret for the very pregnant. The fact that they sported huge bumps didn’t deter the girls from trying to outdo one another in looking their best.
During my third pregnancy it was discovered that I was expecting twins and immediately I was taken into hospital for two weeks of bed rest, due to high blood pressure. To get to my clinic appointment I had to take my two toddlers on two busses, deliver them to my mom-in-law’s home, for her to baby sit. I then had to catch another bus followed by a long walk to the clinic. This was in August with soaring temperatures, so no wonder my blood pressure was elevated by the time I got to the clinic!
The two weeks turned into almost three months and, during that time, I learned a lot about hospital life. The ward sister was like a commandant who ruled her army of nurses with a rod of iron. Beds were not allowed to be untidy so this meant the patient could either lie in bed or sit on a chair by the bed. Lolling about on the bed was not allowed, you either lay at attention or sat on the hard chair. The wearing of underpants whilst in bed was frowned upon, so daintily climbing on and off the high beds was not without it’s perils!
The various doctors did their “rounds” every morning, followed by a group of young trainees. For this inspection, the sister turned back the bedclothes neatly, lifted up your nightie, to expose you to the assembled group and stood back while the doctor pummelled your stomach and explained the position of your unborn child to the assembled group. Joy of joys if you were to be given an internal examination, modesty was in no way part of hospital life.
The ward sister went off duty at 6.00pm and there would be a flurry of make-up, hairbrushes and hairspray, as everyone prepared for their visitors at 7.30pm. Visiting time was strictly adhered to so, if your man was late, you panicked as visitors were ushered out at 8.00 on the dot. If husbands were working shifts, moms or moms in law were a poor substitute.
On Wednesdays and Sundays, visiting was for one hour in the afternoon, so very few husbands could come on those days. My two young children were not allowed in to visit so, for the whole time, I only got to see them for a few minutes on Sunday afternoons, when I opened the fire escape door and waved to them from the fourth floor. Grandma took them out for ice cream afterwards to stop their tears, but it did nothing to stop mine.
My own daughters were only in hospital one or two nights on the birth of their babies, they wore whatever ugly, utilitarian gown was thrown their way and visitors wandered in and out for hours.
When my husband took me to hospital for the birth of my first child, the nurse took my arm and shooed him away as though he were a dog with fleas. Definitely no men allowed! Each of my sons in law were in the delivery room as their babies were born, what a change in attitude in one generation. What on earth would the ward sister have to say to that?