Who delivered all those babies?
This is an extra post to follow up on my Monday blog. I shared some of what I learned about apothecaries for a speech I am giving next week with C. Allyn Pierson at the RWA Conference. Scroll down or click HERE to read my Monday post. Today I wanted to elaborate on midwives – male and female. Before I delve in I want to remind everyone that tonight is my online, live “chat party” at Discover a New Love with Barbara Vey from Publishers Weekly. This is the official blurb and I hope many of you can pop in to keep me company!
Sharon Lathan—Wednesday, July 18, 7:00 p.m. CST (5:00pm PST)
If you’re a Jane Austen fan, you won’t want to miss this one. No one knows more about Mr. Darcy than Sharon. (Note: I did not write this! Believe me, many know more or as much as me, but it sounds good so who am I to argue? LOL!) Lucky for us, Lizzy and Darcy’s story didn’t end after Pride and Prejudice. The Darcy Saga is chock-full of more adventures.
What do you imagine might have happened to one of literature’s favorite couples? And what about all the mash-ups we’ve seen recently: Zombies? Sea monsters? Sharon gives us the full scoop on an all-time favorite author. So get your questions ready!
- Two winners will receive a signed copy of any Darcy Saga title they choose
- The Complete Novels of Jane Austen
- A set of the 2005 and 1995 versions of Pride and Prejudice on DVD
- Free 6 month membership to Discover a New Love
Now for some education. Ready? Let’s talk about Midwives and Accoucheurs~~
Women have assisted in childbirth from the dawn of time and until relatively recently such attendance remained a female domain. A midwife was usually the senior woman of a community whose only qualification was experience and having given birth herself. In London and other larger cities a midwife was often times more “professional” in that she approached the job as an art-form, took on apprentices, and studied the process of birth scientifically. Many were of a higher class and thus educated with some access to textbooks. However, formal education and standards were non-existent. If a midwife was “professional” and serious it was a choice, not regulated. Never was she considered a medical person.
As the Dark Ages waned and learned men turned their focus upon the sciences, some physicians looked toward the field of obstetrics. The question of why so many babies and mothers died during what was reputedly a “natural” process intrigued them. A flood of research and manuscripts appeared during the 16th and 17th centuries, mostly from France and Germany. Renowned physicians such as Jacob Rueff, Ambroise Paré, Jacques Guillemeau, and William Harvey (to name a few) made startling, revolutionary discoveries and perfected processes such as podalic version to best deliver breech babies.
Specialized midwifery schools began, first in Paris at the famed hospital Hotel-Dieu in the mid-1500s, for male and female students. Science was applied to experience, as seen in the image below. These are 3-dimensional, working models created by famed midwife to the French court Louise Borgeois in the mid 1600s. Borgeois was a teacher as well as practicing midwife, wealthy from her profession, and the first woman to write an obstetric textbook.
France also led the charge for male midwives. In 1663 Dr. Julian Clement delivered the baby of King Louis XIV’s mistress and was conferred the title “accoucheur” – ah-coo-sure – which is translated “male midwife” so not particularly special except that the term came from the King! This was enough and suddenly male midwifery became very fashionable in France.
Word and textbooks spread, knowledge spurring English physicians to follow suit. Opposition came from the Church – they seeing a man doing “that” as immoral – from other physicians who considered it beneath a “gentleman physician” to perform such work when touching and blood was a part of the job, and from midwives. The latter, naturally, did not want to see their centuries-old role usurped. Nor did they want to be out of a job! Yet despite the strong negativity more and more physicians delved into the field as the 18th and 19th centuries progressed.
William Hunter (1739-1783) was the first London physician to specialize solely in midwifery. He was highly successful and respected. His contributions to the field are remarkable. Alexander Gordon (1752-1799) was another specialist noteworthy for being the first to recognize a connection between blood-soiled linens and the spread of puerperal sepsis (childbed fever). He did not understand germ theory – that would take another 50 years – but his efforts dramatically decreased the incidence and death from infection within the London hospitals birthing wards.
William Smellie (1697-1763) was the first to document pelvic measurements from all angles and to understand how the fetal head rotates during labor. He did much more but his greatest accomplishment is perfecting the design and use of forceps. We cringe at the word “forceps” but in an age before vacuum extraction and successful cesarean sections, the use of forceps was revolutionary. Countess lives, mother and child, have been saved due to Smellie. Even to this day the invention of forceps is considered THE most valuable obstetric discovery of all time.
As the century flipped into the 1800s male midwives were becoming more common, especially among the upper classes and aristocracy. Most did not focus exclusively on delivering babies but it was not the taboo area of the previous centuries. Nor were physicians only called in when things were dire but rather from the onset in uncomplicated labors. The London Obstetrical Society was founded in 1830 and in 1850 the Royal College of Physicians established a specialized midwifery/obstetrics curriculum.
Female midwives came close to extinction. Women could not obtain an education as men could and their skills decreased as demand for their services decreased. Luckily there were many people in power, both physicians and others, who did not want to see this valuable profession die. In 1881 a Society for midwives was formed in London and finally in 1902 Parliament passed a bill establishing a midwife regulatory board allowing women to be educated and licensed. Today midwives are a thriving occupation in the UK, far more so than in the US.
That’s it for this topic! Well, I could say lots more but then this post would be down the page. LOL! If this is a subject that deeply interests you then I have attached the handout C. Allyn and I are offering to attendees of our workshop. We have a timeline of medical advances and a bunch of references to further reading.
Lastly I have to mention one more time that I will be in Anaheim next Wednesday for the RWA Literacy Autographing. It is open to the public, free aside from books purchased, and I would love to meet anyone who can swing by!
2012 “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing
Wednesday, July 25, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.