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A Fathers’ Day Story: One Family Has 40 Births at St. Luke’s Hospital Over 70 Years; Dads’ Role Changes From Passive Observer to Active Participant
March 28, 2016

With 40 births at St. Luke’s Hospital, spanning decades, the Ripper family children and grandchildren have certainly seen pregnancy, childbirth and newborn care change over the years.

“When my mom and dad had us at St. Luke’s, it was mostly because of location...St. Luke’s was where everyone in our neighborhood had their babies,” reflects Kathy Ripper Grasso, 64, second of Ripper’s six children. “Now, our children are CHOOSING to have their babies at St. Luke’s because they know it’s where they’ll get the best possible care for themselves and their babies.”

Dorothy Ripper and her husband, William Ripper, made their home in Fountain Hill. Kathy was one of six children that included her older sister, Rosemary Ripper Zambo, 68, all of whom were born at St. Luke’s.

In the 1950s and the early 60s, children were not allowed to visit their moms post-delivery and dads had a mostly passive role in the birth experience. In fact, kids and dads were so removed from the process, Rosemary remembers that each night, after their dad got home from work, he would pile the kids in the car and drive to the parking lot on Ostrum Street to wave up to their mom on the Labor & Delivery floor. “It really could have been any woman waving down at us!” laughs Rosemary. “But we would get so excited to get in dad’s car, fighting over seating position so we could get the best view of mom waving down at us from above!” 

In the 50s, fathers didn’t participate in doctor’s visits or prenatal classes and appointments. “Back then, there weren’t ultrasounds to find out the sex of the baby,” remembers Rosemary. “But I remember my dad always having some kind of office pool going in which his co-workers would wager on whether mom would have a boy or a girl - dad always laughed when he talked about that.”

During the 70s and early 80s, Rosemary and Kathy, their husbands and their siblings and spouses welcomed babies at St. Luke’s Hospital, and childbirth practices, particularly the role of fathers, were changing quite a bit. The Lamaze method was very popular and allowed fathers to take on a more active role in delivery. Lamaze combined childbirth education, breathing techniques and emotional support and was meant for couples to “train” for the childbirth process together, helping usher in an era of more collaboration and preparation for the expectant couple. “Up until that time, there was not really a role for dads in delivery,” says Bonnie Osterwald, MD, of St. Luke's Women's Care Ob/Gyn. “And if there wasn’t a supportive role they could play in the delivery process, there really wasn’t a need for them in the room.” But Lamaze changed all that for dads in the 70s.

Rosemary, mother of four, who had her first baby in 1972, recalls that since she didn’t attend Lamaze classes with her husband prior to her first baby, he was not allowed in the delivery room, but for her subsequent births, she and her husband took the classes every time.

“After not being able to be in the room for that life-changing moment of the birth of our son, Lamaze classes were certainly a game changer for the births of our three daughters,” says Paul Zambo, Rosemary’s husband. “For my son’s birth, in certain phases, I felt more like a bystander than a participant or an effective supporter. But after the Lamaze classes, I was able to be a contributing and supportive part of the labor and delivery process.”

Kathy and her husband, Mike Grasso, started having children in the late 70s and made sure to take the Lamaze classes so Mike could be in the delivery room with his wife. But unexpected complications and fetal distress resulted in their oldest, Maria, being delivered via emergency caesarian section, and, at that time, dads weren’t allowed in the OR. “I still remember the Lamaze classes very well - even thinking of it now, it brings back great memories of that beautiful experience of preparation that Kathy and I were able to share with each other,” says Mike. “At the time, I thought that Lamaze classes were preparing me for being a dad, but as I look back, I realize that those classes were just the beginning of my life as dad.” Mike believes that having a close extended family, being a teacher and watching his own father and father-in-law really taught him what it meant to be a great dad. “I believe you pass values from generation to generation by teaching and living by example,” says Mike. “So I try to be that for my son and my sons-in-law - they have made me so proud of the way they parent their children.”

Today, Rosemary and Paul’s and Kathy and Mike’s sons and daughters, as well as most of their siblings’ children, are having their babies at St. Luke’s, carrying on the family tradition. “As far back as I can remember, I accompanied Maria to all of our children's prenatal appointments, hospital tours and childbirth classes,” says Bryan Wolf, Kathy and Mike’s son-in-law. “And I can honestly say I enjoyed it each time. Maria’s doctor and the St. Luke’s staff became part of the family for us - guiding us, educating us, supporting us right from the start. And every time we came back, they always welcomed us with open arms. I am forever grateful to the wonderful staff at St. Luke’s for ensuring a safe delivery for all of our children.”

