Little Nancy, just 18 and scared to death, was lying on her side writhing in pain, trying to listen to the doctor as he told her, in the bored manner of a police officer, that the baby was breeched, that she would soon have a cesarean, that not to have it would mean a greater chance of retardation for the baby. "Do you understand?" the doctor asked. She did not.

"Can't I have it the regular way?"

"It is breeched."

She nodded. Her husband, Walter, held her hand and the orderlies came to wheel her away. Nancy looked up at Walter and cried, "I'm scared. I'm scared." With that, she was gone.

"She has no toleration for pain," Walter said.

All around, from time to time, 4-Center, which is the maternity ward of Hutzel Hospital, would erupt in screams. Women cried and women moaned and women shrieked. The babies come fast and furious here, an average of 30 a day, sometimes more -- sometimes a lot more -- and very often they come only to mothers. There are no fathers.

Here about two miles from the Joe Louis Arena where Ronald Reagan and the visionaries of the GOP will restore the American family to its proper place on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, the babies continue to come.

They come to women alone and women with boyfriends and women who have no idea who the father is. They come to women on welfare and to women who make big bucks and to women who know, even if the secret can't make it down the avenue to the arena, that the world has changed -- surely has -- and even Ronald Reagan can't turn the clock back.

Take Nancy and Walter. They are Catholics. They believe neither in birth control, nor in abortion nor in having a child out of wedlock. So they married. They started dating when they met after she beat him in pinball and then things got, as they used to say, hot and heavy and then -- "It just happened."

"We didn't know she was pregnant until she was six weeks pregnant," Walter says. He is balding, dressed in a blue-shirt and blue pants and he works at a firm that subcontracts from General Motors. Data processing or something like that.

Walter continues: "I was surprised. It surprised both of us. I think it stunned her mother more than me," although why anyone should be stunned is in itself stunning. Walter and Nancy subscribed to the it-can't-happen-to-us school of birth control. Walter putting it this way: "I like things natural, without any additives. It's a lot better that way."

Walter is 31 years of age and in some ways not typical of his generation. He married late. He has a hard time holding a job. He does not make much money ($4.60 an hour) and his views, even he says, are unconventional.

But in a moral sense, in the sense of which both Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter speak, Walter and Nancy are very typical. They moved into the house owned by Nancy's parents and no one shuns them or has stopped speaking to them. All that will happen is that when Nancy comes home with the baby, people will count backwards with their fingers and figure it all out for themselves.

The fact of the matter is that the conventional family of which Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter speak is dead. It is dead and it is dead everywhere. The class list my son brings home shows mothers living alone and fathers living alone and children with different names from anyone in their families. Sometimes a single family has more names than a law firm, in fact.

If there is a first family it should be Reagan's. He's been divorced. His daughter ran off with a rock group. A son dances. He has four children, but is a grandfather just once. His children have lived with others. Some of them support the ERA. By the standards of his convention, Ronald Reagan's family is a mess.

But of course it is not. It's typical, and if there's one thing this convention could do it would be to recognize that fact. It could acknowledge it and then propose to deal with it, talk in terms of child care and abortion and equal rights for women. It could propose programs for the family that is, not the family that used to be. But it does little of that. Instead, it salutes the old values, the nice values, the comfortable values and then, like Americans everywhere, goes off to do its own thing. Check the bars at night.

All this Walter does not want to discuss. Politics is not his bag. He does not vote, mouthing instead of cliches of the nonvoter, of how he can't affect anything anyhow. The politicians will do as they will do and he will do as he will do and the two, with any luck, will have nothing to do with one another.

At 2:20 in the afternoon, a nurse came to tell Walter that Nancy, 18 and no longer scared, had given birth to a girl. Walter hurried off to see her and someday soon, maybe in a month or two, Walter says, he and Nancy are going to get married once again -- this time by a priest.

That, Mr. Reagan, is how they do it nowadays.