Saturday, June 05, 2004

Museums and Babies
A Lesson From Home Birth

Institute and Museum of the History of Science

Here is a neat website, or at least, a website that will be really neat when they get English translations of everything.  Currently, a lot of it is only in Italian.  To the left is an illustration from the section on the history of obstetrics in the 18th century.  Notice that the woman is fully clothed.  We learn that: "Until the previous century, the task of assisting women about to give birth had been traditionally entrusted to midwives. Only when the procedure seemed unusually risky did the midwife summon the surgeon, who, as a rule, lacked even the rudiments of female anatomy and of the physiology of childbearing."

When I finished medical school, I thought I knew a lot about gestation and delivery.  I did not.  Although the University of Michigan Medical School does have illustrations that are more informative than the one above, and I had actual experience delivering babies, I was in my internship (the year after  medical school) when I really learned about the subject.  And it wasn't in a hospital or a formal classroom.  I attended childbirth preparation classes, using the Bradley method  (also see this blog reference.)  The Bradley method is somewhat different than Lamaze, being more comprehensive.  Ther are 12 classes in all, plus homework.  The classes ended just in time for the big event.

My son was born right next to the piano.  Nobody was playing it, but I thought it was a nice touch to have it there.  Since it was an elective home birth, we had some options that are not available in most hospitals.  The point, though, is that it was community-based childbirth education, plus my own experience starting a family, that taught me about labor and delivery.  In fact, it still amazes me when I look back and think about how little practical information was taught about the subject in medical school. 

Yes, the Museum exhibit about the history of obstetrics is quaint, and it is amusing to think about how rudimentary medical education was in the 1700's; but it is important to realize that we still have a long way to go.  The advances to come will mostly be scientifically-based, but that is never going to be the whole story.  We must seek the right balance between folk wisdom and medical science.