Wednesday, July 18, 2012

We've Come a Long Way, BABY!

Ever give thought to what our "fore sisters" went through to have children?  Both me, and my son born in 1975, probably would have died during the 1800s because of my need for an emergency c-section. Thank God for modern medicine.

 Because I write mainly historical westerns, I'm quite familiar with the history of the pioneer and Indian woman, and it was fun to research a little deeper to provide today's post.

Prior to the appearance of "physicians," which by the way was considered a male-only profession, women relied on the practical experience of other women to help bring their children into the world.  Midwives of the period relied mainly on knowledge gained from the previous birthing assistance given, and the mortality rate was high.  In fact, many women feared pregnancy, seeing it as a certain death sentence, although the numbers of live births don't support that theory. Disease and accidents claimed many young victims who did survive the process.  Men played no part in the delivery, as it was unseemly for them to witness such a private event. 

Most American Indian woman used a "women's hut" for the birthing process.  The temporary residence was frequented by women during their monthly flow as a bleeding woman was deemed possessed by spirits dangerous enough to threaten a man's power.  Prior to pregnancy, young girls spent their first menses there, being taught customary tribal tasks, however, afterwards, their joy at reaching womanhood was usually a cause for celebration.

In birthing, many a pending mother brought her babe into the world in that same hut by kneeling before a stick driven into the ground and "dropping" her child into a furrow beneath her that held a clean piece of hide for swaddling.

In comparison, the pioneer woman didn't have it much easier.  Many traveled by wagon to far destinations, seeking new homes, and many times, a train was halted so that other women could tend to the birth of a new arrival.  To say that conditions were often not sanitary is an understatement, and it wasn't until much later that any type of "pain control" was introduced into the process.

When doctors finally began practices throughout the country, many women shied away because of impropriety.  Sexuality was a very private matter, and most husbands wouldn't allow another man to view their women unclothed. 

The picture shown here was "borrowed" from a Jane Austen site, demonstrating the modesty of the time.  Boy, have things changed, or what?  Although, I can't imagine living under the guidelines governing the era and having a strange man delve beneath my skirt, at least today, it's a common practice, but skirtless.  I cringe at hearing"scoot to the end of the table and let your knees fall apart."  I always laugh at the request to "relax." Easier said than done.

Yes, indeed, things have definitely changed over the ages...with coffee, with potties, with everything, if you've read the preceding posts.  Eventually home birth gave over to hospital birth with doctors in attendance, but truly not until 1930.  Until then, women still preferred giving birth with other women at their side.  In hospital stays, the use of opiates and delivery tools were standard practice in a process that for centuries had been what we today call "natural childbirth."  The medical institutions didn't provide much safer care because of the risk of infections, opiates that halted labor and required the use of forceps with often injured or killed the child.  Still, men were not allowed to be part of the process, and spent their time in waiting rooms, being guarded from exposure to such a "harsh" event.

Over the years, the process has improved dramatically.  Fathers are now invited and encouraged to participate in the birth of their child. Some even elect to attend "childbirth classes" with their wives.  Rather than keeping the babies and mothers apart, many hospitals choose to house the newborn with the mother and encourage immediate interaction and feeding.  Now if we could just find a way for Daddy to share some of the pain, but many believe that labor is God's way of punishing us for Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit.  Dang her!

Here's a scene from one of my historical novels, Prairie Peace, which ties in nicely:

Cecile's labor intensified, and she pressed her fist against her mouth to stifle the scream rising in her throat. Another cramp wrenched through her, and she bit into her knuckles, praying that God would make the hurt go away.  Her body bore down, trying to expel the baby, as pain after pain wracked her body.

Rain Woman stood ready to receive the child.  "Push with all your might, my daughter.  Your child is almost here."

Cecile wanted to scream--needed to scream.  "Get it out, please, please get it out!  If I push any harder I'm going to turn myself inside out."

While she crouched over the earthen pit in front of the labor stake, Little Dove massaged Cecile's abdomen in an attempt to move the baby.  With each pain, she tightened her grip and strained with all her might.  The hours seemed like an eternity and the pain never ending.  "I can't go on...I'm too tired," she finally declared.

