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Mad Men: Giving Birth in the '60s

Mad Men: Is Birthing in the '60s as Bad as You'd Think?

Sunday's Mad Men told me more than I ever wanted to know about childbirth in the '60s. Betty Draper is hushed away from her husband upon arriving at the hospital, forced to fill out paperwork midcontractions, and bossed around by an unsympathetic nurse whose bedside manner approximates a warden's — you made your bed now have your baby in it.

What did I expect anyway — for Betty to have her baby in the master bath while Don burned lavender and massaged her shoulders. Of course not. But I also did not expect to see Betty give birth in a semiconscious state. I thought you were either awake or out. This in-between state, more formally known as twilight sleep, is made of a cocktail of drugs to relieve pain and induce amnesia. Because who wants to remember the birth of her child!

Today natural childbirth is applauded, so it's easy to be appalled by Betty's semiconscious experience. But was it oppressive or an initial, if flawed, step toward a better childbirth? Probably both! Read on to learn more.


It was a female doctor, Eliza Taylor Ransom, who founded the New England Twilight Sleep Association in 1914 to ensure hospitals offer twilight sleep during childbirth. Considered more humane and even aspirational, it initially took off among wealthy women, who formed Twilight Sleep Societies and praised the procedure for the "healthy, beautiful, and intelligent" babies it produced.

Doctors quickly discovered semiconscious women made excellent patients, and women, assuming they had no choice, accepted the procedure as the norm. What was created to be an alternative to natural childbirth was used in every hospital delivery by 1938, and it continued until the natural-birth movement took over in the '70s. So who's to say the pendulum won't swing back? In 50 years women may look back and see choosing pain as pointless and barbaric, but at least they'll know it was a choice.

Source: AMC

CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 8 years
"because epidurals are a safer alternative for mother and child." epidurals are still incredibly dangerous.
offtherecord1 offtherecord1 8 years
My grandmothers both had this done, and one of them has admitted to waking panicked after dreaming about screaming and crying and not knowing really what or where or when following the first year or so of her children's lives. Sounds sort of like PTSD to me and not at all good for the new mom.
staple-salad staple-salad 8 years
Obviously it can't be too bad... My boyfriend's grandma wasn't supposed to be able to have kids or survive birthing and she ended up with a considerable number before getting her tubes tied! Though, didn't they abandon the idea of "have your kids in your sleep!" idea when they discovered that mother's didn't physically and mentally respond to having birthed the child (still thought they were pregnant and didn't think the baby was theirs). I don't know if the twilight sleep or the "birth in your sleep" things were the same idea, though, the "birth in your sleep" one was inspired by polar bears (who do give birth in their sleep while hibernating).
b1uebunn b1uebunn 8 years
I'm glad women have so many choices today, and it's obvious why the natural childbirth movement came out of the 70s after this horror. Yes, childbirth is rough, but you're not meant to be knocked out for it. How can she possibly correctly push? I also think it's horrible how little fathers were involved.
bonniebonnie bonniebonnie 8 years
This episode freaked me out! I'd rather have the pain and my husband.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 8 years
My moms first child who was born in the 60's was born under twilight sleep, it was a horrible experiance for her. We have it good now, with so many choices out there. Homebirth, Doulas, Birthing centers.
runningesq runningesq 8 years
I would love it if they could knock me out, take out the baby, and then wake me up :P
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