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Labor and Delivery, Starring Betty Draper

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The childbirth scenes made me happy I had my kids in this decade!

mad men betty draper and don draper

Liesl Bradner: The Emmy-winning AMC hit "Mad Men" (featured today on "Oprah") is well regarded for its story lines that remain loyal and true to the clothing, trends, current events, and social attitudes of the early 1960s. It's the scenes displaying primordial parenting skills that cause many viewers to wince: Kids without seatbelts climbing in the front seat, playing with dry cleaner bags, little Sally sneaking sips of Daddy's martini, and all that second-hand smoke.

A recent episode centered around the birth of Betty and Don Draper's third child, which was a painful reminder of the birthing process (and lack of comfort) during that time. When Betty was wheeled into the labor room, a burly nurse abruptly stops Daddy Don and sternly tells him "Your job is done" (as if it ended at conception) and banished him to the "father's lounge," where he meets another dad-to-be with whom he shares a bottle of scotch whiskey. The first-time dad is kept in the dark about his wife's progress until a graduate from the Ratchet School of Nursing nonchalantly informs him that he has a son, he was breech, and his wife, who had a transfusion, "is recovering, as she lost a lot of blood."

In the next scene, Betty is informed that her regular doctor is unavailable, and to deal with her delivery. When asked if she'll be "giving the baby the breast," she quickly snaps "NO!" as if it was beneath her. Mind you, at this time in our past, many believed that breastfeeding was for the lower-income families that couldn't afford formula.

Betty is eventually knocked out in a Demerol-induced "twilight sleep," hallucinates, and wakes up with a baby in her arms.

Do you think husbands should return to the waiting room? Do they have a place in the labor room? Have we lost intimacy by revealing, uh, a little too much?


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36 comments so far | Post a comment now
Miranda September 21, 2009, 1:52 PM

I think that it’s a husband and wife’s choice to want to be in the delivery room as well as how much they see. I wanted hubby in the delivery room, but I didn’t want him to see the baby crowning (I actually snapped at him when he watched them break my water). Eventually, HE took initiative and said that he wanted to catch the baby, and I felt it would be rude of me to say no after 30 some-odd hours. He did get at money shot of the baby crowning, but was not at all repulsed. His opinion: he knew that sex leads to babies, and that anyone who thinks giving birth is gross should really grow a pair. But then again, I can see how some husbands would be self-concious and would fear ridicule by nurses/wives/etc., so maybe the waiting room is for them.

Natalie September 22, 2009, 3:41 AM

We’re getting ready to have our 3rd child in November, and my husband wouldn’t be anywhere else other than in the delivery room with me. He’s watched me give birth twice, and says it’s the coolest thing he’s ever seen. I think the way things used to be done is over with, and men actually WANT to be involved with birthing children.

Judith Leavitt September 22, 2009, 8:02 AM

For a history of men’s roles in labor and delivery, see Judith Walzer Leavitt, Make Room for Daddy: The Journey from Waiting Room to Birthing Room. Mad Men had it right: although it was beginning to change by 1963 (and some were insisting on natural childbirth)most men were not allowed to accompany their wives during labor and delivery and had to wait in their own “stork club.” There they bonded with other men and shared stories, just as Don Draper did with the prison guard. Meanwhile the women were often sedated or given twilight sleep (scopolomine, an amnesiac, along with morphine) as Betty Draper was. Through the 1960s and 1970s, men entered first labor rooms and then delivery and birthing rooms. Since the 1980s, men have not only been allowed to be present at labor and delivery, but they have been pressured to be there, and now there are some men who are being vocal about wanting to reverse the trend.

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