Today is my mom's birthday. Thinking about her made me think about the generations of women in my family and the different choices we have made at different times in history in different cultural contexts.
Mom was born in the 50's in a small hospital in central Missouri. The second of 3 children, she was Grandma's biggest baby (9lb 12oz) and the easiest to deliver according to Grandma. She and Grandpa drove about 30 miles to the nearest hospital when she was in labor. She gave birth to my mom 3 hours later. At that time they didn't allow dad's to be in the delivery room. They didn't even want Grandpa to wait outside the door. He was told to stay in the waiting room on the other floor.
Once my mom was born, they stayed in the hospital another 4 or 5 days. That's just what you did then. This was also a time when most babies in the US were "bottle-fed" (Grandma's phrase), so she bottle-fed her babies too (the formula recommended at the time was a home made mixture of condensed milk and Karo syurp). The information available to her didn't suggest any reason to do otherwise, and again, it was the cultural norm.
When my mom gave birth to me 24 years later, there had been major cultural changes in terms of breastfeeding. My mom breastfeed both me and my brother for over a year (despite her mother-in-law's protests).
By this time hospitals had also changed their policies about fathers' involvement at delivery. I was breech and failed an external version. The OB told my mom that her pelvis was too small to accommodate my head and she would need to have a c-section. My dad was in the operating room and still talks about how amazing it was to see Mom's uterus.
When I think about these two stories, only a generation apart it reminds me of 2 things:
1. Things change.
Grandpa was kept out of the delivery room and my dad was welcomed into the operating room at my birth. Grandma bottle-fed her kids because that's what people did. New information was available to my mom and she made a different choice.
2. It's all OK.
I'm not saying that condensed milk and Karo syrup is as good as the breast milk I got as a baby, or that I didn't miss out on some beneficial bacteria because I wasn't colonized in the birth canal, or that Mom's recovery from her c-section was just as easy as Grandma's vaginal birth. But all things considered, we're fine. Mom doesn't have diabetes. I don't have asthma or attachment issues. They did the best they could with the information they had in their cultural and historical context. Just like me.
I don't mean to sound flip about it, we're still learning about the complex interplay between environmental, genetic, and epigenetic factors in health and illness. But as a mom, when I was back at work and struggling to pump enough milk for my baby, it was reassuring for me to remember that my mom was raised on condensed milk and Karo syrup, and she turned out just fine. Better than fine. She's pretty amazing actually. Happy Birthday Mom!