LAST week I received a phone call from a sympathetic woman who identified herself as a representative of the Gallup Poll. She had some questions for the woman in residence and asked if that would be me.
"Yes," I replied, because she sounded so nice, and because I thought that being a caller for the Gallup Poll might be a difficult job.
Her survey dealt with the services available for women at area hospitals. It included childbirth facilities.
"It's interesting you should ask," I replied, "because that's a subject I've given a great deal of thought to lately."
A little over a month ago, my dearest friend gave birth to a son in a Baltimore hospital. I'd been out of the country when she'd had her first child roughly four years earlier, and in accordance with her wishes, I'd promised to help in any way I could when this child -- my godson -- was born.
The day came earlier than anticipated, at a time when my friend's mother and sisters were out of town. This circumstance made my support even more critical.
Unfamiliar with area hospital procedures, I sensed that my plans might be thwarted when I arrived at the obstetrics section of the hospital at the time of my friend's scheduled Caesarian. I was greeted by an unsmiling woman behind a desk who responded to my query about my friend's status with the question, "Are you family?"
"Yes," I exaggerated. Her silence seemed to indicate that I could stay.
The question regarding my familial status was repeatedly asked during the next several hours -- as I was standing next to my friend in the recovery room, as I was walking next to her as she was wheeled to her room, as I was holding my newly arrived godson close to my heart.
Over the following several days, I came to understand that tight security is needed in hospitals in this era of baby stealing. I understood it, but I didn't like it.
I didn't like a security system that didn't let my little girl visit the woman she calls her aunt. My daughter was "under-age." Nor did I appreciate a hospital policy that didn't allow visitors to view babies through a nursery window. Especially, I didn't like being in an environment where as an insider, I was made to feel like an outsider, and when at a time a friend needed me most, I was nervously trying to circumvent a system that was obstructing my efforts to be a friend.
My hospital experience was not completely negative. Most of the nurses correctly assessed my nurturing presence, and I was able to spend hours with a woman I love dearly and a baby who has already won my heart.
However, reflecting on my own child's birth in a distant town with less stringent security measures, I know that there is a better way.
At some point around the time my child was born, I read (in one of the countless books I was perusing about babies and childbirth) a vague reference to "island cultures" and the tremendous support system they have for pregnancy and childbirth. And although I don't remember exactly what I read, the impression I retained remains vivid:
The pregnant women rest in balmy huts, fed and fanned by caring women who are themselves mothers. The attending women apply cooling cloths to the pregnant women's temples and help them to their feet. Newborns are held and cuddled by loving hands. Soothing poultices are applied where the mothers ache. Their feet and backs are rubbed with aromatic lotions.
They rarely need to ask for anything because their needs are so accurately anticipated.
Cathleen A. Hanson writes from Bel Air.