Why do we believe in such malarkey? (or, A Short History of Childbirth)


N and I have been reading “And Baby Makes Three,” by the marriage researchers John and Julie Gottman. It is about keeping your marriage alive after Baby arrives, and is based on a 13-year study. I recommend it. Not just for new parents, but the knowledge applies to anyone with kids at home.

Anyway, there was a brief section on the history of childbirth, which illuminates, as history always does, some of the nonsense that we have believed in. A few of the more interesting examples:

1-Women were dying from an infection called puerperal (post birth) fever. A doctor from Vienna, Ignaz Semmelweis, decided to run an experiment with one group delivering their babies via doctors at a hospital, and the other group via midwives. Turned out those at the hospital were four times as likely to die from the infection. Why? Because the doctors’ hands were dirty. In a remarkable display of cognition, Dr. Semmelweis proposed that antiseptics be used prior to the birth. Well, this didn’t go over well in the medical community. Doctors are ‘gentlemen,’ and they certainly do not have dirty hands. How could patients trust a doctor who needed to use antiseptics? Dr. Semmelweis was accused of trying to ruin the reputation of his fellow doctors, was kicked out of the profession, and died in poverty. I’m sure his reward in heaven will be/is great.

2-A young student at Humboldt State University in the sixties (when husbands weren’t allowed in the delivery room) decided to chain himself to his laboring wife. So the doctor called the cops. While the officer was trying to figure out what to do, the baby was born. No charges were pressed, but word spread about this “crime.” Of course this led to other fathers thinking, “gee, I want to be with my wife at the hospital too,” and since then change has thankfully ensued.

I am grateful that we don’t have such weird opinions about childbirth now, but I am not so naïve to think we have it all down perfect. Look back a few years and you’ll think, “wow, I can’t believe that was the popular opinion then.” In a few more years, what are we going to think about our opinions of 2007? Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but sometimes it seems like we were way off. What do you think we are currently wrong/misguided about? Or do you think we have it all pretty much close to perfect right now?

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About shenpa warrior

"Patience is not learned in safety." View all posts by shenpa warrior

2 responses to “Why do we believe in such malarkey? (or, A Short History of Childbirth)

  • Allie

    I think there is always room for improvement.

    Some things I didn’t like about my previous labor/delivery experiences…

    I didn’t like feeling like there was something wrong with me. I felt like I got to the hospital and they had me wear the hospital gown (I really wish there was something more comfortable to wear), they hooked me up to an IV (IV’s in the hand are very uncomfortable when you are trying to use that hand for anything) and the fetal monitor which made it difficult to move around.

    Thankfully by the second one, I decided I didn’t care about the monitor and moved around anyway. The nurses were a little worried at first and kept coming in to see why the monitor wasn’t working. Eventually they just gave up.

    A lot of my hospital experience just felt very much out of my control. I think if I had felt like I had more say in what was going on, it would have been easier.

    That said, my dr. is great, and I have two healthy boys and really didn’t have any major problems recovering, for which I am grateful.

    (The part about the Doctors being gentlemen and not having dirty hands reminded me of the senators (or was it congressmen) who were upset about the ethics reform, since passing ethics reform would make it look like they were unethical…)

  • wordsfromhome

    My goodness, was that piece about Humbodt State in the book you read? That hits close to home, considering I grew up not far from Humbodt State, and hafl of my siblings were born nearby.

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