Childbirth Without Fear…and With Compassion

I watched with interest and nostalgia as Cynthia lit up with enthusiasm when she discovered the concept and then power of “childbirth without fear”.  I grinned in aknowledgment when the name Dr. Grantley Dick-Read was mentioned.  Dr. Dick-Read was a British physician whose book “Childbirth Without Fear”, first published in 1942, was ridiculed by the medical community and relished by American women when they discovered its wisdom in the 1960s. Dr. Dick-Read was, no doubt, molded by his experiences with Britsh nurse-midwives in community settings such as we see in “Call the Midwife”.  

During the 1950-70s in the US, birth was ritualized into a mechanistic production controled by physicians in hospitals.  Women were routinely shaved, given enemas and medicated during labor.  Spinal anesthesia, episiotomies and forceps were routine for delviery.  Birth plans? What!? Husbands in the delivery room?  Ahem. No, not allowed.   When I entered into the world of childbirth 40 years ago the consumer movement was reving up with the beginnings of community based childbirth education classes and demands from women for changes in childbirth practices to regain control.  I remember one local hospital being disparagingly referred to as “Spinal City”. Slowly, with effort and from consumer pressure, practices have changed.  Helping to open the door for nurse-midwives in the United States to practice within the medical community is one of the changes triggered by Dr. Dick-Read’s book and the childbirth education movement.  

Although women have more choices for their birth experience today, I feel the emphasis on preparation for childbirth has been somewhat lost.  Many women do not get access to all the options that a birth experience can offer.  Nor are they adequately informed about risks of interventions.  With controversy over risks of induction of labor and climbing caesarean section rates, there is new need for consumer childbirth education to be reemphasized and reinvented. The consumer cannot underestimate her power for change.  As Cynthia’s smpathetic physician mentor, Dr. Latham said during the episode, “Knowledge is power”.

Finally, I cannot fail to comment on the reoccurring theme of compassion spanning this entire series.  When the adoption case worker unsympatheticaly comments to a mother she views as abandoning her baby, “Isn’t it more a case of consequences?  So much less palatable than the actions that led to them.”  Our dear Sister Julienne responds, ” So let us be grateful that we are not faced with them and let us feel compassion for those who are.”  Yes, indeed.  Let us be grateful and let us feel compassion.

I would be interested to hear stories of how people obtained the birth experience they sought.  What type of preparation did you have to do to achieve it?



2 thoughts on “Childbirth Without Fear…and With Compassion

  1. I was disappointed in Call the Midwife’s portrayal of what kind of birth one gets in a childbirth without fear. I have had back labor with ALL FOUR of my children, and like the poor mother in this episode, the worst thing about them were the people in the room who did not believe in me or truly believe in natural birth. I kept yelling at the screen, “Put a cork in it, Sister Evangelina!!” and wishing she could have just been removed from the room. What happened to such a GREAT opportunity to teach the public about this once-again discarded concepts? Were too many writers and medical folks afraid of the idea really catching on again? I fear, unfortunately, yes. I am glad, however, that the work, beliefs and teachings of Dick Grantly-Read live on in the Bradley Method. Natural, unmedicated childbirth IS possible for most women, for most low-risk pregnancies. I am living proof.

    • KLM-Thank you for your comment. I agree that having faith and being positive is so important when supporting a laboring woman. A colleauge of mine commented that she wished that it only took one birth to convert the nay-sayers back in the day. Although Sister Evangelina was truly a pain to watch, at least she came around to seeing the value of Cynthia’s methods in the end. It can be truly empowering to overcome a difficult labor. Congratulations on your successful birth experiences.

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