IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — In the 1950s young women were wearing poodle skirts, pinning up their hair and enjoying the start of rock ‘n’ roll.
But when it came time for childbirth they also were experiencing a state akin to the Twilight Zone — that is, twilight sleep.
Women were knocked out during childbirth by a combination of different drugs such as morphine or scopolamine that thrust them into a semi-conscious state and often took away their memory of birth.
Some women woke up not even realizing they’d had a child.
Expectant mothers in the 1950s and 1960s typically weren’t actively involved with their child’s birth. They were put in twilight sleep and the doctors decided a women’s birth experience.
But more women health care providers, more mothers demanding an active role in childbirth and advances in medical procedures, technology and medications have improved childbirth for mothers and babies alike.
Iris Torvik has been working with women and children in hospitals for more than 30 years. She’s the administrative director of women and children’s services at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. And while she wasn’t around for the days of twilight sleep, over the course of her career, Torvik seen a drastic change in the way women are treated and participate during childbirth.
THE GRANOLA MOVEMENT
It wasn’t until the 1970s, with the rise of feminism and women’s empowerment that women started to demand a more active role in their own labor and delivery process.
It’s also characterized as the “granola” movement, Torvik said. More women were pushing to go natural, and it was the start of water births and the rise of Lamaze, a controlled breathing and visualization technique in labor.
“I was a granola,” Torvik said, remembering her own birthing experience in the early 1980s. She said she delivered with the lights down and music on. Her husband even gave their newborn a bath in the delivery room.
“Women started to take charge of their own birth experience,” Torvik said.
OB/GYN Margaret Huggins, who practices at Monarch Healthcare, also has been in the field for more than three decades. She said that when she first entered medicine, there was only one “token female” in each residency class.
Similarly, when Torvik first started as a nurse at Baylor Scott & White Health in Texas, there were only one or two females in each residency class of doctors that she saw.
By the time Torvik left 10 years later, there were only one or two males in the class.
Women’s empowerment played an important role in childbirth, but so did the technology and practices.
Huggins recalled during her first job in a small town in New Hampshire in the early 1980s, there was still a lot of nitrous oxide — commonly known as laughing gas — being used during labor.
Women also were given enemas and episiotomies, a surgical cut made to the opening of the vagina, regularly.
Episiotomies were given to women if doctors thought they were going to have extensive vaginal tearing during childbirth, but in most cases this episiotomy was more extensive and difficult to heal than a natural tear would have been, according to the Mayo Clinic.
A MORE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Luckily, women today don’t have to go through this process. Most hospitals have combined labor and delivery rooms, so women don’t have to move between labor and birth.
Huggins and Torvik agreed that this change made the process of giving birth less clinical.
EIRMC already had a very family-centric approach to labor, Torvik helped it take the final steps. She took down the landscape photos lining the walls, which she said made it look more like an oncology floor instead of a labor and delivery floor, and put up photos of the staff and their family.
This way soon-to-be mothers can see their nurses and doctors families, and make it a more personal experience, Torvik said.
“We strive to have a high-touch environment that also has the technology if needed,” Torvik said. “I have seen too many home deliveries go south.”
Home deliveries have been on the rise in recent years because women are wanting that more personal experience, Torvik said. By making the hospital more family oriented, Torvik hopes to replicate this home environment in the hospital because it also has life-saving technology and care for a mother and child.
CHANGES IN MEDICATION DELIVERY
Mountain View Hospital Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Todd Merkley gives women comfort during labor with a combined spinal epidural.
The technique gets patients comfortable quicker and uses less medication. Merkley said he is able to use 1 cc of medication on a patient that gets them comfortable almost immediately, versus a traditional epidural that requires anywhere from 10 to 20 cc of medication and works in 10 to 20 minutes.
“So much medicine, it not only blocks the nerves that control pain response, but also blocks the nerve that controls blood pressure so patients can drop their blood pressure,” Merkley said. “Once their blood pressure drops, they become dizzy and nauseous.”
This is less likely to happen with the technique Merkley uses because he goes one space further into the spine and deposits medication into the cerebral spinal fluid before putting in an epidural catheter. Merkley also hooks up the epidural pump to where it also can work with less medication.
Merkley said with this technique there are fewer failed epidurals and a lesser chance of one-sided epidurals, which is when the epidural only numbs one side of the body.
By putting very little medication into the cerebral spinal fluid, it gives the patient relief almost immediately.
Mothers are still able to move their legs and are less likely to experience the dead-weight feeling from a traditional epidural. Merkley said it’s like going natural, without the pain associated with it.
Women can still feel themselves pushing and know when it’s time to push, without pain.
“A lot of women feel robbed in a sense because they’re essentially paralyzed waist down,” Merkley said, with a traditional epidural.
This is exactly how Chantel Barnes felt when she had her epidural. Barnes has eight kids, and had three traditional epidurals and one combined spinal.
“I could lift my legs (with the combined spinal) where before I was completely numb. You couldn’t tell if you were touching your legs or what not, you were in a bed for hours without being able to get up,” Barnes said.
If given the choice, Barnes said she would take the combined spinal epidural over the traditional epidural.
She said she could feel when it was time to push, whereas before she had to be told. Barnes said the epidural felt like a cold sensation running down her spine.
“I thought it was awesome,” she said.