Three decades ago, mothers in labor often were heavily sedated and confined to semiprivate rooms to give birth while fathers paced in nearby waiting rooms. More recently, mothers are in private rooms with anesthesia often replaced by relaxation and breathing exercises and the fathers coaching the whole process.
Harbor Hospital Center (HHC) in South Baltimore has gone a step further and lets grandparents participate with classes in contemporary child birth and tours of the hospital's maternity ward.
Grandparents were "having difficulty understanding the details" of modern obstetrics, explained Faith Soistman, HHC nurse manager who began "The Grandparents Tour" last year.
"We needed to educate them as to why their children were having [certain] things done," she said.
The tour has been integrated into an established program to promote the facility's maternity unit and to discuss new family roles after delivery.
The idea was to alleviate the anxiety grandparents often feel about the care their daughters and grandchildren are receiving, Ms. Soistman said.
Jeri Kelly, 56, of Glen Burnie was surprised at the vast differences between giving birth now and when she became a mother. "It's like we didn't know what we were doing," she said.
During the discussions, Ann Palardy, the nurse in charge of the program, translates the medical jargon into laymen's terms in an effort to help the grandparents become part of the process of preparing for a child's birth.
"Our primary interest is in mom and dad, but we look at the whole family," she said. "It's related to how the baby is going to adapt in the world, and grandparents are very significant."
But one thing grandparents must learn is how to support their children, rather than take over the care of their grandchildren.
Ms. Palardy advises grandparents to just lend a hand.
New mothers offered their suggestions for help in a 1990 poll taken by Grandparents Today.
Send easy-to-serve and easy-to-clean-up meals, they said. Don't expect to be entertained when you visit, run errands, and above all, ask how you can provide support.
Ms. Palardy's class also explores the traditional roles of grandparents and analyzes their validity today.
Because of the growing number of two-income families, professional day care has taken over many of the responsibilities grandparents used to shoulder, and it could create a problem, she said.
"I'm a working grandmother and I find it a major threat that I can't be doing some of the things I though were traditional," Ms. Palardy said.
"The Grandparents Tour" is given the first Wednesday and Saturday of each month.