In advance of the upcoming MegaConference celebrating the 50th anniversaries of both Lamaze International and ICEA, I purchased on eBay a copy of the May 1958 edition of Ladies Home Journal, which many credit with birthing the modern childbirth education movement. In November of 1957, editors published a letter from a registered nurse who asked for an investigation of “the tortures that go on in modern delivery rooms.” In response, the magazine received a flood of letters, some of which they published in the May 1958 edition along with their own investigative report. The editors were shocked to learn of women who were left strapped in the lithotomy position on the delivery room table for as long as eight hours until delivery occurred. Other women told of having their legs tied together to prevent birth until the doctor arrived and of being cut and sutured without any anesthetic. Almost universally, women complained of being separated from their husbands and left alone with no support. The editors concluded that most doctors and nurses were kind and practiced appropriately, “but the response from nurses and mothers indicates inescapably that this is not always the case, and that instances of callousness toward suffering, or unethical measures that actually increase suffering are not so rare as our editors hoped they’d be.” Later , the editors wrote, “Until a generation ago, a normal childbirth was a natural, essentially happy event, attended by a husband and a kindly neighbor or two. Even in hospitals, friends might cheer the mother in the labor room; her husband or some other person close to her, could stay with her until the baby was born. Now, childbirth has been turned into a medical mystery, conducted in secret.”
Editors urged that hospital rules be changed to allow the husband to stay his his wife throughout labor and birth. “This one change in present hospital rules would abolish practically all the nightmare features of which mothers have complained. With a husband present, there is little likelihood that a women will be slapped or yelled at subjected to uncalled-for tortures. It will give the mother the support and reassurance of a loving presence.”
In addition, editors urged:
1. Mothers should “shop around” a bit before selecting an obstetrician. An Independence, MO, mother remarks, sensibly, “When buying a new home, a car, or even appliances you check several before buying. You should check a doctor as well.”
2. There should be more explaining of childbirth to mothers in advance.
3. There should be freer communication between doctors and their patients. Mothers should feel at liberty to express their fears to their doctors; to tell the doctors what they would like them to do.
4. If a mother is subjected to treatment that she considers cruel or unethical, it is her duty to report it to the local board of health, or hospital head, or some other person in authority.
In conclusion, editors quoted a Frankfort, Kentucky woman who said, “Every woman should be treated like a queen, even with her tenth! Not with excessive attention (yes, I know we’re short of nurses) but with good humor and joy in the occasion.”
Some things have changed; and some things have stayed the same.