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Birth Chairs, Midwives, and Medicine

Birth Chairs, Midwives, and Medicine

Amanda Carson Banks
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 154
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  • Book Info
    Birth Chairs, Midwives, and Medicine
    Book Description:

    There was a time when birth was treated as a natural process rather than a medical condition. Before 1800, women gave birth seated in birth chairs or on stools and were helped along by midwives. Then societal changes in attitudes toward women and the practice of medicine made birthing a province of the male-dominated medical profession.

    InBirth Chairs, Midwives, and Medicine, Amanda Carson Banks examines the history of the birth chair and tells how this birthing device changed over time. Through photographs, artists' renditions of births, interviews, and texts from midwives and early obstetricians, she creates an evolutionary picture of birthing practices and highlights the radical redefinition of birth that has occurred in the last two centuries.

    During the 1800s the change from a natural philosophy of birth to a medical one was partly a result of heightened understandings of anatomy and physiology. The medical profession was growing, and with it grew the awareness of the economic rewards of making delivery a specialized practice. In the background of the medical profession's rise was the prevailing perception of women as fragile invalids. Gradually, midwives and birth chairs were relegated to rural and isolated settings.

    The popularity of birth chairs has seen a revival in the late twentieth century as the struggle between medical obstetrics and the alternative birth movement has grown. As Banks shows through her careful examination of the chairs themselves, these questions have been answered and reconsidered many times in human history. Using the artifacts from the home and medical office, Banks traces sweeping societal changes in the philosophy of how to bring life into the world.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-139-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Artifacts and the Cultural Construction of Birth
    (pp. xv-xxiv)

    InPractica major, Giovanni Savonarola (1384-1461) described the common practices of childbirth and the predominant delivery methods of his day. “First then the midwife should prepare a stool on which to place the patient, and the patient may adapt herself in such a way that the birth may be made easy. The patient is placed in front of the semi circular part of the stool, and behind her is a woman who sits on the couch and holds her, and behind her, a little higher, is another against whom she leans, guiding and supporting herself.”¹ In the midst of a...

  6. Stones and Stools: An Early History of Birth Chairs and the Practice of Delivery
    (pp. 1-32)

    Long before delivery rooms, operating tables, stirrups, fetal monitors, and forceps, birth practices were simpler and less invasive. Women turned to other women, midwives (meaning literally “with women”), and practiced strikingly similar traditions of birth across time, place, culture, and geography. Birth was the province of women, with mothers, sisters, neighbors, and midwives striving together. Anthropological and archaeological evidence suggests an early confidence in the ability of women to bear children without intervention. For thousands of years the associated practices of birth were predicated on the apparent logic of merely assisting nature as it was allowed to take its course....

  7. Curse or Cure? The Rise of Professional Medicine, the Redefinition of Birth, and the Move from Chair to Bed for Delivery
    (pp. 33-78)

    By the turn of the nineteenth century, the general practice of delivery was strikingly different from what it had been a hundred years earlier. Increasingly, birth was something practiced rather than a natural event that occurred. This change reflected dramatic alterations in the overriding philosophy of birth, and this shift continued throughout the nineteenth century, with the naturalistic approach of the seventeenth century giving way completely to this medical philosophy.

    While proof of this change in the cultural construction of birth is clearly evident in the shifting and altering practices of delivery, particularly as seen in birth-chair design, it is...

  8. Contest and Compromise: The Debate over the Philosophy of Birth, the Return of the Birth Chair, and the Struggle for Ownership
    (pp. 79-118)

    The drastic changes in the philosophy of birth that occurred the nineteenth century culminated in thought and deed in the twentieth. In response, the cultural construction of birth was composed of a definition of birth as a pathological event, and the practice was increasingly characterized by prescribed medical procedures and clinical personnel. Although such a shift in philosophy did consolidate the authority of medicine to define birth and thus to drive and determine appropriate procedures and practices, the medical philosophy remained an unquestioned construction only until the middle years of the century.

    By the 1950s, changes in society and, in...

  9. Belief, Artifacts, and the Cultural Construction of Medicine
    (pp. 119-124)

    From the sixteenth to the late twentieth century, the practice of birth changed radically. The history of birth within a biosocial framework, one that “is produced jointly and reflexively by (universal) biology and (particular) society” helps us to understand why these changes took place and how the many elements involved.¹ Artifacts of birth allow us to mark the progress of changes in practice as well as identify the attendant rationale and beliefs that are influencing these practices—the philosophy of birth. The cultural construction of birth that is thus revealed incorporates the philosophy of birth and the associated practices of...

  10. Appendix: Museums and Archives with Birth Chairs in Their Collections
    (pp. 125-126)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 127-148)
  12. Index
    (pp. 149-154)