I am reading this book called Birth Day and it is amazing. If you are pregnant or plan to be one day, read this book. Oh, and also: slosh through Ricki Lake’s anti-hospital book. (It is pretty bias, but it brings up some great things to ask your doctor that you otherwise would HAVE NO IDEA to ask ahead of time — especially for first-time mamas.)
Anyway, Birth Day is basically a history of child birth, which sounds more cumbersome that it is. It’s written by a pediatrician, of all things, who happens to be an incredibly talented story-teller to boot. Some men have it all.
The book details the evolution of the size of our big human skulls, and the delicate balance between having large heads full of big brains, and a pelvis that would allow us to outrun a saber-toothed tiger — or whatever it was that ate us in the beginning times.
As a compromise to getting dumber, we started evolving by being born a little earlier than maybe we should be. Once halfway out of the womb, a monkey or gorilla or whatever, for example, can assist mother by pushing itself the rest of the way out of mom’s vagina. A human baby could never do this. But eventually, we can build cars and cure diseases, so take that, monkey!
We seem to be the only species to bear this burden of brain-to-pelvis ratio, which to me, confirms some of the things I read about in the Bible. (I told you evolution can MORE FIRMLY ENTRENCH YOU in your strange religious convictions!)
The book details women’s views on childbirth pain through the span of written history, and the weird things we do to outsmart God, who apparently cursed us with big heads and not-so-big pelvises (pelvi?)
It’s always entertaining to me, and maybe this is why I’m a journalist, to take a look back on all the things we clamor about, and finding the parallels between similar clamoring nowadays. There are always the running themes of sex, power, pain and vaginas. I think this is pretty consistent across the board when society changes perspective on an issue.
Did you know that not too long ago, we used to knock our women out with chloroform until the baby was out of the womb? It used to be frowned upon because woman would, at times, have sexually explicit dreams during the process, and no self-respecting man would open his wife to the potential for such unsavory thoughts. But then the Queen Victoria, on, like, her 9th baby, was all, “Give me the g-d drugs!!” and it sort of shattered the misconception that chloroform was for prostitutes. The drug was all the rage and it killed a lot of people and babies.
Did you know that woman used to be forced to deliver on their backs because everyone said it was healthier for the baby? But really the practice originated from some King Somewhere, who wanted to watch one of his mistresses give birth, and that position provided him the best view. It’s really very bad for the baby if you labor on your back the entire time. (Think: gravity) I’m glad it’s not cool to tie women down on the beds anymore.
I’m reading now about “twilight sleep,” which started in Germany but became all the rage after an article in a ladies’ magazine in the 1910s. Basically, Twilight Sleep knocked women out with a dose of henbane (Think: Hamlet’s father’s ear) and morphine. They woke up having no recollection of how the baby beside them got out. It became so popular so fast in America (Women have eliminated the pain of childbirth and therefore are EQUAL to MEN!!! feminists cried) that no one had time to learn how to properly administer the drugs, and when they were used incorrectly, they caused terrifying delusions or death. Let’s just say that no one wanted to live next door to a Twilight Sleep Childbirth Facility.
Did you know that the uterus is capable of applying 700 psi per contraction during labor? Your average car tire is a little less than 100, as a reference.
All this and I’m barely a third of the way through the book.
I never thought about it until recently, but C-sections were a last-ditch resort to save the baby when mother was dead or dying only a few short decades ago. Nowadays, dying during childbirth is almost unheard of. I’m glad I don’t have to seriously add “prepare to meet my maker,” to the to-do list when it comes to getting ready for this child to live in our home.
I do wonder if I’ll pass the evolutionary test, or if I would survive the occasion if Tot Two would have been born in the 1900s.
It also makes me think about the Cesarean rate, which was something like 10 percent or something really low only a few years ago. And now it’s 30 percent. I’m not clear on the numbers, but I know it’s skyrocketing.
We were able to buy Maybel from a breeder who bred bulldogs so that they wouldn’t have to be surgically removed from their mothers. Maybel was born “naturally” and that was marketed as a good thing. (The big skulls, in this case, do not correlate with big brains.)
So increased cesarian rates are frowned upon when it comes to English Bulldogs. Why is it not in humans?
Also of concern: In 1940, magazines were talking about how “modern women have no tolerance for pain,” and cannot summon the balls required for childbirth. I can only imagine what they’d say about us now, considering we’ve all but sprouted epidurals from our spines. What I’m saying is: Were is the human race going next? Are we are breeding a bunch of weak-uterused pansies?
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