Episode 90: Dollop: Childbirth in America

Dave, I’m just going to tell you right now that I don’t like the phrase “before forceps” on The Dollop.


That remark that sometimes pepper might be used to assist labor, to sneeze the baby out? This is all I could think about:

Speak roughly to your little boy
and beat him when he sneezes
he only does it to annoy
because he knows it teases.
I speak severely to my boy
I beat him when he sneezes
for he can thoroughly enjoy
the pepper when he pleases

–The Duchess, Alice in Wonderland

See, everything is connected…or I need some goooood talk therapy. Or both. Both is good.

The History of Childbirth is a Horror Show (Note: This is thestir at cafemom–that means this site is best visited with AdBlock installed, for your viewing pleasure)

The drugs used for twilight therapy: morphine and scopolamine, so, at their base, opium and belladonna. This bears repeating from the episode: the women felt the pain, but lost their memory. Plus, this combination of drugs caused euphoria and (hopefully temporary) psychosis.

And remember, this is happening while a baby is tethered to the mother, receiving everything she is: drugs, pain signals, fear signals, the whole shebang.

from The Business of Being BornThe drugs they were given made them go insane, so if NOT restrained, they would claw out their own eyes, try to climb walls, try to hurt themselves and the hospital staff because of hallucinations. So OBVIOUSLY, restraints were “necessary.” They used lambskin restraints so that their wrists weren’t bruised (no signs of restraint was the goal — after all, you don’t want women and their husbands wondering what actually happened behind closed doors). (from the Horror Show article)

Oh, and there was also a racial element, because white America. Because. *facepalm*.

Again from the Horror Show article:

Part of the reason for this medication was a response to immigration around World War I — it was thought that if white women didn’t see labor as a scary event, they would have many more children and populate the country with white families, overriding the increasing immigrant numbers.

Childbirth Without Fear: The Principles and Practice of Natural Childbirth * Grantly Dick-Read (Note: the cover of this book is a close-up photo of a woman giving birth in a half-standing position, in case you are at work or are sensitive to that sort of image.)

What a Blessing She Had Chloroform: The Medical and Social Response to the Pain of Childbirth from 1800 to the Present * Donald Caton

Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank * Randi Hutter Epstein

About that pass/fail Lamaze grading…

I hope my dad doesn’t mind if I tell on him. He failed. The first class. He really wanted to be in the birthing room for my arrival, and, in 1972, you had to pass the Lamaze series and get your certificate in order to do so. Mom and Dad attended the first class, which was introductions all’round, and the viewing of the natural childbirth film. Guess which part Dad couldn’t handle?

He almost fainted in class. As in blacked out.

I am paraphrasing here: “It was coming right at you! There was no warning, they just got right in there!”

Poor Dad. His National Guard trainings did not prepare him for what ten centimeters dilated plus a human baby head plus blood and goo actually looked like when viewed through a close-up fisheye lens.

So Dad loitered in the waiting room, like the stereotype. When the doctor came out and told him I was a girl, Dad grabbed him and hugged him like the high school football player he had been, and Dad thanked him, which cracks me up every time.

The ob/gyn was smooth as hell, because he answered: “Well, Mr. Pettigrew, I didn’t do it; you did.”


So, Mom passed Lamaze alone, I double-checked. She was awake, but remembers taking “something” for pain.

You can hear Dave, Heather, and Finn’s own hilarious birth (hint: Dave wasn’t ready for it, either; Dave feels you, Dad) story on Dave’s album, Shame Chamber, on the track “Ruined“.

documentary: The Business of Being Born


My address at BU was just down the street at 131 Bay State Road; I find this oddly creepy, even though our residencies were a century apart.


About Carla

This Bluestocking bookworm is your friendly Dollop web-wrangler and digital library curator. In other words, pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain. I'm just here to John Nash all this stuff together. It's all about connections. IT'S ALL CONNECTED. I live atop a mountain, geographically isolated for the protection of others. Yes, an American mountain.