Mothers

The other side of the coin: Doctors against male midwifery.

Against the position of the newfound male midwifery, we find doctors, fathers, and husbands that were very against this new medicine and voiced their concerns rather loudly. Here we see another excerpt from Lying-In:

“Many if those modest looking doctors, inflamed with the thoughts of well-shaped bodies of the women they have delivered, handled, hung over for hours, secretly glorying in the privilege, have to their patients, as priests to penitents, pressed for accommodation, and driven to adultery and madness where they were thought most innocently occupied. In one case, I was well assured that a physician in Charleston, infuriated with the sight of a woman he had just delivered, leaped into her bed before she was restored to a state of nature.”

This from Dr. Thomas Ewell of Virginia who was  regular physician himself. He also believed the the practice of men being called upon to examine women was an “imposition of the credulity of women” and an attack against chastity. In this belief just the mere thought was as bad as the actual deed: “Every situation which causes an internal blush is a real prostitution”. It is very clear to see that the main concern of these men was for the modesty of women, and the upholding of propriety. Another “well known case,” is such as that of the wife of a Congressman from South Carolina who was followed everywhere by her doctor. The doctor finally “attained his game” only to be killed by the wife. Now these are rare occurring instances, and my sharing them is not to portray all male midwives as “bad”. But it is worth pointing out that male midwifery was not without some flaws and complications. In the 19th Century they were very under regulated and poorly educated. A nineteenth-century broadside entitled “LET EVERY MAN HAVE HIS OWN WIFE, AND EVERY WOMAN HER OWN HUSBAND” pointed our that midwives had attended women for five thousand years “in a safe, and modest, and well disposed manner,” until Satan “vomited up a set of reptiles,” calling themselves midwife-doctors, who set out to tempt women once again my deceiving and flattering them. It continued:

“My blood boils in my veins, when I behold the time has come that our loving companions who are bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, our dearest treasures on earth, nearest to our hearts, must be torn from our bosoms and be delivered into the paws of these hell-deserving monsters to be handled and gratify their abominable and wanton desires, and then tale from us our hard earnings as a recompense for their behavior. Will not Sodom rise in judgement against this generation, if we sit down quietly and let these abominations reign among us?”

The broadside concluded with an appeal to midwives to awake and to take up again their God-given assignment, so that “modesty may be again heard in our land.” If only society back then had listened and those midwives HAD indeed taken up their practices. In my personal belief some of the revulsion that men had against their own sex practicing midwifery stemmed from the use of instrumental deliveries. It is widely known that female midwives very very rarely of ever would need the use of such tools in their practice, so to go from having a patient and comforting female attend their wives in birth, to the hurried and unregulated male midwife who would almost always speed up delivery with the use of medicines and painful forceps must have been a shock. It is every recorded that male midwives practiced the use of “floating forceps” to shorten labor and delivery in order to get to the next patient (not unlike some of the practices today with the use of synthetic Oxycontin and breaking the waters). The procedure involved the manual dilation of the cervix, inserting the forceps to grab the baby that will still  “floating” and not fully descended and then forcefully pulling the baby out of the mother to be born. The over use of instrumental delivery also often resulted in the spread of infection and puerperal fever because of lack of sanitation.

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