A visit to the maternity ward

maternity ward“Back in my day, we didn’t have a maternity ward, we had a maternity home,” my mother-in-law informed me. “And new mums stayed in the maternity home for two weeks.” Two weeks! Some mums I know would consider that a luxury, while others would find it incredibly boring and would be desperate to get home. I’m in the former camp; I loved my three days in the birthing centre after each of my children was born. Hot meals! Cups of tea on demand! Someone else to take out the rubbish! That’s pretty much my definition of a dream holiday. Of course, a dream holiday doesn’t include a strange midwife looking at my perineum to make sure the stitches are holding, but hey, you can’t have everything.

When a friend who is a first-time mum was pregnant recently, she invited me to go with her on a tour of the hospital’s maternity ward. She was going to have a Caesarean section so she’d be bunking in for a couple of nights before transferring to the nearest post-birth facility for a few more days. Of course, I jumped at the chance. That new-baby smell is a powerful draw card.

We traipsed along the maternity ward corridors with the midwife and several other expectant mums and dads, checking out the delivery rooms and the spa baths (“We don’t do water births here, but then again, some mums in labour just don’t make it out of the pool in time,” the midwife commented, looking sideways at us). We took note of the beanbags, Swiss balls, and not-medieval-at-all birthing stools available for use. We saw the little rooms with the special lights where babies with jaundice spend time getting their tan on. I took especial note of the tea-making facilities.

“Back in my day, there were nurseries where the babies stayed, and the nurses brought them to you when it was time to feed or bathe them,” my mother-in-law told me. After three babies of my own, I can see the appeal of handing your sleepless, squalling newborn over to trained and patient professionals and sinking into bed for some guaranteed shut-eye. But my friend was a first-time mum, and didn’t want to be parted from her baby. There aren’t nurseries any more, anyway, not like there used to be. It’s all rooming-in now.

So we didn’t get to look through a big picture window at rows of swaddled babies sleeping in their cots. We did, however, see some tiny new hatchlings being carried about the maternity ward by their besotted new dads, presumably while the new mums caught some of that elusive sleep I mentioned. Oh, were they cute and precious and sweet. The way the dads carried them, as though they might break, was pretty heart-melting.

When the tour ended and my friend and I hailed the lift, heading for the carpark and the busy, noisy world outside the maternity ward (where you’re responsible for making your own cups of tea), I realised it’s unlikely I’ll ever be staying in the maternity ward myself, ever again. I’m okay with that. It’s enough to visit, from time to time, and catch a glimpse of newly minted parents, in awe of the tiny creature they hold in their arms. And new humans, slowly blinking as they adjust to the world outside the confines of their formerly aquatic home.

“Let’s go get a cuppa,” said my friend.