Twilight Sleep & Childbirth and Feminism

So, the most famous healthcare blogger in town and I went to see Ricki Lake’s documentary “The Business of Being Born.”  It was awesome and made midwives seem like the most cool women on the face of the planet.  We got to watch a lot of natural childbirths, which, for those of you unfamiliar with childbirth, seems to require a lot of walking around, grunting, squatting, and naked men rubbing your back and holding you while you scream.

Now, normally, I’m all for naked men, but I have to say–naked man time is supposed to be fun time.  If there’s any chance I might need you to say “Hey, wait, now’s the time for us to get to the hospital, immediately!” I don’t want to have to wait around while you play “Where’s my underwear?”

When I’m having a natural birth, you have your jacket on and your car keys in one hand.  You can rub my back with the other hand and I will feel much more secure leaning against you in the birthing tub if I can see that your shoes are on in case any sprinting to the sidwalk to motion the paramedics in needs to be done.

But, other than the fathers’ strange propensity to take off their clothes, watching women give birth in their own homes was just amazing.  This one woman was like “grunt” “groan” “wiggle wiggle wiggle” and then “grunt” and out popped her baby.  Another woman was all just crouching on the kitchen floor, also grunting when, flop, out came her baby right on the kitchen floor.  Amazing.

But that’s not what I want to talk to you about.  Instead, I want to talk about Twilight Sleep, which is how many of our mothers were born and maybe even some of us.  I did not know anything about this.  I really thought it was what it sounded like, a light sedation that kept you kind of woozy and pain free while your husband was out in the waiting room passing out cigars and you both waited for the doctor to bring you the news that the baby had been born.  And I assumed it feel out of favor because the women couldn’t help push or something.


America, during twilight sleep, women went bat-shit crazy from the drugs and the pain.  They hurt their heads (and so women’s heads were wrapped in large gauzy Q-tip looking arrangements).  They thrashed around and tried to claw at the doctors and so they were strapped to their gurneys, sometimes for days, in their own piss and shit.

Twilight sleep didn’t supress pain; it suppressed the memory of pain.  So the doctors could just do whatever and the women would not remember it and since it was ‘indecent’ for new fathers to be there, there was no one with the woman to advocate for her.  Plus, and this is the part that just creeps me out, they used lamb’s wool on the restraints because it didn’t leave bruises and so the husbands stopped seeing bruises and stopped asking questions about what was being done to their wives.

The whole thing makes me want to puke.  Here are women being tortured and given a drug so they can’t recall it and the people most likely to protect them–their husbands–aren’t allowed in the birthing process so that they don’t cause trouble.

On the ride home, Rachel and I were talking about why childbirth isn’t more of a feminist issue.  In the movie, they talked about how we have almost third-world levels of mother and infant mortality and how that’s directly tied to how we do birth in this country, the medicines that are administered during labor, and the rush to c-section a woman just because she’s not progressing fast enough to suit the doctor.

I think it’s tough.  It is a feminist issue, of course.  Women getting dicked around by the system is always a feminist issue.

But it’s a fine line.  Individual women do a lot of things for a lot of reasons and, even if we know that most c-sections are medically unnecessary, we have to be careful not to judge women who’ve had them.  They were making the best choice they could as to what was best for them and their babies with the information that they had.

But we need to reduce the number of c-sections and the number of chemically aided births in this country, because we know those kill women and babies.

We need birthing processes that, regardless of whether they take place in the home or the hospital, respect women’s right to control what happens to our bodies.

That was another thing that bothered me about one of the doctors.  He never referred to the obviously distressed and scared women in front of him by her name.  He kept calling her “mommy.”  I swear, I don’t understand how she didn’t just kick him in the face.  Here she was trying to get information about what was happening to her (they were taking her in for a c-section, but it was unclear–apparently even to her–why) and he’s all “Now Mommy just needs to calm down.”

It’d be interesting to go back and watch the movie with that in mind, because my impression is that the “good” medical professionals all called women by their names and the “problem” professionals were all “mommy” or “the patient.”

Anyway, the whole thing with the twilight sleep just bothers me to no end.  It’s like here you have the perfect example of how the System (coughPatriarchycough) hurts folks.  You have midwives, who’ve been helping women birth babies for generations, kicked to the side because they’re supposedly stupid and superstitious and the doctors in the hospitals know best.  And women go to these doctors and are given drugs and strapped to gurneys like they’re having psychotic breaks, because, you know, women are teh crazy anyway and it’s easier for the doctor.  And the people who would know that something wasn’t right–husbands and other family members–are kept out of the process because “men just can’t handle it” or “it’s improper for you to be in there.”

How convenient.


49 thoughts on “Twilight Sleep & Childbirth and Feminism

  1. B, I’ve been trying to find a way to articulate exactly why it should be more of a feminist issue, and you just went and summed it up in the most concise, straightforward way possible – “Women getting dicked around by the system is always a feminist issue.”

