A Brief History of Childbirth

Let’s take a tour of the history of childbirth, and reframe some serious fears along the way!

For your body, giving birth is an incredibly natural thing. In fact, it's one of the physiological functions we are born with alongside digesting food, breathing, or going to the loo! So why does there tend to be so much cultural fear surrounding it? Well, factors such as misinformation, historic misogyny and lack of resources have all contributed to us being scared of it.

We run into problems around the time of the witch trials. A guide to witch hunting was published by monks called ‘The Hammer of Witches’. It stated the line: “no one does more harm to the Catholic faith than midwives”. Midwives began to be associated with black magic due to their abilities to relieve pain and bring life into the world. Reports suggest that 9 million women were murdered as a result of the witch trials. Just think - most of them were midwives, so what happened to all their knowledge and wisdom around birth? Heartbreakingly, it died with them.

Fast forward to the industrial revolution. Hospitals back then were completely different to contemporary hospitals - they were filthy, overcrowded, and rife with infection. A doctor would go from performing an autopsy on a diseased body to assisting with birth without washing their hands, leading the labouring woman to develop a kind of sepsis - also known as childbed fever. This resulted in the deaths of many women after birth.

By the mid-1900s, hygiene had improved somewhat but women had become really scared about giving birth - completely understandable after centuries of trauma. They had lost faith in their natural abilities. The relentless shame and miseducation meant that people didn’t know why women died in childbirth, they just assumed that women simply weren’t good at giving birth!

The feminist movement of the early 1900’s tried to help. They campaigned for the eradication of suffering in childbirth. A new drug was invented called ‘twilight sleep’ - it combined morphine and an amnesiac, making the patient forget. It was injected into the bloodstream during contractions, with the intention of removing the memory of labour and birth. Because of this, many women didn’t recognise their own babies because they couldn’t remember having them! Horrendous for mental health.

Thankfully, the past hundred years or so have led to enormous improvements in our experience of childbirth. Hospitals are clean and sterile, we understand the importance of hygiene, and midwives are now more associated with angels than devils! But due to what women have endured in the past, and a really long line of fear, there is a residual belief in modern society that women just can’t give birth without serious intervention, and that we should be monitored really closely.

We now hold the belief that birth is scary, dangerous and something we’re incapable of managing. Of course, this is so wrong. We are very good at giving birth! It’s a natural instinct we’re born with. It’s society that’s confused, and it’s the fear that comes from this which makes birth difficult because we enter the birth room in a place of fear rather than confidence.

So we have work to do! We need to examine our beliefs about birth, and understand how we are in control. We have the power! Let’s reclaim it.

You can find out more fascinating facts by signing up to become a butterbean member today!

Untitled (391 × 391px) (10)

A Brief History of Childbirth

Untitled (391 × 391px) (10)

Let’s take a tour of the history of childbirth, and reframe some serious fears along the way!

For your body, giving birth is an incredibly natural thing. In fact, it's one of the physiological functions we are born with alongside digesting food, breathing, or going to the loo! So why does there tend to be so much cultural fear surrounding it? Well, factors such as misinformation, historic misogyny and lack of resources have all contributed to us being scared of it.

We run into problems around the time of the witch trials. A guide to witch hunting was published by monks called ‘The Hammer of Witches’. It stated the line: “no one does more harm to the Catholic faith than midwives”. Midwives began to be associated with black magic due to their abilities to relieve pain and bring life into the world. Reports suggest that 9 million women were murdered as a result of the witch trials. Just think - most of them were midwives, so what happened to all their knowledge and wisdom around birth? Heartbreakingly, it died with them.

Fast forward to the industrial revolution. Hospitals back then were completely different to contemporary hospitals - they were filthy, overcrowded, and rife with infection. A doctor would go from performing an autopsy on a diseased body to assisting with birth without washing their hands, leading the labouring woman to develop a kind of sepsis - also known as childbed fever. This resulted in the deaths of many women after birth.

By the mid-1900s, hygiene had improved somewhat but women had become really scared about giving birth - completely understandable after centuries of trauma. They had lost faith in their natural abilities. The relentless shame and miseducation meant that people didn’t know why women died in childbirth, they just assumed that women simply weren’t good at giving birth!

The feminist movement of the early 1900’s tried to help. They campaigned for the eradication of suffering in childbirth. A new drug was invented called ‘twilight sleep’ - it combined morphine and an amnesiac, making the patient forget. It was injected into the bloodstream during contractions, with the intention of removing the memory of labour and birth. Because of this, many women didn’t recognise their own babies because they couldn’t remember having them! Horrendous for mental health.

Thankfully, the past hundred years or so have led to enormous improvements in our experience of childbirth. Hospitals are clean and sterile, we understand the importance of hygiene, and midwives are now more associated with angels than devils! But due to what women have endured in the past, and a really long line of fear, there is a residual belief in modern society that women just can’t give birth without serious intervention, and that we should be monitored really closely.

We now hold the belief that birth is scary, dangerous and something we’re incapable of managing. Of course, this is so wrong. We are very good at giving birth! It’s a natural instinct we’re born with. It’s society that’s confused, and it’s the fear that comes from this which makes birth difficult because we enter the birth room in a place of fear rather than confidence.

So we have work to do! We need to examine our beliefs about birth, and understand how we are in control. We have the power! Let’s reclaim it.

You can find out more fascinating facts by signing up to become a butterbean member today!