Birth by Tina Cassidy

Birth by Tina Cassidy

Author:Tina Cassidy
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781555846220
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Published: 2006-12-09T05:00:00+00:00


In 1910, lured by Paris and medical school, Fernand Lamaze abandoned life on a farm in the northeast of France. Within a few years, before settling on a professional specialty, he was pressed into army service during World War I. His time spent as an auxiliary physician removing bullets from thoraxes and watching bodies get nailed into white pine coffins ended abruptly when, on a summer day in 1917, a shell tore through his thigh. Lamaze married his field nurse. Back in Paris after the war ended, Lamaze’s pregnant wife labored with their first child in their apartment. Upset by her anguished cries and his impotence to help, he left her in the bedroom with the obstetrician, headed for a bar, and drank a couple of bottles of wine. The next morning, wallowing in guilt and fear, he returned home to find a healthy daughter, a sleeping wife, and a tired doctor who lectured him on how obstetrics would be worthy of Lamaze’s pursuit.

“Obstetrics never even crossed my mind,” the doctor, nearing retirement, told Lamaze in hushed tones. “It was looked upon as a backwater profession. Women’s labor was considered purely a physiologic function and without any fundamental connection to science. I took people’s word for this, until one day I attended a frail, exhausted-looking woman who was going into labor. I had to perform the delivery alone. I had no experience. Medical school had only offered us theory. But I threw myself into what was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Believe me, romantic intimacy pales in comparison to the bond an obstetrician feels with a woman in labor. You become a creator. You are given the chance to give life, to bring a human being out of the depths and into the light.”

Those words, spoken in the quiet, somewhat shabby apartment where Lamaze’s wife was lying-in, launched the career of a man who would change the course of twentieth-century obstetrics. Within ten years of his daughter’s birth, Lamaze had become one of the most respected obstetricians in Paris, no small feat in a city that lays claim to inventing the field.

Yet Lamaze was a man of contradictions, catering to a bourgeois and upper-class clientele and practicing in a hospital run by a metalworkers union. He told misogynist jokes, regularly cheated on his wife with a mistress next door who ate dinners with his family, and frequented prostitutes. Despite all that, his career seemed guided by a sense of humanity and respect for women. One night, in 1924, Lamaze was called to a woman giving birth, one month early, to a breech baby. The delivery dragged on for hours, ended successfully, and moved him deeply. The next morning Lamaze wrote in his diary: “[I] have finally lost my virginity.”

Obstetrics became his obsession. The 1930s were busy for obstetricians in France, a country intent on raising its birth rate. The government literally was handing out medals to women after they delivered.

In 1938, Lamaze first heard of Dick-Read’s practice of “childbirth without fear.


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