Care for generations

Cope Family Women

CMH has cared for moms and babies for over 100 years — and we’re ready for the next generation, too

By Sarah Bello, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

For 140 years, CMH has cared for babies in Clatsop County. CMH Med/Surg Manager Kelly Cope counts four generations in her family that have been born at CMH, each born in different eras, with new developments in medicine. 

Maternity care then

Cope’s maternal grandmother’s family came to Astoria from Norway and Sweden around 1920. In 1922, Ethel (Soderstrom) Wilson was born at the old St. Mary’s Hospital, built at 15th and Duane Street in Astoria. (CMH began in 1919 and purchased St. Mary’s in 1971.) At the time, fathers were not allowed in the delivery room, so Wilson’s father likely waited down the hall. 

Between 1915 and 1921, 12 women were registered in the county to act as midwives. Prenatal care was a concern throughout the U.S., and when the Clatsop County Health Association was formed the year of Wilson’s birth, prenatal assistance was among its primary missions.

Mothers and their children at CMH circa 1930. Photo courtesy of the Clatsop County Historical Society.

Mothers and their children at CMH circa 1930. Photo courtesy of the Clatsop County Historical Society.

Following national developments in the late 1930s, ads for CMH began emphasizing the obstetrical department, or maternity ward. As with most hospitals at the time, both St. Mary’s and CMH maintained nurseries that housed infants separately from the rooms in which new mothers recuperated. This served the dual trend of promoting in-hospital births to women as a sort of vacation from the burdens of their home lives while granting increased authority over the birthing process to trained medical staff. 

Changing times

In 1951, Wilson gave birth to Cope’s mother at the old CMH building, which now houses the Clatsop Care Health & Rehabilitation Center.

“My mom is in her late 60s,” Cope says. “In 60 years, the birthing experience has changed so much.”

Cope says her grandmother wasn’t conscious and may have experienced what was known as twilight sleep while giving birth to her children. Twilight sleep was caused by an injection of morphine and scopolamine, essentially putting laboring mothers to sleep. It often produced an amnesic condition so the woman did not remember the pain of childbirth.

Twilight sleep was a widely used form of pain relief in the U.S. until the 1960s. Most hospitals stopped using it after an article published in 1958 exposed the fact that mothers were indeed experiencing pain and ill effects from the drugs. 

St. Mary's School of Nursing in Astoria circa 1912. Photo courtesy of the Clatsop County Historical Society.

St. Mary’s School of Nursing in Astoria circa 1912. Photo courtesy of the Clatsop County Historical Society.

During that same decade, fathers were finally allowed into the delivery rooms while mothers were laboring. In the ’70s and ’80s, they began staying for the entire birth. In 1976, CMH adopted Family-Centered Maternity Care, allowing infants to “room-in,” or remain in the room with their mother while she was awake. Both mothers and staff described this arrangement as advantageous, allowing the new mothers to bond with and care for their newborns while in the hospital. 

Maternity care now

The present-day CMH opened in 1977. In 1988, Cope’s mother gave birth to her there, with most of her five siblings also delivered there. Cope began working at the hospital as a nurse in 2011. 

“My office is right outside the Family Birthing Center,” Cope says. “It’s funny thinking I was born there, and now I work right outside those doors, and I had my kids here. I spend 40 hours a week sitting right next to where I was born.”

A few years ago, Cope became a mom herself, giving birth to her children in the same place where she was born. With today’s modern maternity care, she was given options to labor naturally or relieve pain with an epidural or nitrous oxide. She could take walks, use a birthing ball, or labor in a tub or shower, depending on her preference. 

“I think the most special part with labor and childbirth is the woman gets to experience everything, and they allowed my husband to be a part of it as much as he could,” Cope says. “They treated him so well. 

“I hope if I am a grandma someday, and my kids are still around here, that they get to have their kids at CMH.”

Source: Most historical information provided by Chelsea Vaughn, Clatsop County Historical Society

Make CMH a part of your family story. To make an appointment with any of our OB providers, call 503-738-3002 for CMH Medical Group – Seaside or 503-338-7595 for CMH Women’s Center in Astoria. Please note that during the COVID-19 pandemic, appointment times and locations may change.