The pushing became involuntary, and groaning and grunting, she used what she thought was her last breath and thrust her baby into the world.  All discomfort was forgotten when she heard its healthy cry.


Prairie Peace was my debut novel and received a four-star review from Romantic Times Magazine, which back in the day was quite shocking for me.  I hope you'll be enticed to check out the story of Cecile Palmer, who in 1860 eventually becomes "Green Eyes" as she married the handsome brave who saves her from pending winter, no supplies, and a husband they both believed dead. 

Thanks for stopping by today, and here's wishing you lots of Cowboy Kisses!


Meg said...

Oh yeah. TG for Ceasarean - same here with my daughter, we'd never have survived 100 years ago. I had a great-aunt who died of "blood fever" after childbirth in the early 1900's. Great post, Ginger, and what a wonderful excerpt!

mesadallas said...

For some reason I couldn't seem to carry a pregnancy past six months so all six of my children were premature with 3 c-sections after days of labor. (30 years ago they tried to keep a woman in labor as long as possible if the baby was premature)

So I'm another one who wouldn't have survived had I been a pioneer. I was usually kept right behind the nurses station so they could keep a close watch on me. I could hear the labor and delivery of other women in the delivery rooms on either side of me. The room to my right was the natural childbirthing room. It was decorated like a nice, cozy bedroom with patchwork quilts, floral wallpaper,and rocking chairs. Without doubt the loudest moans, groans, and screams came from women who had elected to go natural. I know a lot of women like natural childbirth so I'm not going to knock it but to me it's like deciding to have a cavity filled going "natural dentistry" with no novacaine.

lionmother said...

I definitely wouldn't have survived.After 21 hours of labor they decided to give me a C-section. With my labor the pains were intense, but they didn't produce anything. Then they stopped. I have no idea if I could have even had a natural birth and probably would have not survived without the C-section.

The writing brought me right into the situation and I can see why this book would have gotten 4 stars. The scene is riveting!!

Unknown said...

Excellent writing, Ginger. I too would have died in both deliveries (lol) of my children. Thank goodness for modern medicine.

Alison E. Bruce said...

Wow! It's amazing how many of us there are. Both my children were delivered by C-section. Maybe my first born would have survived, after all, babes were "untimely ripped" from the mother's womb for millennia before the modern procedure was developed in 1881.

Letting father's into the delivery room does help share the pain. I almost strangled my ex when they were inserting the epidural catheter to drug me. In the surgery, a 5 foot-nothing nurse had to hold up the 6' 4" father who almost fainted. Later, I projectile vomited on him. Hit him from five feet away.

Juliet Waldron said...

Good post, Ginger. I had an aunt die 2 days after childbirth of complications (in a hospital, in the 1950's!), so had some real fears on the subject--had learned early that it wasn't a risk free business. I'd learned while doing research for "Mozart's Wife" about the enormous infant/mother mortality rate in 18th Century cities. It's a "fact of life" we -- fortunately, do not have to deal with. And personally, would also be long deceased because I have toxemia every time I've been pregnant. Without the modern miracle of contraception, I'd be long gone.

Ginger Simpson said...

Thanks, Meg. After reading the comments, I can't believe how many of us had c-sections. Thanks for appreciating the excerpt from my debut novel. I still love that story. :)

Ginger Simpson said...

As someone who goes to a sedation dentist, I definitely like your analogy. I admire those who welcome the pain, but I'm not one of them. I'm Queen Wuss, and I wear my crown proudly.

Thank God for modern medicine, and although I never had a premature baby, I did have one that was overdue a month and a day. If one more person had asked me if I was 'still' pregnant, I think I would have decked them. Actually, I was starting to wonder. :)

Ginger Simpson said...

I had one labor pain with my second child. He evidently turned sideways and lodged his arm in the birth canal. Yep, I think there are a lot of us thankful for the c-section. AND...thanks for the endorsement of my debut novel, written originally in 2002, but recently reworked and republished. :) Gotta get those shameless plugs in where we can.

Ginger Simpson said...