    The twilight sleep business was shocking to me. I’ve read about it, and thought I understood, but seeing the video of what was happening to these women was shocking in a way that I wasn’t prepared for.

  2. I’ve been wanting to see that movie for a while. Childbirth should be more of an issue. Women should be allowed to give birth in ways that are safe and comfortable for them. And they shouldn’t be trained to fear it.

    I’m just finishing up a book called “Birth” by Tina Cassidy. It covers the history of childbirth, more or less from the time the men took over. Women didn’t give birth in hospitals until the 19th Century. Up until then, they gathered their women and gave birth at home. But when men started going into the business of delivering babies, they dismissed midwives and turned birth from something normal into a disease. The whole book is both fascinating and infuriating. As the mother of a 13-month old, I was amazed and a little ashamed of how little I knew and how little I’d thought about the process. And how much I just turned over to the doctors. I also asked my grandmother about my dad and uncle’s births — she only remembers one of them.

    It’s a little sad to compare that to the fact that I remember everything about mine. And makes my mom’s enthusiasm for my sister’s home birth, after 4 hospital deliveries in the 70s, all the more understandable.

    The book has a whole chapter on Twilight Sleep (and it was used for a LONG time). Plus stuff on pain relief and birthing chairs and other tool. The origins of the c-section, the epidural, the natural childbirth movement, all of these things. How we shifted from a natural process that was tough to a medical condition to be feared. The idea that today’s women aren’t strong enough to deal with the pain of having a baby.

    One of the things I’m still mulling over is this idea that
    men must be in the room. Superficially it’s easy to say — damn right my man has to be in there. Men weren’t in the room for centuries — it’s only been the last few decades that we’ve let them in the room (that was Dr. Bradley’s doing). Anyhow, the point is really that when we moved to medical births, the mothers lost the people that cared about them — their own mothers, trusted sisters, midwives, etc. The gender of the person supporting you doesn’t matter. It’s that your people are there supporting you. Doesn’t matter if it’s your women or your man (for the record, I could not imagine not having LE in the room). Suffice to say, for the next kid, I’m grabbing LE and I’m gathering my women!

    There were dozens of times where I snorted in disbelief and anger while reading the book. I could ramble on but you should read it.

  3. A couple of other good books on the topic – Born in the USA by Marsden Wagner (B, he was in the film), and Pushed by Jennifer Block. I want to talk about this for a while at my place, so maybe I’ll put together a list of some of the things I’ve been reading that have been really eye-opening.

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  5. glad to hear it’s going to be out on netflix; i knew there was no way i could get down to see it here but am dying to see it.

    as i get older i truly question if i even want to have children, but i still mull over the ins and outs of the birth process.

    for myself, i am beginning to doubt that i would want my husband there.

  6. But we need to reduce the number of c-sections and the number of chemically aided births in this country, because we know those kill women and babies.

    I have a couple of thoughts on this. First of all, I agree 100% that we need to reduce the number of c-sections for convenience in this country. My c-section was out of necessity because my child’s head was too big for the size of my birth canal and, after 14 hours of labor, her heartbeat was beginning to show the affects of the stress of trying to be born. However, I have heard of doctors who have scheduled c-sections around their golf game or whatever. My recovery from the c-section was pure, unadulterated Hell. I ended up with multiple infections and blood clots, etc., and my body has never been the same. Some women can heal faster than others, and that should be a consideration, as well.

    The chemically-aided part, I am presuming you are referring to the use of Pitocin to bring on labor. However, if you are referring to the use of the epidural to stop the pain, that would be where we’d part ways. I believe that anything that can be given to ease a woman’s pain should be administered with enthusiasm! lol I had an epidural and for some reason (I’m a mutant) it didn’t take in my back. I can only imagine the pain had it not taken at all. Again, some women have higher pain thresholds, and that should also be taken into consideration.

    Lastly, about the Twilight Sleep, my mother was put through that process when she had both my brother and I. It must’ve been very common in the 60s. I had no idea (and I’ll bet my mother didn’t either) that they restrained the mother, etc. That’s torture! To add to the equation, how about what it can do to the baby as well? If the mom isn’t coherent enough to push well, they have to use forceps to pull the baby out…which is what they did with me. They obviously were too rough, and to this day, I have a gash in bone right under my eye (the zygomatic bone) and a small scar there (you can see it if you look close enough, especially when I don’t have makeup). I imagine he could’ve taken my left eye out had he not grabbed low enough.

    Aunt B. and Rachel, keep the information coming. This is good stuff.

