Much has changed from the days when a father's role in the birth of a baby ended at the delivery room door, his path abruptly blocked by a stern matron in white who could say with her eyes alone:
"This is our job now."
Childbirth may not have gotten easier, but ideas about it are loosening up.
About 30 women--some expecting, others cradling their newborns--gathered in a festive setting last week to dramatize that change.
They were guests of Glendale Adventist Medical Center, where about 200 women give birth each month. Until a few weeks ago, they all did it the standard hospital way. They labored in a labor room, then were wheeled down the hall to a room full of bottled gases and electronic tools that yielded the first sights and sounds of a new child.
In many places, the natural birth movement has brought fathers into the room as coaches. Specialty clinics, such as Glendale's Easy Birth Center, have offered Victorian bedroom settings. But big institutions found it hard to abandon old attitudes.
"It's a lot easier and faster if we keep Father out and do our own work," said the hospital's head delivery nurse, Ellen Hooker, who attended the party in a business suit.
Now the hospital is making an earnest attempt to change, she said.
"We wanted to give back a lot of the power and control to the mother." Under a policy now going into effect, there are almost no rules.
The mother can have anyone she wants with her during delivery--even if it isn't the father. She can keep the baby at her side throughout her stay. She can decide who will visit and at what hours and who will hold the baby.
With the change in attitude comes a change in hardware. The hardware is getting softer.
Last month, Glendale Adventist opened an LDR. That stands for Labor/Delivery Room.
"It's like a hotel," Hooker said. The room evolved into its present form. First it was an ABC, an Alternate Birth Center decorated with homey colors and furniture. The mother stayed there it was time to go home. Because the bottled gases and electronics were not included, it was only for the easy deliveries, Hooker said.
Now all the equipment has been added, tucked into cabinets. Any mother can deliver there.
The only limitation is that the hospital has built only the first of the five or six LDRs it has planned.
"It's first come, first served," said Kathy Hirsh, who attended the party with her husband, Steven. She is expecting in a few days and will use the new room if it is available.
Once a mother checks in, the room is occupied for up to two days. So Kathy Hirsh could end up doing it the old way.
Susan Grant, carrying 9-week-old Allison, filled Hirsh in on what that would be like. She was overdue just as the finishing touches were put on the ABC. She'd call in frequently, hoping that it would be ready.
It wasn't. She had 24 hours and 45 minutes of labor and then a 15-minute delivery.
"They had to wheel me into the delivery room, which was not a lot of fun," Grant said. "There's so much distraction at the last minute."
Grant, a Los Angeles kindergarten teacher, was supposed to be picketing. She played hooky with Allison to be part of a happier media event. It had balloons, cake, a puppeteer and staff handing out literature on prenatal and breast-feeding classes.
Between interviews with reporters, Grant and the other moms and dads did manage to exchange information about other new things in birthing.
"Is this your stroller?" Kathy Hirsh asked Amy Campos, who sat beside a sleek Italian import with gray plastic chassis and white quilted upholstery. "How do you like it?"
"I love it." Campos said.
"This is the '89 model, isn't it?" Kathy Hirsh asked.
"This is hot off the boat," Steven Hirsh interjected.
"The difference is it's got the adjustable handle," Kathy said. "This one has the wider wheel base."
"Equipment is something we've researched to death," Steven said. He said they got their information from a baby expert, an adviser who helped them at the baby goods store.
"This is the finest stroller," he said with finality.
Campos smiled appreciatively. But she seemed more interested in the party than the theory.
"It's good to get out and see other people in your situation, to know I'm not the only one with a cranky baby," she said.
Her 6-week-old son Michael, who rested placidly on her lap in a pinstripe Yankee uniform, was born the old way. His mom didn't mind.
"It didn't really matter," Campos said. "I just wanted him to come out."
She tried to explain the feelings of the ninth month of pregnancy.
"Not being a woman, you wouldn't understand," she said at last.
Some things never change.