It All Started with Eve
The title almost smiles at you because history is about childbirth. Eve, the first woman, was the first to experience pregnancy and childbirth, and the delivery was fraught with pain because she ate the wrong food. Tempted by the serpent's claim that if she ate the forbidden fruit she'd be super-smart, she gave it to Adam (who didn't seem to have the sense to just say no) and the price was exacted. The serpent was transformed into a belly-crawler and then the sentence was laid upon Eve: "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children."
The Die is Cast...
The pathway was created - women deserved to suffer when giving birth, and the suffering came in the form of labor pains and probably tearing during the process. During the Middle Ages, a woman named Eufame Maclayne was burned at the stake for asking for pain relief as she gave birth to twins. The reason? Women were supposed to suffer during pregnancy and childbirth and to ask for relief was to despise the heavenly duty. Oddly enough, people thought they were fine for surgeries but not for birthing babies.
...The Thoughts Bear Fruit
Eve was alone during pregnancy and childbirth; she had no midwife or even mother or sisters to be part of the birthing process. There weren't even doctors to help. Of course, after Eve gave birth to daughters and her daughters' daughters were having babies, women knew instinctively what was needed. They passed stories of their births, what it was like to be pregnant, and how to give proper baby care to the newborn. We don't have the documents, but our instinct tells us that women knew what to tell other women.
As time went on, birth from the most ancient of times through the Middle Ages was all about women caring for women under the auspices of men - none of whom had ever witnessed a live birth. These "doctors of obstetrics" wrote books and gave advice on something they knew nothing about other than ideas they'd heard over the ages. Historical facts show us that in 1522, a German doctor by the name of Dr. Wert was sentenced to death because he dressed up like a woman in order to get into a delivery room to see a natural childbirth.
The First Gynecologist
Moving right along, American history gives us a glimpse of the man who would later be named the father of American gynecology, James Marion Sims. He was the man who discovered a cure for vesicovaginal fistulas (tears that created a hole through which urine collects in the vagina). The fistulas were often the result of traumatic childbirth. He developed a surgical procedure to repair the fistulas by doing experimental surgery on three slave women. The creation of the speculum instrument was a result of this experimentation. Although he's credited with a successful technique (Sims Technique) and a way to deal with the problem, the fact that he used slaves to arrive there has put his legacy into question.
At the end of the 1800s and early 1900s, the cesarean section became advocated as the way wealthy women had babies. Birthing methods took on a whole new dimension with the advent of the cesarean delivery because, as Dr. Franklin Newell of Harvard wrote, wealthy women weren't sturdy and hardy like the poor women who worked in the fields, who were able to get out and exercise, and give birth easily.
It's A Family Affair
Another facet in the jewel of anthropology and the experience of childbirth is the ritual around accouchement. Accouchement is a French word, derived from Latin, which means the time of giving birth. It was not uncommon for royalty especially, to have the whole court as well as the royal family present for the birth of a baby. Such was the case with Queen Victoria, although things probably changed in the 20th Century with the births of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose - although, all of the court and family were no doubt present for the baptisms.
On To Today
Fast forward to the last twenty years of reproductive medicine, maternity care, and pregnancy health in the United States and things look a lot different than they did just a half-century before. Obstetricians specialize in the health and welfare of pregnant women, attending them all the way through delivery of their babies. When Dr. Sims was practicing medicine, he took a three month course in obstetrics. Three months - hardly enough time to grasp anything. Today, medical nursing and midwifery demands more to qualify to be able to adequately assist a birth. Maternity care is vitally important and is treated as such in this generation.
What Kind of Birth Will You Have?
These days women are given guidance in health and wellness to ensure both mother and baby are enjoying optimal health during the pregnancy. Nutrition, education about the options available in terms of medications during delivery - availability of epidurals, forceps deliveries, and countless other important pieces of information are given women who are expecting babies. Will the baby be born in the hospital, will it be a natural birth (without intervention of any sort) or is the birth to be a cesarean delivery using an epidural? None of these options were available to women before. Some women opt to have an entirely natural experience with a home birth and the use of hypnobirthing (use of hypnosis as a means of pain control). Others opt for a pool of water in which to have a natural delivery and some experience their baby's birth in their own bed. Women have been given the tools of Lamaze and Bradley birthing methods to bring their babies into the world.
Hope For Women Who Are Barren
Women who have encountered difficulties in conceiving and carrying a pregnancy to term have been given new hope. Never before in the history of medicine has infertility been addressed so thoroughly. Countless studies and their results have affected the methods used to enable infertile couples to conceive. Sperm banks exist in large numbers, providing hope for women who are racing against the time line of the clock. Medicine, in general
, has moved into a place of awareness that creates a tension at times. Bioethics has become an issue as women who want babies and can't have them are using surrogates to carry their babies. Even though women as far back as 1500BCE had access to all sorts of pregnancy tests, abortion information and contraception, this generation has seen more movement in the area of childbirth related issues than any other before it.