Well I have detracted from my usual business-inspired blogs this time to share a little history and praise for an amazing group of professionals in healthcare: our Midwives. Today is International Midwives Day and while I am not suggesting that we should only recognise these dedicated people on just one day of the year, it does give me the opportunity to provide a little history on midwifery and a few little facts. Sorry men, you are not going to like all these facts!
Midwives have been part of the human experience for as long as we know. The ancient Jews referred to them as “wise woman”, in France as the “sage-femme” and in Germany, the “weise Frau”. The English “midwife’ is derived from Middle English “mit wif” or “with-woman” (J.H. Aveling). In ancient times and in primitive societies, the work of the midwife had both a technical or manual aspect and a magical or mystical aspect. Hence, the midwife was sometimes revered, sometimes feared, sometimes acknowledged as a leader of the society, sometimes tortured and killed. The midwife was seen as having knowledge in an area of life that was a mystery to most people.
Unfortunately, not all past practice was based on, well how can I put this… science? For example, in the past women stood on bricks, called – surprise, surprise – “birthing bricks” while they gave birth. These bricks made the women taller and gave midwives all the room they needed to catch the baby. Talk about wanting a pair of safe hands! A fact close to my own heart, having been a nurse in the past, is that up until 1977, men just didn’t become midwives. There was no legislation preventing it. It just didn’t happen. Today there are not very many male midwives out there, but there are some wearing their professional choice with pride. One of the more weirder facts is the “groaning cake”. No, this was no baked pre-conception but actually prepared and baked by the woman while she was in labour. It is not clear what purpose it served. Perhaps a very unusual form of diversional therapy? Now men, this is one that should shame us: in the past, men thought women should suffer during birth because Eve was the one who ate the apple in the Garden of Eden. Bit tough if you ask me, for eating just one little apple! Lastly – and perhaps a more startling fact – is that once upon a time, before epidurals were a choice, woman drank alcohol during birth to help take the pain away. Not sure of the choice for medicinal effect, but I am sure it would have made for some interesting situations when consumption was on the high side.
So, historical veils/caps off to you midwives for a surviving profession despite adversity at times. Thankfully in the world today, midwifery is recognised as a true profession (I don’t think spells and mystical powers is core subject anymore). Let us not forget though that midwives exist for women in pregnancy. There was a wonderful quote I read by Ruth Ehrhardt, in “The Basic Needs of a Woman in Labour”:
“When a woman births, not only is a baby being born but so is a mother. How we treat her will affect how she feels about herself as a mother and as a parent. Be gentle. Be kind. Listen.”