  7. Ginger, just thinking about your comment. I am not familiar with the particulars of your birth, but I do want to say that docs often seriously underestimate the ability of a baby to get through a pelvis, and the induction and epidural can contribute to a perception of fetal distress that you mention. While it might not have been the case for you, a lot of women are told those things by OBs when it may not really be true. Inductions also make the epidural more needed, because they often cause women to be in considerably more pain. Again, I’m not criticizing anything that happened during *your* experience, and I don’t think during birth is a time when women should have to be fighting every thing. I simply wanted to use your comment as a jumping off point to say that many of the things women are told as reasons they have to have c-sections are the result of unnecessary interventions and just about every other factor except the medical evidence. With some hospitals having c-section rates near 50%, I simply can’t believe that nearly half of women are too biologically defective to give birth. I really hope you don’t take this comment as about you specifically – as B notes, it’s difficult to advocate for making things better without making women feel criticized for what happened to them.

  8. Also, Ginger, thanks for sharing that bit about your mother and twilight sleep. It seems to have been common for much longer than I originally thought.

  9. Rachel, right, exactly. It’s that fine line between wanted to talk about and respect what happens to women without making women feel under attack.

    I just think that what we need to do, ahead of time, is help women understand what they’ll go through and what choices they have when they reach certain points. I mean, who can blame women for wanting pain killers? But a woman should know when the best time to receive them are and what the pros and cons of having them are.

    Because, yeah, some women might be all “I need nothing. I am She-Ra!” and others might be all “Drug me up now!” and either choice, if made with good information and with everyone’s health in mind.

    But I know a lot of women who didn’t know they could refuse an epidural or other drugs. On the other hand, I know women who didn’t know they had to decide by a certain point if they wanted an epidural and had to go through the process without because they asked too late.

    Again, it’s about trying to ensure that women are the ones in charge of their own births and that they’re comfortable with that.

  10. Rachel, right, exactly. It’s that fine line between wanted to talk about and respect what happens to women without making women feel under attack.

    I just think that what we need to do, ahead of time, is help women understand what they’ll go through and what choices they have when they reach certain points. I mean, who can blame women for wanting pain killers? But a woman should know when the best time to receive them are and what the pros and cons of having them are.

    Because, yeah, some women might be all “I need nothing. I am She-Ra!” and others might be all “Drug me up now!” and either choice, if made with good information and with everyone’s health in mind.

    But I know a lot of women who didn’t know they could refuse an epidural or other drugs. On the other hand, I know women who didn’t know they had to decide by a certain point if they wanted an epidural and had to go through the process without because they asked too late.

    Again, it’s about trying to ensure that women are the ones in charge of their own births and that they’re comfortable with that.

  11. Noooo, I don’ t take that as a criticism at all. There are situations where an induction may be warranted (i.e., I was having tachycardia and had to get the extra strain off of my heart and there are cases of preeclampsia, toxima, etc.) but it’s obvious that with a c-section rate of over 50% that it is being abused. I totally believe those cases are for the doctor’s or hospital’s convenience rather than the well-being of the mother, and that is a travesty. I mean, I can’t think of much more of a cruelty than taking advantage of a woman by slicing her open just for a doctor or hospital’s schedule.

    As for having pain relief, my body has experienced enough excruciating pain in my life for 5 men, probably. Pain to where I was reduced to begging for pain medicine (after my hysterectomy)…on top of the physical agony, it was humiliating. That’s why I believe in giving a woman her options for pain relief if she wants it without being criticized by the “earth mothers” or those who are blessed enough to have high pain thresholds.

    We definitely must work toward ensuring that the advances in medicine are working for us and not against us. I went over to the website for “The Business of Being Born” and watched the trailer. Kudos to Ricki Lake for using her talents in such a positive way.

  12. I had a great team of nurse-midwives that worked out of the local university medical center. They were committed to my health and the health of my baby — it was a nice compromise for me between a home delivery (our first choice) and the fully medicalized birth (my parents and in-laws harped and nagged for this for nine months). I was fully informed and included in all the decisions on the way to and during birth — I thought they did a great job of conveying that I owned my own body and had the sense to make my own decisions. I didn’t need painkillers (turns out that I am a freak of nature and didn’t find birth all that painful), but I was told about them, offered them, and not given any pressure or stinkeye one way or another. And when my midwife told me that I needed Pitocin to speed delivery and spare Kid fetal stress, I trusted her and went with it even though I was opposed to being hooked up to tubes and monitors.

    My point — I do have one this time — is that midwives and hospitals don’t need to be conceptualized as opposites. When midwives are integrated into the obstetrical care a hospital provides, it can be really good for the women who want a less alienated approach to prenatal healthcare. And it’s less costly.

  13. Gosh, yeah. I have a friend who’s a nurse-midwife, has worked in a maternity ward in a mid-sized hospital and also at what I guess you’d call a birthing home (a self-contained obstetrical unit with a separate location). And she occasionally attends at home births. She says that so long as the mothers and their spouses/families know what to expect, it’s all good.

