eXiting the Decade: Living in the ’70s

To everything (turn,turn,turn)

There is a season (turn,turn,turn)

And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die

A time to plant, a time to reap

A time to kill, a time to heal

A time to laugh, a time to weep


A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

Turn, Turn Turn – Adapted by Pete Seeger from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Sung by The Byrds in 1965

Half way through the decade some important things had happened. Leo and Joanne were in their own home. Leo had graduated from university with his hard won Arts Degree. Annie (Joanne’s mother) was living in Sydney and her mother Ruby, who was always full of life, had died from heart failure.

In the cycle of life the time had come to think about having a baby. Joanne and Leo had good jobs, they had a house with four bedrooms and the time was right to fill those rooms with children. Except nothing happened.

When Joanne was 28 years old, and still not pregnant after two years of trying it was time to see the doctor. First of all he gave her an examination and declared everything looked to be fine. ‘I would like a sperm sample from your husband,’ he said.

Leo was rather nervous.  With a bit of bluster and bravado he supplied what was asked of him and Joanne took it to pathology in a jar wrapped in a warm blanket.

Much to his relief all was well.

The doctor then turned his attention to Joanne.  ‘We might try a little exploratory procedure to check there are no blockages.  It will mean a night in hospital and a full anaesthetic but is quite safe.’

Joanne had never been in hospital before (except when she was born).  It was scary going under anaesthetic as she felt she was suffocating although the sensation only lasted a few seconds as she counted backwards from ten. Later that night Leo came to visit but she just couldn’t stay awake.  She felt guilty because he had travelled all this way and yet she kept closing her eyes.

The next visit to the doctor was perplexing.  He said there were no obvious reasons why she couldn’t become a mother.  Maybe just wait awhile before looking at further treatment.

Leo and Joanne were out eating dinner in a restaurant.

‘Not having children means we can travel.  Children cost a lot of money you know,’ said Joanne brightly.

‘I always thought I would have children,’ said Leo sadly.

Joanne stared at him, eyes puzzled. ‘This is the first time you have said you wanted children. All the time it has been me saying let’s have kids and you saying you are not ready yet. Now is not the time to change your mind!’

The anger subsided and the topic of children remained on the back burner as they had a holiday to look forward to.  They were having a reunion with their American friends who had returned home but were planning a holiday to Fiji.  

‘This time we are going to a beach in a beautiful resort and we are travelling by plane, not ship,’ said Joanne happily.

They had two weeks at Pacific Harbour, a new resort 50 kilometres from Suva. Their friends chose to stay in cheaper, older accommodation a little way along the beach but they met up a few times and enjoyed snorkelling and sailing together.

Pete announced that he and Peta had decided not to have any children and so he had had a vasectomy.  Leo was horrified. ‘You’re still young.  What if you change your mind?’

Peta was adamant that she didn’t want to raise kids.  There was too much else to do in life and the world had enough children.

Joanne agreed that life would be easier without children but she would be sad to miss out on the experience.

That was the end of that, or so they thought.  Life was busy, with school and a house and garden to maintain.  Leo sailed every weekend and sometimes, so did Joanne. She was teaching at a demonstration school by this time so found she had little spare time.  However, one day she dropped into a chemist shop to pick up a pregnancy test.  She had been experiencing some of the classic symptoms but still couldn’t believe it could be true. 

She did the test and hopped back into bed where the two of them waited nervously.  After the required time she went to check and it was positive.

The visit to the doctor was a formality because she already knew. She thanked him profusely for getting her pregnant (joke) and listened carefully to what she had to do next. She would need to visit once a month but would be seeing two different doctors. They had a joint practice and shared their patients to lessen the onerous working hours. This doctor was round and jolly, the other was thin and older and a little crusty. What confused her was that they often disagreed with each other or put the other down. Who would be there at the birth? She hoped it was the jolly doctor.

Meanwhile she enrolled at the hospital for childbirth classes. They were given in a very traditional manner by an old school matron. She pooh-poohed some of the modern ideas proposed by ‘those groups’ but gave demonstrations of baby washing, how to fold a nappy and showed diagrams of the birth process.

Joanne sought out the Childbirth Education Association. They gave talks on preparing for the birth, how to breathe, how to avoid painkillers and how to make the birth a memorable experience. They said that lying on pillows was bad and to take a beanbag for the best sitting position. They lobbied the local hospital to provide a full length mirror so the mother could see the birth of the baby.

By going to both sets of classes, Joanne felt she was a prepared as she could be.  Her baby was due in March so not only did she have six weeks leave before the birth, she also had the Christmas holidays.  Twelve weeks of freedom that she treasured as a moment in time with no responsibilities or worries.  Each afternoon she would do her breathing and relaxation exercises.  She felt so energetic and healthy that camping and boating posed no problems.

Of course both sets of grandparents were delighted.  Annie had married Lars and he would be a grandfather to the new child.  Leo’s parents had given up on their son ever becoming a father so his mother did a little war dance when she heard the news.

Leo and Joanne had read all the books. They expected that one night Joanne would say, ‘I think the baby is coming,’ and he would drive her to the hospital. It didn’t work out like that. On her last visit to the doctor (the jolly one) he said, ‘Baby’s cooked. Ready to come out. I’ll book you in for an induction. Check into the hospital tonight and you’ll have your baby tomorrow.’

Joanne walked out of the doctor’s surgery in a daze.  It was too soon.  She wasn’t ready. She went home to pack. Of course she had already packed but she needed to check it all again.  Leo drove her to the hospital and promised to see her in the morning, early.  The nurse offered her a sleeping pill.  She took it but it didn’t work.  She lay awake all night.  After all, she was going to be a mother in the morning.  How could she possibly sleep?

Leo was there as she was wheeled into a room.  The crusty doctor arrived to get her labour started. 

‘Too soon, if you ask me,’ he said.  ‘Should have waited another week at least.’

He broke the waters and soon the contractions started.  A monitor showed the baby’s regular heartbeat, a comforting sight.  Joanne was asked if she needed painkillers but she said no.

A nurse looked at the screen.  It was a straight line.  No need for panic.  The monitor had fallen off her stomach.  However,  the doctor was brought in and he thought they might need to do a caesarean.  Leo asked repeatedly to be allowed into the room but now he was told to stay away.  

“We are giving you an epidural because I need to use forceps to get the baby out,’ said the jolly doctor.

By this time Joanne didn’t really care.  All she wanted was for this to be over.  The thought of being knocked out and waking up later seemed appealing.  The epidural, however, left her quite conscious of all that was happening.  The child was born, she was told it was a little girl and then the baby was wrapped in a space blanket.  By this time Leo was back in the room and unknown to her, Annie was outside, waiting to hear the news.

Leo, Joanne and the new baby

The seventies were well and truly over over and a new period of responsibility and child rearing had begun.