I’m reading a book about midwifery in New England in the eighteenth century and I’m struck by how pro-woman their treatment of birth was compared to how it’s done today.
Like, it was the norm for labouring women to be surrounded by a midwife and several female friends who all performed some kind of function to aid the woman in delivering her baby safely. Male physicians hated the social tradition and dismissed the gathering of women as facilitating “gossip” and as a hindrance on the rare occasion they attended a birth.
The work of midwives was so valorised that many town maps from this period clearly identify where every midwife was located, and paying the midwife was one of the biggest household expenses alongside taxes.
Midwives developed their own manuscripts full of medicinal remedies for all aspects of reproduction. Birth was managed by women themselves – it was a collective female ritual.
Male obstetricians, motivated in my opinion by a deep-seated envy of women’s reproductive power, began to steal and suppress women’s wisdom around childbirth in the nineteenth century, and by the twentieth century unnecessary medical intervention in childbirth had exploded.
We need to make childbirth woman-centred again.