    Let’s all just give three cheers for antisepsis — without it, childbirth, puerperal fever, and related infections would still be the leading cause of death for women.

  14. First, I’m really happy that my comment was taken in the spirit in which it was intended.

    “That’s why I believe in giving a woman her options for pain relief if she wants it without being criticized by the “earth mothers” or those who are blessed enough to have high pain thresholds.” – One thing that struck me during the film last night was that the women having home births, and their midwives, and the women advocates portrayted, weren’t some stereotypical crunchy earth mother women. That description certainly doesn’t leap to mind when thinking of Ricki Lake. I think that was one of it strengths – that it depicted these women as women who could be your friend, your neighbor. You would never look at them and think, “that’s one of those crazy midwives.”

    I think the midwives vs. hospitals thing varies widely from place to place. In some facilities, the midwives don’t have ultimate power, they are still beholden to an OB and a hospital that wants to turn over beds. In others, as bridgett and nm mention, there is a much more progressive approach. Women can’t assume a hospital birth will be a certain way, but they also can’t automatically assume a midwife in a hospital is necessarily going to protect them from interventions, without doing the proper question-asking.

  15. Boys allowed in here? I was there too. And I could have sworn I heard someone call my name on the way out…. wasn’t you was it?

    I’m steeped in this whole thing birthing controversy right now. I’m going to post my own thoughts as soon as I get around to writing them. But the babies room has to be painted first.

    I will say this though… I’m a little sore at midwives at the moment. It was hella bad for morale when they turned us away.

  16. First, I’m really happy that my comment was taken in the spirit in which it was intended.

    Rachel, when I think of you, I think of a woman with a “sweet spirit” not somebody who would be critical (unless warranted) especially in such a personal issue. That’s why I knew the spirit in which you intended it. Plus, I know that it’s imperative to get the word out that obstetrics has become a business…and just because you are told by a physician that you need a procedure doesn’t mean that it’s medically necessary. Thank goodness for women like you who are using their talents to do so much good for so many women.

  17. I have given birth three times. I was given pitocin each
    delivery I had. The first two times, I had an epidural. The first birth I still could feel it although not like I would’ve had I not had it. Gosh, I was 22 when I gave birth the first time. Goodness. The second birth, they refueld the epidural right before I delivered. I felt nothing. It was fabulous. I recovered quickly from both. (Being in my early 20’s was probably an advantage) The last time, I gave birth to a 9 lb 7 1/2 oz 22 inch baby without an epidural. It just happened that way. I didn’t plan on that at all.

    I would have given anything to have twilight sleep or to have been totally unconscious. It was hell. Horrendous. Traumatic. I tore all the way up to my urethra. I still believe I was in some sort of state of shock for a couple days afterwards. If I were to ever get pregnant again (if that does happen, I will shoot myself) I would search high and low for a doctor who would either give me a C-section or knock me flat out.

    My first two births were really a piece of cake compared to the last one. Yeah, I was induced at 38 weeks because I had PIH. If that retard doctor would’ve listened to me and induced me at 38 weeks, my third birth would’ve been a lot easier on me and on my kid. His heartrate dropped at the end and he was born with a fever. He was cared for in the hospital by a neonatal specialist (which I didn’t even realize until later because I was mentally somewhere else) . When I got him home, that baby had been stuck all over his body, from his head to his toe for blood.

    There is part of me that can’t help but wonder if his traumatic, difficult birth played any sort of role in his autism. They have no clue what causes autism. Lots of theories and maybes, but, they don’t know. I don’t either but I really can’t help but think about the beginning and wonder. It probably didn’t, but, I don’t know.

    Chemically aided births are sometimes necessary. There are risks with any birth. Even with a midwife or completely natural birth, with the whole family tree watching, bringing forth in a pool, you can still hemorrage and have other complications.

    I’m not an expert on this stuff, but, I would guess less women and babies die now than they did once upon a time thanks to medical assistance. Had my father’s first wife had access to ultrasound or induction or known that she had Placenta Previa back in 1950, perhaps I would have a nearly 60 year old half sister now. Nowadays, they would probably schedule a C-section ahead of time. My sister died at birth.

    All three of my hospital births, I never once was treated like some sort of idiot who was at the mercy of the medical staff. Other than Dr. Doofus’ refusal to let me have the epidural earlier, he and the doctor that delivered the other two, treated me with respect, as did the nurses who did the majority of the work. (They are probably still half deaf cause of me screaming to this day)

    I think it’s wonderful that we do live in a time now that you can decide pretty much how you want to go about it. If you want to have a baby at home, you can. I can see why some choose that option and that’s fabulous for those who do.

    Alls I know is that I better not end up in that condition again.

