My mother was nineteen when she went into labor with her first baby. My father dropped her at Hospital Admissions to register while he parked the car. Of the many forms she completed, only one she refused to sign. It was a standard release for circumcision. Nurse #1 explained it was a necessary procedure, very simple, and became irate when my mother refused a second time. Nurse #2 appeared and told her the procedure was not optional. An administrator attempted to talk some sense into her. When she refused a third time, my mother was escorted to a private room where a doctor instructed her to sign the form and this is where my dad came in. The doctor stood firm with his team behind him and handed him the form. My father took the paper, tore it up and headed for the door, saying they’d find another hospital. Only then did the hospital comply.
Back in the day, fathers (forget about partners) weren’t allowed in the labor and delivery rooms. This was one fight my parents wouldn’t win. My mother was dumped in a room with several other women in various stages of labor, screaming and crying, each one of them without the support of a loved one, partner or birth coach. Every so often a nurse looked in on them, but for the most part they were left alone and terrified. My mother’s doctor was out of town and after a long, hard, solitary labor, she was passed into the hands of a doctor she’d never met before. My mom was barely five foot two with a very slim frame and I was nearly eight pounds, and a girl, which rendered the circumcision struggle irrelevent. When I questioned her about what the actual birthing part was like she said, “Ugh, it was all a blur, it was just so awful.” The first words she spoke to my dad were not, “It’s a girl” or “She’s so beautiful” or anything like that. They were, “I will never ever do that again if I can’t have my own doctor. Never.” Days later when her own doctor came to see her she asked about circumcision. He told her, “If you’re not doing it for religious reasons, there’s no reason to do it.” TC and I always said our children’s genitals were not up for discussion with anyone but ourselves. We’ve listened to my family rant about their anti-circumcision obsession around the dining room table once too many times. But this story explains a lot. For my young mother the birth of her first child was a hostile experience, which began with their unique stance on circumcision. Unlike me, she’s not one to dwell on emotional content. When she tells this story it ends with, “And the worst part of all is that I missed Tiny Tim getting married on Johnny Carson.”
Later she faced a rash of opposition to breastfeeding. It was my grandmother’s generation, the war wives, who were encouraged to stay on the job instead of nursing their babies. They believed the ad men’s campaigne that formula was superior to breast-milk. For my grandmother, her friends and many members of subsequent generations, the propaganda lived on. The choice to breastfeed left my grandmother in a state of panic. She urged my mother to put me on formula before I suffered permenant damage, but my mom stood her ground and breastfeed all four of us. I always wondered why the hippie movement seemed to pass my parents right by, but it sounds like they were busy protesting their own wars right there on the home-front.