Here's to all of us who survived because of modern medicine. Picture me lifting a glass in toast.

Ginger Simpson said...

LOL, Alison. You got him back for the suffering, didn't you? My first pregnancy was a solo labor, except for the lady on the other side of the curtain who pretended to have castanets every time she had a pain. My second husband disappeared the minute they asked him if he wanted to be present during my c-section. What a coward. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Ginger Simpson said...

I loved researching American Indian birthing processes. This is exactly why I love this blog so much. If you read the posts, you're bound to learn tons about the old west.

According to what I read doing research for this article, hospitals were often responsible for the mortality rate of infants and mothers. My husband's grandmother and her last child died during delivery...the doctor decapitated the baby and the mother bled out. Glad, things continue to improve.

Ellen O'Connell said...

I don't know about anyone else, but when I imagine people alone in the middle of nowhere way back then, I find it hard to believe husbands didn't help with births. After all, those men weren't strangers to the birth process. They'd been around livestock all their lives. If other women could come and help, sure, I believe the familiar scene of men pacing outside waiting for news, but when husband and wife were alone?

It's been a while since I read LaVyrle Spencer's Morning Glory, but I remember in that book, set in the early 20th Century, the husband helping with the birth, and I choose to believe a man who cared would do that.

IMO my own mother's hospital experiences were horror stories - they strapped women in labor to tables.

Gail Roughton said...

Okay, add another mother and baby who wouldn't have survived without modern medicine. Actually, add two more. For me, it wasn't because of labor, I didn't have any trouble with that, I had pneumonia at seven months and nine months pregnant with my middle child and second son. The second time I got it, one lung was totally blocked. Even before the 50's I have my doubts we'd have survived because I'm allergic to both penicillin and the myacin antibiotics. So without the newer drugs, color us gone and ladies, trust me, you don't want pneumonia when you're nine months pregnant. My daughter was an induced labor. My grandson turned what they call "breach lateral", as in completely sideways. C-section after 19 hours of labor with 3 ccs dilation total. Four more survivors of modern medicine. Anybody keeping score here? And Allison -- GREAT JOB with the projectile vomiting! You go, girl!

Margaret Tanner said...

Ooh Ginger,
Great blog, some interesting historical details there. Glad I wasn't around in those days, this sooky baby wouldn't be able to stand the labour for more than an hour or so.



Devon Matthews said...

Late to the party but count my son as another life saved because of a surgical delivery. My water broke at home before the onset of labor. We loaded up and went to the hospital. By the time they got me setted in a room, the contractions started. Thank God they held off. When my water broke, I was standing up and it gushed, which washed the cord down and looped it around my son's shoulder. So when the contractions began, the pressure against the cord was causing my son's heart to stop. They strapped me to a gurney and tilted it until I was practically standing on my head to keep the pressure off and rushed me to surgery. My son came out fine, no damage. But they were in such a rush, they cut me from my navel down to within a couple of inches of my pelvic bone. That's why I don't call it a C-section. The scar is horrendous, but I wear it as a badge of pride because my son is alive today because of it and he's fantastic. :)

P.L. Parker said...

Treat post Ginger. I love these historical facts.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Great post, Ginger.

Morgan Mandel said...

I cannot imagine what those poor women went through so long ago! having a period while on a wagon train had to be tough, much less giving birth!

And talk about unsanitary. I don't even sit on strange toilet seats. What did this women have to do? Yuck.

Morgan Mandel

Lorrie said...

I remember reading a book, fact or fiction, I can't recall, it's been so long ago, about a pregnant Indian woman working in a cornfield with her other sisters of the tribe. When the pains began, she squated and gave birth herself, with no help. It was expected at this historical time, at least according to the book.

After the birth, she strapped the baby on her back--I don't remember how) and continued picking the corn. I know the chapter made me shiver. As I wrote, fact or fiction, I'm not sure.

In your research, have you ever come across an event or expectaton like this in the tribes?

Jacquie Rogers said...

Easy deliveries here. I'm sure the hospital made me more comfortable but we'd have been just as well off at home.

As for the men, my dad did deliver my brother. He said it was a lot easier than pulling a calf.