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  19. My son, who is now 20, was born at home with a nurse-midwife. She also did all my prenatal care out of an office in her home. The only time an MD was involved was on my last prenatal visit, when she had to send me to her MD colleague so he could give me the perfunctory warning about the dangers of home birth required by law. I thanked him, turned down his offer to take over my maternity care, went home and prepared the spare bedroom by putting two sets of sheets on the bed with a disposable shower curtain between them and let the games begin!

    My son’s birth was slightly complicated and his heart rate had slowed because his umbilical cord was wrapped around his chest. In a hospital, that would have meant an emergency c-section. In my bedroom, that meant a whole lot of lube on Janet’s forearm, some dextrous manipulation in a tight space, and the arrival of a happy, healthy baby forthwith. He never cried. He arrived with his eyes wide open, looking around, breathing like a champ, and he didn’t utter his first cry until Janet took him to the bathroom to wash his hair.

    He was born at 5:00am, and thirty minutes after he arrived I was tucked in fresh sheets … (Janet had stripped off the soiled ones, and disposed of the shower curtain while I was in a warm shower ), and my then-husband was in the kitchen whipping up biscuits and gravy for the friends who were arriving to meet our son.

    I tell every pregnant woman I run into about my home birth experience, but so far not a single one of them has been interested. The epidural block has a tremendous amount of appeal. I laugh now, but I do remember at the “worst” of the pushing and grunting and swearing we would adopt the next time, that Janet said, “Can I get you anything?” I suggested morphine. She offered up a popsicle. Not that same thing!

    I’m thrilled that I made the choice for home birth, I loved my midwife, my son had an excellent start on life, and everyone but me kept their clothes on. :)

  20. Okay – I started the comments and then got on a plane to Europe and missed them.

    Sistasmiff: I think it’s wonderful that we do live in a time now that you can decide pretty much how you want to go about it. If you want to have a baby at home, you can. I can see why some choose that option and that’s fabulous for those who do.

    Amen! It’s not about what you choose, but that you have some say!

    I gave birth last October to Tiny, who, as loyal readers may recall, at 9.5 pounds, was anything but. Tiny was unplanned. No thinking. No ovulation tests. I got drunk and LE is very charming. I went into labor at 11:45 PM on Thursday, labored at home for a good long time, checked into the hospital at 3:00 PM on Friday, was admitted at 6:00; made it until 7:30 before the epidural (only 4 fucking centimeters and I was incoherent!) and gave birth at 6:49 AM on Saturday. The older doctor in my OB/GYN practice was on call and he was trained in forceps. Had he not been trained, I would have had a c-section. Not because either of us were in distress – I couldn’t even muster up high blood pressure and Tiny was fine. But because things took FOREVER and I pushed for a long time. Younger docs would have pushed a c-section. Plus, I repeat myself, Tiny was not so tiny. Forceps, in this case, prevented further medical intervention.

    But I tore. Holy f*** did I tear. When a 55 year old obstetrician, at your 6-week check up, asks “You feel alright?” And you say, “yeah, I feel pretty good.” And he says “Really? You feel okay? ” and you say “What the fuck happened down there?!” And he says “That was an awful lot of stitches.” Let’s just say you assume the worst.

    Here’s what I know: around 6:40 am, I’d been pushing for well over 2 hours. And I was DONE. D-O-N-E. I started breathing all funny and they were gonna have to cut him out of me. And the doc made everybody stop. Told me to close my eyes. Said it was fine. Stop. I could do this. We should all just stop for second and catch our breaths (honestly, I have no idea what he actually said, but what I remember is he made things slow down so I could catch up). Made everyone focus on me, what I needed do, take a breath. And a few minutes later the swamp creature was out and on my belly. And he was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen and the most handsome.

    And the nurses! My god, I wanted to kiss every one of them. The Chinese woman who called Tiny “Shiny”; the blonde who helped me with the breast pads, and Nurse Rachel, who pressed LE into service to help me push and told me that this baby was going to be born on her shift (which, coincidentally, ended at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday). These women were amazing. AMAZING.

    We had a very good experience. I remember feeling scared but safe. And I have an unbelievably beautiful baby. Like so many women, I’m a product of my era — I wasn’t brave enough to give birth at home, but I had some control over the experience. I do wish I’d had a midwife or a doula though.

    Maybe I’m just drunk (or high, I am in Amsterdam after all) but we are strong enough. We can handle it. It’s not easy but all things are possible. It’s not that I was meant to be a mother, or always knew I wanted to be a mother or anything like that but nature did take over. And I had trained professionals who helped. And it made me understand, truly, that you shouldn’t ever have to do this unless you want to.

    Aunt B — I’m asking you officially — would you do me the honor of being in the room for Tiny II? I’m going to gather my women — and I would love for you to be there.

  21. I think it’s wonderful women have the option of getting an epidural, and that all who want them should be able to have them. Epidurals can also help women get vaginal births in many cases, for example allowing women to sleep when they are too exhausted from labor to finish without sleeping first.

