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The dictionary defines childbirth as “the process of giving birth to a child,” but any woman who has experienced it will say that the experience is so much more than what can be shortened into a one-sentence definition. Women who lived during the Victorian era were assumed to embark into motherhood to produce heirs, like a service that was owed to a husband and his family. Motherhood was thought of as a respected status that paved the way from childhood to adulthood for women; therefore women who were infertile or unable to reproduce were looked at as outcasts by society.

Statistics show that women in today’s society wait until later on in life to have children. While decades ago women were married at an extremely young age, often still in their teenage years, and began to have babies shortly afterward, women in the 21st century are more likely to consider all of the factors before trying to become pregnant. These factors include whether the woman is financially stable, can provide for a newborn, and if her career and relationship are both on the track she believes lines up with parenthood. Some opinions today still show disapproval to women who choose not to have children because of the opinions during the 19th century.

Childbirth now vs. then

Throughout the years, the technology used before and during the childbirth process has changed significantly. Today, it is not unlikely that a woman will go to the hospital shortly after her contractions come at regular intervals, where she will be put into a hospital bed lying on her back, hooked up to internal fetal monitors to measure the baby’s heartbeat and an IV to distribute fluids throughout the birthing process when they aren’t allowed to eat or drink anything but ice chips.

The first doctor to administer drugs during a woman’s labor and delivery was in the 1800s with chloroform. Often called twilight sleep, chloroform was splashed upon a handkerchief and could make breathing difficult for the newborn, sometimes causing the baby to die. The twilight sleep technique was altered in 1914 by doctors in Freiburg, Germany, when the mother was injected with morphine and a drug called scopolamine that caused amnesia, causing her to be in a state of semi-consciousness without feeling pain but also with barely of memory of the childbirth experience. The pregnant woman awoke feeling like she was in a dream-like state and at first refused to believe that the newborn child she had just given birth to was her own. This is a great example of why some people believe that medical intervention during labor and delivery does more harm than it is helpful, thus the need for more control during the childbirth process. Women believed there should be no pain with childbirth, only beauty, because physical pain was easily managed, Edith Wharton wrote in her 1927 novel “Twilight Sleep.”
From about 1945 until about 1960, mothers who were having babies in hospitals were restrained and strapped to gurneys during the postwar baby boom, and twilight sleep made people wonder if the method was the right thing to do. Being strapped down was for the protection of the mother because she thrashed around in the bed without inhibitions due to the drugs, and some women even had their legs clamped into stirrups for hours so they would be ready by the time the doctor arrived.

In 1958, mothers began to speak out against the cruelty occurring in maternity ward delivery rooms, detailing their experiences in the magazine “Ladies’ Home Journal.” One mother’s story compelled other mothers to come forward with their own childbirth horror stories, like patients who tore the skin off their wrists fighting the restraint straps. At the time, husbands were not allowed in the delivery room, and it was believed that they would not tolerate the way their wives were treated if they were able to see the entire childbirth experience.

A newfound awareness of natural childbirth came about sometime between 1960 and 1975 when British obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read, who grew up on a farm and believed women could have a joyful natural labor, introduced his book “Childbirth Without Fear.” He thought that fear and tension were the reasons women suffered during labor and by educating women and providing support he would be able to reduce anxiety about childbirth, making it a natural, wonderful, positive experience. This was followed by many other well-known names that came about because women doubted what their mothers had done and took it upon themselves to become more educated about the entire childbirth process.

Posted by Andrew
on Feb 4 2011. Filed under Pregnancy.
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