While this technically isn’t a series on the history of midwifery, in a previous post we examined the ancient history of midwifery as it relates to the wellbeing of women and newborn babies. The tradition can be traced back to times long ago — as early as Ancient Egypt in fact. Yet early versions of the female-kept tradition can be found in Ancient Greece as well as the Middle Ages. Perhaps surprisingly, very little scientific progress was made during the “Dark Ages” of the latter-mentioned period, especially when compared with the scientific awakening that took place in Ancient Greece with notables that included Hippocrates, Aristotle, and others of their ilk.
Today’s post is dedicated to examining what happened in the tradition of midwifery after the aforementioned periods. The stretch spanning from just after the Middle Ages to modern day is quite expansive, so instead of biting off more than we can chew, we will be splitting this topic into two posts in a series. So keep reading if you are interested in learning a bit about the history of our female-driven tradition. But before we get started, allow us to remind our readers of our local prenatal care clinic and the midwife services we are happy to offer here at Deanna D. Midwifery.
Our Tri-Cities Prenatal Clinic
At Deanna D. Midwifery, we offer comprehensive healthcare for women in and around Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland, WA. At our midwife clinic, we offer WHNP services that specialize in pregnancy and childbirth. But our Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Services don’t stop there, but they include healthcare for women of all ages. From primary health care to family planning, routine physicals, we have a passion for providing alternative, holistic healthcare that is modeled on each patient’s individual needs.
Deanna D. Midwife services are characterized by our dedication on providing personalized care, as opposed to the sweeping and heavy-handed healthcare often received at general clinics. Rather than being treated as a lowest common denominator, we focus on offering high-quality midwifery care. What does that mean, practically speaking? It means we are committed to informing and educating our patients about the variety of options they are presented with, as it relates to each aspect of their health.
Our midwife services include:
- Physical exams
- Primary care
- Family planning counseling
- Gynecological care
- Childbirth assistance
- Pregnancy checkups
- General prenatal care
- Preconception care
- Treatment of STIs
- Postpartum care
We provide reliable, holistic childbirth assistance at Deanna D. Midwifery by partnering with local hospitals and health organizations in Pasco, Richland, and Kennewick. On top of that, we have strong relationships with private doctors, ambulatory care clinics, and birth centers.
With that in mind, we are certified to offer birthing care, and while we do, there will always be a local physician on hand in case of extemporaneous circumstances. Remember that this is an unlikely event, but, since we are involved with a case as significant and serious as childbirth, it’s vital to have as much of a safety net as possible. Our priority will always be to safely empower mothers and women from all walks of life here at our prenatal care clinic.
Midwifery After The Middle Ages
It seems we may have gotten carried away with ourselves a bit, in reference to the lengthy description of our prenatal clinic and all its facets! Forgive us; we have a passion for what we do. That being said, we’ll take a look at two particular aspects of early modern Europe with regards to midwifery here in part one. In part two, we’ll tackle the practice as a whole. We’ll shine the proverbial spotlight on the schism of gender roles as it relates to midwifery. We’ll also examine midwives and how the Holy Roman Empire had the nasty little habit of accusing a midwife or two (or many, many more) of being a witch.
With regards to early modern western culture and midwifery, there existed something of a juxtaposition between theory and practice. While males were able to educate themselves in universities, practical childbirth and healthcare were administered by female midwives on a day to day basis. This meant that learned men had a better understanding of the inner-workings of female anatomy than the women who were on the front lines, so to speak. Conversely, women had real-life, practical wisdom as to how to deliver children in the best way. We’d also like to point out that simply because the midwife tradition was considered a formal academic discipline at the time, it does not follow that useful and effective truths wouldn’t be passed down from generation to generation. We would be inclined to argue that oral traditions have more value than our modern minds might initially recognize.
As time wore on, so did western culture’s understanding of how to apply theory in practice. This meant that men who were formerly confined to the university, performing dissections and such, were able to take a more preponderant role in this subset of the field of medicine. What was once a province of women was opened up to men. Yet, obviously, this didn’t prove to be a two-way street.
An example of men getting involved with childbirth and women’s healthcare can be found in the development of the use of obstetric forceps. Obstetrical forceps, as they are also referred to, are a childbirth instrument that looks like a pair of tongs. They have proven to be very useful should the need to grasp or maneuver arise during childbirth. This instrument was a major advancement in the world of childbirth. However, this instrument was male-controlled, which meant that midwives were not granted access to use it.
Access would have proven pretty handy, in our humble opinion! But what do we know?!
Women were also frozen out, so to speak, from the practice of surgery. French women, for example, were forbidden from practicing surgery around the 16th century. Exceptions included widows who intended to continue their deceased husband’s practice. But even that became prohibited just before the turn of the 17th century.
This meant that midwives were still in charge of childbirth in a general sense, but when surgery was required, males stepped in.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Holy Roman Empire got a bit carried away with their indictments, to put it mildly. Inquisitors accused many midwives of killing babies in the womb, or blamed them for tragic birthing complications. Nevermind the fact that infant mortality was all too common due to a combination of factors, among which was the fact that our understanding of germ theory and illness had yet to come to fruition.
This meant that midwives, ever getting the short end of the stick, became the scapegoats for tragedy after tragedy. As you can no doubt infer, being a midwife was one of the most precarious occupations a woman could hold.
Fast-forward to the 21st-century, and things suddenly don’t seem so bad, what with the lack of witch-related accusations being thrown around these days.
Keep a lookout for our next post, part two of this series, in which we will examine more recent developments in our field.
If you are in need of a Tri-Cities prenatal clinic, think of us for holistic and high-quality midwife care. We’d love to get to know you and learn how we can meet your needs! Contact us today.