    But many don’t realize the potential negatives of an epidural:

    *Moving around and changing positions frequently is the best way to prevent the baby from getting stuck in a bad position and going into distress. An epidural prevents a woman from safely using her legs for support and basically means she’s flat on her back for the rest of the labor.

    *Speaking of lying on your back, that position makes the birth canal 20% smaller than upright positions (squatting, all fours, birth chair, etc., etc.). So larger babies that could be vaginally delivered in a mobile woman have to be taken by c-section if the woman has an epidural.

    *Epidurals generally inject two different drugs into the woman’s back. One acts locally only. The other, given sufficient time, is systemic. Meaning women who have epidurals for significant lengths of time before giving birth are more likely to have sleepy babies, which can cause many issues when trying to get started with breastfeeding.

    *The injection site for an epidural may continue to be painful if touched for many years after the woman gives birth.

    *I went through a phase where I read several hundred birth stories, and I estimate that (out of my non-random sample from message boards) one out of three women who gets an epidural either has a partial failure (only a portion of her body experiences pain relief) or the epidural completely doesn’t take (and doctors typically do not believe the women when they claim the epidural doesn’t take, delaying a second try for many hours).

    Now, obviously there are benefits to an epidural that will outweigh these negatives. And most of the negatives apply much less if the epidural is only in for a short time. But it would be nice if more women were aware of the negatives before choosing an epidural, so they could make a more informed choice.

  22. fwiw, I was fully aware of the risks vs. benefits in the use of the epidural. For me, it was the right choice, as I was having a lot of heart problems prior to labor.

    There are positives and negatives to every decision we make in life. The more education on the choices we have, the better.

  23. Holy shit! Of course, Shill. Of course.

    Shoot, I’m going to start sending you good liquor now, since the whole internet now knows the recipe for babies in the Shill household.

    You’re in Amsterdam? Are you secretly visiting the Contrary Libertarian?!

  24. I’m fairly certain our recipe isn’t trademarked. Ha!

    Yeah, Amsterdam. Legitimate work; not visiting the Contrarian. I forgot he was here.

  25. Hi there.
    i just wanted to say that i do not recall any naked fathers in this video. lol
    shirtless yes.
    totally naked, no.
    there were naked moms, but as a mother who has given birth both in hospital and out all i have to say about that is…..
    you give birth naturally and see if you really wanna have anything on your body.
    as for naked men…… for my second birth i was in a birth pool and my man was in with me. he wore swim trunks…however….
    had he been completely naked i doubt i would have noticed or given a holy hell.
    once your into transition (or some woman even active labor) without meds and left to your own mental tools and defenses, everything else outside and around you is merely background noise.

    i guess i will also throw in here, for anyone curious, my first was a hospital birth, my second a midwife non-hospital, and my 3rd, without a doubt (shes due in late june) will be again with a midwife. the difference in the experience is hard to put into words, but trying simply…..
    in one sense birth “happens to you”……
    in the other sense you “give birth”.

  26. I work for a research group into maternity care issues and our primary researcher is always askign this very question: Why isn’t childbirth more of a feminist issue right now? Why aren’t women marching on the capitol calling for better regulatory controls on CSection on demand, and better support of natural methods for low-risk moms – like VBAC for moms who’ve had CSections before?

    I wish I’d found your comment long ago, but I hope you will continue talking about childbirth as a feminist issue – it is. In our Research Group we are firmly of the opinion that nothign will change in maternity care without the action of women concerned about the quality of care they are receiving, and the level of informed consent they have when they make choices about their delivery.

  27. my mother was given Twilight back in 1949 when I was born. From older sister, I know Mom was in bad shape,,,,came home in an ambulance, in bed for weeks. and that my cord was around my neck at birth. I dont blame my mother,,, but I always felt that she lacked love for me,,, she only gave me what was necessary, and I think my sister feels the same way. Reading about Twilight has opened my eyes ,, I know it wasn’t her fault, but I still miss the love that should have been there. Dad tried to give me all I needed, but I missed it from Mother. It still is a problem for me when I see the picure of mom holding me as a baby, how bad she looked, rung out, blank eyed, just holding me. I have trouble bonding with women,

  28. Re Twilight Sleep: I had my son, born in 1971, under Twilight Sleep. It was lovely.
    I went to sleep pregnant, woke up, and presto chango, there’s the baby.
    There is absloutely no need to suffer. Screaming and panting does not make you a better mother.

