By Ron VandenBoom
A husband paces nervously around the room. Cigarette after
cigarette has been crushed in the ashtrays as he waits for
word on the condition of his wife.
Deep in the bowels of the hospital, in an antiseptically
clean delivery room, a masked physician dressed in rubber
gloves and surgical garb delivers a baby to the new and
heavily sedated mother. Even four days later she will
remember little of the experience.
It's an image not all that uncommon to many mothers and
fathers just a few generations passed. But today, the
surgical robes and antiseptically clean delivery rooms are
gone and the father stands nearby. The mother, free of most
of the pain associated with childbirth is alert and
enthusiastically participating in the delivery process.
Fetal heart monitors keep close watch on the baby's
condition and the parents, thanks to ultrasound technology,
have known for months whether the new bundle of joy will be
a boy or a girl.
"We like to give our patients choices," said Wanda Allison,
a registered nurse and director of the Labor, Delivery,
Recovery, and Post Partum (LDRP) unit at Northern Montana
Hospital (NMH). "If they want a lot of pain relief, we have
options that do a good job of relieving pain. Then if they
want to tough it out then that is their choice too."
Choices is the operative word in obstetrics today and the
goal of the doctors and nurses at Northern Montana Hospital.
The staff works with the expectant mother from the time they
first learn of their pregnancy, through the delivery
process, and routine exams following the delivery.
Many women today first learn of their pregnancy by using a
home pregnancy test kit a relatively new device that only
costs about $20 and can be done in the privacy of your own
Dr. Frank Miller, an OBGYN at Northern, acknowledges the
tests have come a long way from the days when labs had to
perform a test on a living rabbit and results could take
days, but he does feel the tests can be subject to the
interpretation of the user who might color what they see by
their own expectations.
Lab tests, Miller said, are done by technicians who have
probably done several that day and can be more objective.
The test is just the first step toward having a baby.
Northern has developed a series of classes that have been
developed by the doctors and nurses who will be taking care
of the mother and her baby for the next 9 months.
The classes are taught by the same nurses the mother sees
throughout her pregnancy and cover a variety of issues
including personal care, labor and delivery, pain relief,
caesarean sections and a lot of past partum care.
"The more informed the patient is the less anxiety they
have," said Miller. "That's the whole basis for this."
Dr. Mike Nolan, a family practitioner at Northern, said he
believe the patient that comes to see him today is far
better informed than in days past. Part of that information
comes from the Internet where abundant information is
Nolan said he's noticed that today, "people ask a lot
The delivery facility too has undergone a drastic change in
Births at NMH take place in the LDRP Unit a special
birthing unit that is specially designed to facilite
delivery in the most comfortable and family friendly
"It is one of the nicest OB suites I've seen," Miller said.
"It really is."
The entire room was built around the birthing concept from
the ground up.
The woman is assigned to a room in the unit when she first
arrives and will, barring complications, remain in the same
room through the birth and post partum. Family is allowed in
the room at all times and the baby can also be in the room
as much as the mother wants after delivery.
Dr. Nolan said he recalls one occasion when he was
delivering a baby with family in the room and cartoons
playing on the TV.
More care is placed in the hands of the nursing staff who,
according to Allison, works as an advocate and educator for
"We're teaching the patient from the minute she comes in
the door," Allison said.
New technologies are one of the most dramatic innovations
doctors have noticed over the years.
This includes fetal heart monitoring devices and
The ultrasound was developed in the 1970s and was well
established by the 1990s. The device gives the doctor the
ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent problems.
But more significantly, it also allows the doctor to see
the other patient.
"We can actually do a physical exam on the unseen patient,"
Miller said. "And it gives you a different attitude toward
the pregnant woman and her baby."