Welcome to our final post in our two-part series on the history modern midwifery. Like we mentioned in the first post, we wrote a piece on the ancient history of midwifery a few months back. That piece isn’t a part of this series, but it did inspire us to take a look at more modern developments in our rich tradition of midwifery.
As always, we’d be remiss if we failed to mention who we are before we get going with today’s topic. We are a Tri-Cities midwife clinic that is absolutely dedicated to providing holistic, comprehensive women’s healthcare. We are a prenatal care clinic, yes. But Deanna D. and the rest of our team offer healthcare for women of all ages. Whether you are seeking primary care, gynecological care, pregnancy checkups, preconception consultation, physical examinations, childbirth assistance, or even family planning counseling, we have you covered with an experienced and caring staff, ready to fulfill your needs.
At Deanna D., we exist to provide our patients with alternative options that promote their empowerment. There is no single path when it comes to childbirth assistance and prenatal care, which is why we seek to give women of the Tri-Cities the opportunity to choose the treatment path that best fits your needs. That’s the long and short of our philosophy here at Deanna D.!
The Modern History Of Midwifery
In our last post, we briefly highlighted the state of childbirth care and medicine. Men were confined to theoretical academia while female midwives weren’t permitted access to that world. However, it was the women who were actually on-hand for giving birth, so they had practical wisdom.
This changed as the west’s period of enlightenment gave rise to technological advancements. Men became more involved, yet they largely did not permit midwives to partake in administering this new technology. One example of this occurring is in the use of obstetric forceps, the tong-like instrument used to grip and maneuver during childbirth, should the need arise.
Despite the fact that men were involved in the childbirth process, midwifery was seen as a field for women until the beginning of the 18th century. Starting at around 1720, the term “man-midwife” increased in popularity around Europe, and eventually, North America. Instead of being on-call surgeons or ad-hoc overseers of a birthing process, men became involved in every facet of the birthing process.
Midwifery: Left Out In The Cold
Moving right along to the 19th century, the world of medicine saw the scientific discoveries of infectious diseases, coupled with Joseph Lister’s antiseptic breakthrough, led to dramatic improvement with regards to the overall quality of the care provided. This medical progress translated to hygiene, pharmacology, and other practices, including obstetrics. However, midwifery was left out in the cold. Because midwifery was something of an informal practice at the time, there was very little integration. Hence, there arose a dichotomy between modern prescriptions provided by physicians of the time, when weighed against homeopathic traditions still utilized by the era’s midwives.
As time wore on, trackers of trends realized that births which adhered to modern practices, with their very real advances being utilized, tended to have more positive outcomes than midwifery. Again, we can hardly blame midwives for this occurrence — it’s not their fault they were not afforded with the recent advances.
Another discrepancy can be found with this trend, if, like any good scientist, you want to look closely enough (i.e. “isolate your variables”). In this instance, that means realizing that affluent populations had access to childbirth techniques that involved the use of antiseptic treatment, whereas those in less well-off communities only had the means to utilize the less-expensive midwife services. These areas were less sanitary, and folks from these economically-deficient regions likewise had poor nutrition, generally speaking.
This “midwife problem,” as history has deemed it, lasted far too long. People looking to make generalizations without actually analyzing the problem contributed to a misconception of the tradition of midwifery until the early 20th century in the United States. As more and more immigrants made their way to the Land of the Free, each culture’s tradition of midwifery came along in concordance. Still untrained in modern medicine, there arose a need for the standardization of midwife practices.
One solution to the antiquated practices of midwifery was to abolish it entirely. The other option presented was to give the practice something of a makeover.
Sadly, the former solution became commonplace. Via prohibitive legislation and public campaigns, the practice was almost entirely eradicated from the U.S. during the early parts of the 1900s.
Midwifery wasn’t totally eliminated, but persisted among people of color and foreign-born populations. In 1915, roughly 40 percent of all American births were administered or attended by midwives. That figure diminished to a meager 11 percent just 20 years later, among whom over half were non-white folk.
Just when it seemed American midwifery was on the brink of total annihilation, a beacon of hope emerged in the form of one Mary Breckinridge, an affluent American woman who had experienced the loss of children through birth personally. She used her social and political status to promulgate alternative birthing care and methods. After witnessing British nurse-midwifery practices first-hand, she sought to implement a similar system in the States. Upon becoming a trained nurse-midwife in Britain, she founded the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) in Hyden, Kentucky, in 1925.
That’s All Folks!
Oh, goodness. That’s all the time we have for today. We genuinely did our best to make it up to the modern day, but we’ve still got roughly 100 years to cover. It seems this two-part series has become three-parts. We don’t mind, though, and we hope you won’t either!Thanks for reading, and remember to reach out to us if you are in need of prenatal care via an experienced and caring midwife and WHNP. We have a passion for what we do here at Dianna D., so do not hesitate to ask us about our services, approach, or anything you might need!