  29. (Screaming and panting does not make you a better mother (although I see nothing wrong with them or being fully present during one of the most important events in a familys’ life) but drugs in a mother’s/baby’s body may have consequences-best to avoid them or remove them homeopathically later.)
    Reviewing twilight sleep/birth and came upon this site.
    My Mom had twilight sleep in 1958(me) and 1951 in NJ. She never mentioned it being difficult or being restrained. She did mention my sister needing forceps. I have been experiencing pain in my ear and jaw and realized the forceps were used on me and my body has held the memory. I do know our births carry a theme that runs through our lives and for those of us who are sensitive the physical and emotional pain is there unless we heal it. It is the only way we can become the enlightened beings we were born to be. Nothing is right or wrong in our experience but there to learn from. We can heal it all. Thanks to all who have shared thier information, it has helped tremendously.

  30. I had Twilight sleep for my labor and birth of my daughter for a variety of reasons, which you probably would never understand or agree with, but let me tell you, it was my decision and a good decision and the only one that I could have faced labor with. My obstetrician was very kind, protective and understanding and never left me.

    You people with your dictatorial attitudes and agendas are just as oppressive as the people you denegrate. You’re sooo full of it

  31. Virginia, you are also full of shit. First, I do support your choice to do whatever the hell you want with your body. But please, don’t expect me to believe that you said “Oh, doctor, please, give me a drug that will not numb my pain at all, but will cause me to be out of my mind for days, and that will be the best way for me to get through childbirth. I’d especially love it if you lied to me about what was going on and forbid my husband or family from seeing me because I know you don’t want them to be freaked the fuck out by what I’m going through.”

    Or wait, was that not what happened?

    Did, maybe, he anesthetize you in a humane way?

    Are we maybe not talking about the same thing at all, but you just had to find some reason to feel pissy and hurt and indicted so you could lash out?

    Because, believe me, “oppressive” is not knowing demanding to know what’s happening to you and being allowed to be the one who gets to make the final decision about it.

    I’m sure there are women who think their choice to stay with their abusive spouse should be celebrated because they’re standing up to the oppressive people who want them to leave.

    But they are wrong, too.

  32. i know you posted this ages ago, but i just found the post after searching for twilight sleep. thought you might find this old text interesting, from 1915: The truth about Twilight Sleep by Mrs. Hanna Roin Ver Beck, available in full text on google books. A few excerpts just from the final chapters that I found to be amazing after seeing the videos on the business of being born:

    my favorite:
    “He finds that this method in private practise enables one to avoid to a considerable extent the distress and anxiety to the relatives caused by the outcries of the sufferer ”

    “For the best results it requires a little experience in dosage but properly employed it is capable of saving the practitioner many a worrying day and weary night and the patient much exhausting restlessness and some operative deliveries ”

    “The reason their record is confined to one hundred cases is that they only administered scopolamin morphin when the labor ward was quiet and comparatively empty and therefore stricter attention could be paid to both mother and child ” (((or maybe to prevent having to answer what the screaming and hollering is all about)))

    “We consider the purpose of the drug fulfilled if the patient sleeps between the pains waking up with more or less demonstration during the height of the contraction and again falling to sleep when the pain is over’ This is what Gauss would call an ideal Dam merschlaf ” (((funny how doctors want their laboring patients to be quiet and stay still in bed even to this day, when our bodies are obviously telling us to do otherwise for a good reason)))

    the honorable Mrs. Ver Beck sums up her text with this lovely statement:
    “There is positively no excuse for any woman in Great Britain to suffer longer in childbirth when she can go to doctors of the highest professional standing and obtain the relief of Twilight Sleep ”

    sad, sad, sad.

  33. Pingback: The Birth House « Random Synapses

  34. Sorry, but I saw this post and I couldn’t resist pointing out the amount of bias in regards to Twilight Sleep. Do you know anything about how it got started in America?

    The physicians tested it out around 1906 stating it was too dangerous for the mother and child. Several years articles were published in twilight sleep magazines saying things like
    “…women alone can bring Freiburg methods into American obstetrical practice”
    “If you women want it you will have to fight for it, for the mass of doctors are opposed to it.”\
    The WOMEN fought for it, they wanted it. They formed an organization called the National Twilight Sleep Foundation.
    “The NTSA had three major goals: To sponsor a lecture series publicizing the technique, to circulate pamphlets advocating the twilight sleep, and to agitate for a teaching hospital designed specifically for twilight sleep.”
    Women physicians set up twilight sleep clinics. The technique may not have been the best method of a painless childbirth, but the physicians only gave the women what they were asking for in the first place.

  35. So… really. Your argument is that, if a group of women get together and agitate for something horrible that doctors KNOW is wrong and they decide to go ahead and do it anyway, future generations of women have no reason to be horrified?

    Because I have to tell you, if what you’re saying is true–that doctors knew twilight sleep was a nightmarish farce of a medical procedure and they went along with it and then because experts at hiding the horror from husbands and families (and even the women themselves), that doesn’t make me sympathetic for the doctors.

    That makes them sound more monstrous.

