The Industrialization of Childbirth

Comedian Carol Burnett once said that "giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head."

I'm sure that the moms reading this would agree. Perhaps reading about childbirth is the last thing on your mind, especially if you've already given birth, but trust me, this one is interesting.

Atul Gawande wrote an article for The New Yorker about how childbirth went industrial, including this tidbit of the history of the obstetric forceps, which invention was kept as a family secret for 3 generations:

The instrument was developed in the seventeenth century by Peter Chamberlen (1560-1631), the first of a long line of French Huguenots who delivered babies in London. It looked like a pair of big metal salad tongs, with two blades shaped to fit snugly around a baby’s head and handles that locked together with a single screw in the middle. It let doctors more or less yank stuck babies out and, carefully applied, was the first technique that could save both the baby and the mother.

The Chamberlens knew that they were onto something, and they resolved to keep the device a family secret. Whenever they were called in to help a mother in obstructed labor, they ushered everyone else out of the room and covered the mother’s lower half with a sheet or a blanket so that even she couldn’t see what was going on. They kept the secret of the forceps for three generations.

In 1670, Hugh Chamberlen, in the third generation, tried and failed to sell it to the French government. Late in his life, he divulged it to an Amsterdam-based surgeon, Roger van Roonhuysen, who kept the technique within his own family for sixty more years. The secret did not get out until the mid-eighteenth century. Once it did, it gained wide acceptance. At the time of Princess Charlotte’s failed delivery, in 1817, her obstetrician, Sir Richard Croft, was widely reviled for failing to use forceps. He shot himself to death not long afterward.

Link - via Metafilter


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...what the article fails to mention is WHY the forceps invention was kept secret for approx. 90 years.
My guess is $$$. Too bad, since many more babies and mothers could have been helped if the knowledge had been available.

Also...the title of this entry is poorly done too.
What does the use of an aid like forceps have to do with
"The Industrialization of Childbirth"?

I'm assuming that Alex is a man. Duh.
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What an astonishingly excellent article.

All seven billion of us went through birth, all six or seven billion of our ancestors went through birth, and we're alive to tell the tale.

This was easily the best thing I've read in ages. Thanks!
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Wow, that was a LONG but absolutely fantastic read. I'm due to give birth in August and I just love reading things like this.
And lemme say, I loved the end the most.
I think a lot of women are so focussed on this idea of having a perfect birth experience, they completely forget that the end result should be a healthy baby and momma no matter what it takes.
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