The main lesson I got from Tina Cassidy’s Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born (2006) is that in the history of people being born, attempts to make it easier and/or more “scientific” have in many cases exacerbated the mortality rates for both mother and child. At different times in history it was thought a good idea to rip children out with forceps, to drug up mothers to a point of insensibility and today’s fashion, cesarean births even when not necessary for medical reasons. The last one bothers me most because Cassidy describes in detail how women are sliced up, cutting important tissues for reasons that often have more to do with convenience than necessity.
Interesting too that until recent years men did not attend births not only because they were too macho to show up, but they were actually forbidden from the delivery room.
Okay, so it’s not easy to read this book without getting all squirmy and squeamish, but on the other hand it’s important to learn that there’s a history of experts stating what are the best ways to be born only to be contradicted and “proven wrong” by the next generation. I don’t think our times are exempt from this pattern.
Tina Cassidy is a blogger too and I’m expecting a lot of ongoing discussion of these issues at The Birth Book Blog.
“Hard Labor,” Washington Post, (October 26, 2006)