Friday, May 21, 2010

Get Me Out : A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank

Randi Hutter Epstein, MD has done a fabulous job of cataloging a brief and bizarre history of birth in Western Civilization.

Did you know that :

There was a time in the 1900's when feminists demanded their right to be completely knocked out with drugs for delivery ?

History bears clues about how women and their doctors view health and disease ?

In 1522, a German doctor was sentanced to death when he was caught dressing as a woman and sneaking into the delivery room ?

In 16th century France, pregnant women rarely left the house after dark because they were told that if they looked up at the moon, their babies would become lunatics or sleepwalkers ?

That Soranus was a famous Greek physician who wrote the definitive book on gynecology in the second century that became THE leading text for the next thousand years ?

Many of the earliest women's health books were written by MONKS, the very people that you would think would have the least use for such information ?

That the blockbuster pregnancy guide of the Middle Ages was penned by Dr. Eucharius Rosslin, a government doctor who was responsible for licensing midwives. No matter that he never saw a baby born, he published a book called "The Rode Garden for Women & Midwives" published in 1513 and translated into at least five languages. it was a best seller for 200 years. In it, he wrote this poem: 

"I'm talking about the midwives all
Whose heads are empty as a hall
And through their dreadful negligence
Cause babies' deaths deviod of sense
So thus we see far and about
Official murder, there's no doubt"

That Peter Chamberlen, the inventor of forceps published, in 1647, a diatribe against midwives called "Voice in Rhama, The Crie of Women and Children" claiming that midwives were ignorant and wreaked havock on childbirth. After he retired from being an obstetrician, her hid the original Cahmberlin forceps under the floor of his country mansion, trying to preserve the secret, forever. 

That Italians invented the silliest device of all, do-it-yourself-forceps. The fad never took off...

That in 1836 The Lancet, a British medical journal claimed that rotten breastmilk leaked down and caused the deaths of thousands of women who were really dying of childbed fever, an infection caused by doctors going from woman to woman in maternity wards and not washing their hands. 

These amazing tidbits don't even begin to scratch the surface of the wealth of "truth is stranger than fiction"  in this fascinating book. If you have any interest in how modern maternity care came to be, this book will perplex, shock and entertain you, Birthwhisperer promises ! 

Whether you are an expectant woman or a birth professional, this book will not disappoint. I think it would make for a great documentary film.

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