a tale of two births

A 1960 hospital bill reveals how much birth has changed.


Babies haven’t changed all that much over the years. They still poop and pee too much and don’t sleep nearly enough. Yet they must be radically different from infants born 42 years ago. Why?

The faded letter.

Not too long ago, my mom stumbled upon an envelope dated Dec. 23, 1960. Inside: a detailed explanation from Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix of what to expect when she arrived to deliver my older brother, George.

The letter caught her eye because it’s from the same hospital where my son, Cole, was recently born. She showed me the faded, typewritten letter: Semiprivate rooms in 1960 were $21, not much more than what I spent each day on lattes to stay awake after Cole’s birth. Private rooms were $28. Our small, semiprivate room for Cole was $798 a day.

Wombs must be tougher nuts to crack these days. The charge for my brother’s delivery in 1960 was $35. The emergency C-section for my wife, Susie, was a cool $3,000, and the total with all the goodies came to $18,757.45.

That included a breast shield personal fit kit ($24.45) and a staple skin extractor ($61.55). There was also the vacuum extractor ($147.50), which sounds like something that would get a 1960s housewife out of a bind.

In all, Cole’s birth cost almost four times the amount my parents paid for their first house.

That old letter advised my mom to keep no more than

$2 with her “for such things as you may like to buy from

day to day, such as newspapers and other items from the

gift cart.” I was out $2 as soon as I dropped off my truck at

the hospital valet stand.

The support needs of breasts also must have changed. According to the letter, a Mrs. Nester could come to Mom’s hospital room and fit her for a nursing bra for $3. My wife dropped $60 on two nursing bras at a maternity boutique. And in 1960, new parents could buy a 5-by-7-inch portrait and six birth announcements from the hospital for $5. (“The sad part is, we couldn’t afford it!’’ my mom remembers with a laugh.) We spent $20 just on stamps to mail Cole’s announcements.

But not everything was cheaper back then. Say what you will about HMOs, but our hospital bill spans three single-spaced pages and there’s one figure that jumps out: $10. Thanks to our insurance, that’s all Susie and I had to pay—about the price of a few fitted nursing bras in the ’60s.

There are so many other differences with pregnancies then and now. Take the new vocabulary. Before we had Cole, I called my mom one night to proudly report that Susie had lost her mucus plug. After a long pause, my mom, the woman who delivered four babies, asked, “Honey, what’s a mucus plug?’’ My new vocabulary, filled with phrases like “baby station” and “nipple confusion,” is foreign to her generation. Maybe we know too much these days.

Of course, some things really haven’t changed over the years. In 1960, the hospital set aside 3 1/2 hours a day just for grandparents’ visiting hours. After Cole was born, his first visitors were a couple of very proud grandmas.