Episode Three of PBS’ 'Call the Midwife' was another great show, with two interesting points relevant to the history of childbirth. (You can read my takes on Episode One and Episode Two, as well.)
First, an exuberant expectant husband who is craving information about his wife’s pregnancy comes home with a book written by Grantly Dick-Read (below), a British doctor who, like the midwives in the show, rode around London’s poor neighborhoods on his bike in the fog to help deliver babies. This was after World War I. Having grown up in the country surrounded by farm animals, he watched many mammals give birth and approached a woman doing the same without the fear that many other first-time mothers – and even obstetricians – brought/bring to the process. He considered birth normal, not an accident waiting to happen.
His first book, Natural Childbirth, was published in 1933. His second book, commonly called Childbirth Without Fear, came out in 1942 – right at the time of America’s great migration of birth moving from the home to the hospital. Many women, however, were shocked by how they were treated in the maternity ward, and they embraced Dick-Read’s second book like a bible for how to have a natural birth.
He arguably set the stage for the natural childbirth movement in American in the 1960s and ‘70s, though doctors Bradley and Lamaze are more often associated with that time.
The second point of interest for me in the show was the midwife’s use of a Pinard horn (below), a low-tech but effective instrument for listening to the baby’s heartbeat.
Even today, midwives like to use these – or the fetoscope (below) – because they don’t pester the baby with bothersome noise like that which ultrasounds make in-utero.