Monday, March 7, 2011

My Childbirth History lesson

As a first time Mommy to be, I have started doing my research.  The first big step is making a birth plan.  I imagined this document to simply cover the basics, home v hospital, drugs v natural, who would be in the room and such.  Well the document I downloaded from was 6 PAGES!  It wanted to me answer questions on all sorts of things, some I didn't even know the answers to (and still don't)!  And one of the biggest decisions I had to make was to deliver with or without drugs. 
So I began my birthing options research and stumbled upon this interesting book: Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank. 
It was interesting from the very beginning, which started with births in the 1500's. 
Here are a couple of interesting facts I learned:
In the 1500's it was believed that childbirth should be painful - if a woman could not endure childbirth, how could she be a good mother?  In fact, a women in 1591 was burned at the stake because she asked for pain relief during the birth of her twins.
It was common for doctors to delivery babies without ever looking at the woman's private areas while in labor.  It was considered obscene for a male to view a woman's vagina or birth canal and he basically just caught the baby by fumbling around under a sheet.  At least two doctors were known to disguise themselves as women to sneak into birthing rooms so they could better understand what was happening during a birth. 
Forceps came into play in the 1600's - although the tool was completely hidden by the family who invented it, even when in use, in order to protect the design.  There were no patent laws to protect inventors so great lengths were taken to hide its design.  While this did help some women when babies became stuck in the birth canal, it is unknown if they did more damage than help in the long run. 
A famous doctor, Dr. Sims, discovered the cure for one of the worst side effects of childbirth, a hole in the vagina wall.  I won't share the details of this condition because they are not pleasant, trust me it was not something you wanted to experience and though it was not deadly it did last a lifetime.  Though his discovery of how to repair this damage is noteworthy, so were his methods.  He practiced and perfected the procedure over several years on slaves without the use of pain medication. 
Giving birth was extremely dangerous, in the 1800's child bed fever commonly killed mothers within a few days after childbirth.  At this time doctors were unaware of germs and how to prevent spreading them.  Sporadic epidemics of child bed fever would lead to the discovery of how infections could be spread by the doctor (who didn't wear gloves or wash between patients even if he had just preformed an autopsy).
The first "lying in" hospital was opened in 1902 in NYC, and began the a real focus on maternity wards and would slowly usher in an era where it became more common for a women to give birth in a hospital rather than with a midwife at home. 
Though doctors in training were supposed to assist more veteran doctors with deliveries before they did one themselves, this was not enforced so often women were being sometimes assisted by a doctor who had never studied or seen a child birth before.  One hospital's records include notes from a doctor that said he had to drop the baby 3 times before it would take a breathe and cry. 
The early pain medications included a method called twilight sleep.  It was believed that the women would fall asleep and when she awoke her child had been born.  In reality the medicine left the women awake and delirious where she was strapped to a bed for the length of her labor.  The after affects of the drug caused short term memory loss so the entire episode was forgotten. Common drugs used for pain relief during labor included ether, opium, cocaine, quinine, nitrous oxide and ergot. 
Corsets were commonly worn during pregnancy and it was considered obscene for a pregnant women who was showing to go out in public. 
Even in the 1950's a video of child birth was considered illicit, and not included in birthing education provided to soon to be mothers. 

Even with all this interesting history lesson I am still left pondering, meds or no meds?  Though I will continue my research and decide soon.  All I can say is the other day I had some terrible stomach cramps, and that pain was not fun.  It made me think, if I think this is bad then labor is going to be a rough day!  Something tells me an epidural is in my future. 


  1. Thanks for the review! I'll have to check that book out!

    Don't forget, there is no wrong way to deliver a baby! Meds, no meds, vaginal, c-section... it all works! Whatever you choose will be the right one!

  2. You don't have to make a final decision until the day of! I changed my mind during labor.... Just keep an open mind!