Friday, 24 June 2011
Maternity in the 20th Century
I thought I might share these amusing photos from Grantly Dick-Read's seminal work 'Childbirth Without Fear', first published in 1942. Judging from their eye masks, these women look pretty fearful to me. Conversely, they could be Ninja women!
However, slightly disturbing as these trussed up women look, we should not be too quick to judge Mr Dick-Read, who was actually one of the first childbirth experts to presciently speak out against medicalised maternity and the pregnancy production line which so many maternity hospitals would come to resemble in the 60s and 70s, (he himself died in 1959), reminding the rest of his profession as well as women that actually childbirth was a natural process, and with good management, learning and understanding on the parts of all its players, could remain so for the vast majority of women. And although his book was re-printed for 20 years on the trot and he became the first president of the National Childbirth Trust, he weathered a good deal of opposition and career curbing for his unfashionable views. I mean how DARE he suggest that childbirth was natural? Not least in the days prior to the 1948 foundation of the NHS when a terrified woman had to pay a tidy sum for a surgeon's delivery, even if it took installments to do it.
I don't know if my mother had heard of Mr Dick-Read but my mother also bucked the trend and I was born at home, delivered by our district midwife, Nurse Bell, as was my sister two years later during the latter times home birth was almost unheard of and dire threats issued by 'experts' that the mother would die, or at least the child, if more than a few feet away from a scrubbed up surgeon on standby in his fully-equipped operating suite.
To get back to 'Childbirth Without Fear' (never 'pregnancy'), Mr Dick-Read presents a book both ahead of its time, but still struggling with old attitudes and highlighting the many tragic cases of young women who found wonderful men to love, but then rejected them and marriage or even jilted them at the altar because they were so terrified of that inevitable fate, childbirth, swathed as it then was in gleeful gruesome old wives' tales and widespread ignorance. And even many who'd got as far as marriage and their first child would turn their back on romantic love forever if they'd had a bad experience, dooming their spouse to a sexless marriage and letting him think they no longer loved him rather than admitting they just couldn't face the prospect of childbirth again.
Personally I shall always infinitely prefer the odd hour of other people's children to entertaining any thoughts of my own, even with a world of sex education and pain-management at my feet. A rather cynical Facebook friend recently declared children to be the worst sexually transmitted disease you can contract! Which was rather vicious of him, if also amusing.