Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Natural Childbirth and Post World war II USA
It seemed that the re-birth of midwifery grew out of a woman's wish to be in control; to not be drugged, to feel powerful and connected. The post World War Media portrayed mothers as wearing high heels while cleaning the house and baking a cake. Women, in these images, lived in suburbs that were too often defined by redlining; the exclusion of families of color from certain neighborhoods. Leave It To Beaver showed us how mothers were suppose to act. The horrors of the industrial-military complex and violations of basic human rights were hidden from us. Our country had survived World War II and the image of a happy, no-fuss housewife was what everyone said they fought for and wanted.
But the Civil Right Movement and the Anti-War Movement of the 60's changed all this. Many young woman doubted those images and knew they came with a cost. These obedient mothers had not been all that happy, as we would later see in such television series as Madmen. Women saw their fight as a fight for women everywhere. What women did decide to give birth, many did not want to lie on their backs with their legs up in the air and be shaved and prepped and knocked out.
If they had lied to us about what women were capable of once, maybe the whole childbirth thing was wrong too. Natural Childbirth made its way to the US from Europe and women began attending natural birth classes. The problem was, even if you could find a class, it did not mean you could find a doctor or a hospital that would let you birth the way you wanted to. In some places, doctors like Gregory White still did home births for his mostly traditional Catholic Community, in Chicago, but most of us went to local hospitals and came away ,even more determined to have a natural birth. Others had a first baby in the hospital with frightening results. Either way, when women could not have what they wanted in the hospital, women began to study midwifery and to attend each other's births. They help study groups, conferences and read whatever they could.
The belief that the doctor would take care of everything and that a bottle wasps good as a breast, were replaced by another image from World War II; the one that said we can do it! Midwifery was re-born out of this awakening.
The woman in the picture was soon found, barefoot. leaning on the counter, in an upright position, as the baby emerged amongst families and friends.
Although many sought these early 1970's midwives, for deeply felt philosophical reasons, it was also true that there was no public health insurance and many families found it to be the only option they could afford. Many a midwife, served low income and immigrant women with joy and respect for many years before Oregon Health Plan mostly ended what had been a positive partnership for many.