Midwifery Paper

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I. Long Ago and Far Away
Midwives have been part of the human experience for as long as we know."The ancient Jews called her the wise woman, just as she is known in France as the sage-femme, and in Germany, the weise frau and also Hebamme or mother's adviser, helper, or friend. The English 'midwife' is derived from midwife, or with-woman"(J.H. Aveling). The Latin term cum-mater and the Spanish and Portuguese term comadre, have the same meaning: with woman. The midwife is mentioned in the Book of Genesis, 35:17: "And when she (Rachel) was in her hard labor, the midwife said to her, 'Fear not, for now you will have another son.'" The book of Exodus, 1:20 states, "Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty." 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 had knowledge and skill in an area of life that was a mystery to most people. Since women had no access to formal education, it was widely assumed that the midwife's power must come from supernatural sources, such as an alliance with the devil. During the Middle Ages, a frenzy of witch-burning, promoted by both church and civic authorities, was responsible for the killing of up to several million women, many of whom were midwives and healers. In her book on Woman as Healer, Jeanne Achterberg describes the witch-hunts as "an evil that surpasses rational understanding. Here was, indeed, the worst aberration of humanity, and it trickled down the hierarchy of authority." Today, in much of the world, professional midwives are responsible for attending women in labor and birth. In fact, in the countries with the best pregnancy outcomes, midwives are the primary providers of care to pregnant women. However, midwives are still prosecuted and persecuted for following their vocation, although not in the extreme way that characterized the Middle Ages.{mospagebreak} II. The Beginnings of Midwifery in America

In the U.S., midwives, like physicians, practiced without specific education, standards, or regulations until the early part of the 20th century. Although detailed statistics were lacking, the evidence available showed that midwives' patients were less likely than physicians' patients to die of childbed fever or puerperal infection, the most significant cause of maternal morbidity and mortality at the time. One American midwife and healer named Martha Ballard, who practiced in Maine between 1785 and 1812, kept a diary of her life and work. On the basis of this diary, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote a portrait of Martha Ballard's life and work, A Midwife's Tale, published in 1990. Ulrich's book won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into a film. To explore more about Martha Ballard, visit www.dohistory.org, or read Ulrich's fascinating account by clicking on the title to order. To find other books about traditional midwives in America, go to the "homage to our foremothers page" on Marilyn Greene's midwifery site. In the half-century between 1770 and 1820, upper-class women in American cities started to favor "male midwives," or physicians. According to Catherine Scholten in her book, "Childbearing in American Society: 1650-1850," "the presence of male physicians in the lying-in room signaled a general change in attitudes toward childbirth. With changing conditions of urban life, new perceptions of women, and advancements in medical science, birth became increasingly viewed as a medical problem to be managed by physicians. At the same time, because medical training was restricted to men, women lost their positions as assistants at childbirth, and an event traditionally managed by a community of women became an experience shared primarily by a woman and her doctor." However, since the interest of...
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