  36. Aunt B, you are inventing and revising history. The procedure was viewed as safe in Europe where it was invented. Convincing doctors in America required women advocating for themselves that they *deserved* pain relief in child birth. People (husbands and mothers included!) were well aware of what took place in labor wards. Doctors and the many, many female nurses weren’t under some kind of gag order. The fact of the matter is that women wanted pain relief. Thank god it’s not longer in use today, however making up BS about it doesn’t do anyone any good.

    As for the US having ‘third world mortality rates’ that is also just plain BS. First of all, infant mortality is a measure of pediatric care not maternity care. Perinatal mortality is the proper measure as it counts infants that die from 0-28 days of life, not 0-1 year. When perinatal mortality is used the US surpasses not only all developing countries, but most first world countries as well. Add to it that the US counts premature births where other countries list premature babies that die shortly after birth as ‘still births’ and the US’s stats are even better.

    The US has lots of room for improvement in L&D units. I suggest you examine and advocate for those changes rather than spreading misinformation and BS.

  37. I think you’d better wait another ten years before you start trying to rewrite history. Not all of the women who were put through twilight sleep are dead yet and they still speak for themselves about whether they were told what happened to them (they were, by and large, not), about whether they felt they could refuse it (they, by and large, did not), and whether they’re happy to have been through it or just resigned.

    You can come back and act like a patronizing asshole who wants to tell me what I should worry my pretty little head about then.

    But as long as women who went through it can still speak for themselves, I’ll believe them, instead of the fairytale you’re spinning.

    As for your contention that we don’t have third world infant mortality rates, I invite you to visit Memphis or to look into some of the stories the Commercial-Appeal has done.

    I know the suffering of those families also doesn’t count because it goes against your little fairytale version of women’s history, but you sure could use a large dose of reality.

  38. Ah, so it is our statisticians that are wanting…the mothers of those dead babies will be happy to learn their tragedy was merely a bookkeeping error.

    Yes, that was Amy Hairston’s argument in her 1996 article in the Journal of Women’s History, building upon Walzer Leavitt’s research in Signs in 1980. However, you are overstating the degree of consensus about the procedure. There was considerable debate at the time about whether it was safe (with well-accepted research by European doctors positing a higher risk of infection as well as problems with maternal attachment). Moreover, there is more than one interpretation of why twilight sleep was adopted in the US besides the idea that women demanded pain relief and finally got it. I suggest that looking at who got access to it first in the interwar period is a good clue to why it was adopted. Eugenicists and conservative authors who worried that the “right sort” of women were avoiding having children urged the adoption of twilight sleep, in essence arguing that if white elite women could be convinced that they would not suffer, they could win the WASP war. The National Twilight Sleep Foundation (alluded to above) was an elite group of conservative club women; their literature has a decidely eugenical cast to it. And due to their race and class based arguments, twilight sleep was not widely used for the deliveries of black women or white poor women (or rural women either, for that matter) until after WWII. So, I guess it didn’t really matter that THOSE women also ardently wanted pain relief, huh?

    You’ve come into a discussion that’s over four years old with an assload of attitude and a little bit of knowledge. There are many people here who manage to disagree without being unpleasant; you could learn from them.

  39. Thanks, Bridgett. I had some carry-over rage from Roy Herron and wasn’t nearly as eloquent as you. Plus, the class-based analysis hadn’t occurred to me.

  40. Wow. Thanks so much for posting this, B! I seriously want to see this movie now! And I’ve enjoyed the discussion with Rachel (love her blog), Coble, et al.

    My mother had “twilight sleep” when my sister was born in 1963. She said the doctor didn’t give her any choice in the matter. The drugs they used apparently crossed the placenta and suppressed my sister’s breathing. When she was born, she was so sluggish that they had trouble getting her to take her first breath. My mother apparently had some awareness of what was going on or they told her about it later. She was so upset that by the time I came along a couple of years later, she specifically refused the drugs. They reluctantly told her about this new thing called “an epidural,” that they were willing to try on her since she was a non-compliant patient regarding the drugs.

    My mom says she was awake and aware throughout my birth and clearly remembers the first time she laid eyes on me. I also came through it all healthy and alert. The only negative effect she experienced from the epidural was a massive headache after. Apparently nobody told her not to sit up right away, something they are better about warning patients about now.

    My mom has also often complained about the patronizing attitudes of doctors in those days. They really didn’t think women were very smart or capable of making their own decisions. I hope things have changed for the better these days, but I’m not so sure.

    I myself have never given birth and it looks like I never will. And frankly, I’m glad because the more I learn about the process, the more it skeeves me out.

    BTW, Jocelyn, I have a friend who says she was pressured into having a VBAC after a caesarian and it was the worst experience of her life. For some reason they couldn’t do an epidural and she was forced to go through labor without any pain relief and very nearly suffered a uterine rupture. So maybe VBACs after caesarians are not such a great idea after all.

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