Prenatal care and childbirth procedures have certainly evolved since Dorothy and William’s time and dads today have a new, active role. “I love to see that my children and their spouses are all able to have that wonderful experience of preparing for parenthood together as a couple,” says Paul. “And that my son and sons-in-law are able to feel that great joy of becoming a father at the very moment it happens - that unique bond right from the start is beyond words.”

While so much has changed over the nearly 70 years since Dorothy and William had their babies, what hasn’t changed is the integral role St. Luke’s Hospital played in the beginning of so many families. “The doctors and staff at St. Luke’s always gave us special heartfelt and professional care at the very beginning of the creation of our family,” explains Paul. “For that, I am very grateful - and now, we enjoy watching our children share that same experience.”

Thank you, Dorothy and William Ripper, Mike and Kathy Grasso, Paul and Rosemary Zambo,  Bryan and Maria Wolf and their entire families… and Happy Father’s Day to all the dads in our region!

Bryan Wolf Testimonial

As dad to five kids, you could say Bryan Wolf knows a thing or two about being a father. He also knows the value and importance of getting each of your kids off to a great start, which is why he and his wife, Maria, chose St. Luke’s doctors to bring their children safely into the world. 

“Finding out Maria was pregnant each time was an exciting experience for me - from the doctor visits, to the hospital tour, to that moment of delivery, I felt excited and at times nervous for our bundles of joy to arrive,” says Bryan. “I am forever grateful that we chose the wonderful staff at St. Luke’s to ensure a safe delivery for all of our children.”

Dads today have an increasingly important role in labor and delivery and the weeks leading up to that big day. And while Bryan definitely tried to educate himself about childbirth and pregnancy and accompany Maria to all the prenatal visits, he admits that the whole process was still a bit mystifying and sometimes overwhelming. Which is why it was so important for him to feel confident in the skilled doctors and nurses that helped guide the birthing process. John R. Hratko, MD and his staff always took care of Bryan and Maria, patiently answering their questions and always making them feel comfortable; going to see Dr. Hratko and his staff became like going to visit family. 

On the day of each delivery, Bryan jokes that his wife was such a pro that he didn't need to do much besides give her a hand to squeeze. “My job was to hold Maria's hand and count out the time between contractions,” says Bryan. “During the final pushing, I was responsible for keeping Maria focused and talking her through delivery, which is what seemed to work best for both of us.”

While Bryan was busy supporting Maria, he appreciated how the nursing staff supported him. “Nurse Larry, in particular, was AWESOME for the both of us - he did a great job of keeping me informed about what would happen next and what to do at each phase,” explains Bryan. “I always felt like I knew what was happening because of the wonderful nursing staff who always made sure my wife and child were taken care of.”

Looking back, Bryan reflects on the significance of his role in labor and delivery. “I was always there to love, help and support Maria in any way I could,” remembers Bryan. “But the real superstars were Maria and the doctors and nurses at St. Luke's - they were all amazing and worked together seamlessly to give me the best gift I could ever receive - becoming a dad.”

Happy Father’s Day to Bryan and all the dads making a difference in the world!

View the full article on WFMZ

Media Contact

Sam KennedyCorporate Communications Director484-526-4134, samuel.kennedy@sluhn.org

About St. Luke’s

Founded in 1872, St. Luke’s University Health Network (SLUHN) is a non-profit, regional, fully integrated and nationally recognized network providing services at seven hospitals and more than 270 outpatient sites. The network’s service area includes Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon, Schuylkill, Bucks, Montgomery, Berks and Monroe counties in Pennsylvania and in Warren County in New Jersey. Dedicated to advancing health education, St. Luke’s operates the nation’s oldest School of Nursing and 22 graduate medical educational programs and is considered a major teaching hospital, the only one in the region. In partnership with Temple University, St. Luke’s created the region’s first Medical School. Repeatedly, including 2017, St. Luke’s has earned Truven’s 100 Top Major Teaching Hospital designation as well as 50 Top Cardiovascular program in addition to other honors for clinical excellence. St. Luke’s is a multi-year recipient of the Most Wired award recognizing the breadth of St. Luke’s information technology applications such as electronic medical records, telehealth, online scheduling and pricing information. St. Luke’s is also recognized as one of the state’s lowest cost providers in comparison to major teaching hospitals and other health systems.