Friday, 24 June 2011

Midwifery & how times have changed

I have been reading a fascinating series of books the past few weeks written by Jennifer Worth. They follow the work of an order of Nuns in the East End of London in the early part of the 20th Century, who acted a local district nurses and midwives for the local population. I have found it so interesting because in reality it is not that long ago these women practised, yet the circumstances of childbirth are almost unrecognisable from what is the norm today. No-one gave birth voluntarily at hospital, a woman would quite feasibly give birth to 8 or 10 children with one extreme case having birthed 24! Medical intervention was really unheard of, with the third stage of labour being allowed to occur naturally without pharmacological help. And all of this in some of the most unsanitary, overcrowded homes of the day - tenement buildings that were barely standing thanks to The Blitz or just general neglect by the buildings owners or the Councils. A family of 10 would think themselves lucky to have a 2 roomed property; the last book of the trilogy covers the account of how a family with 6 children were turned down for a 3-bedroomed Council property despite begging and pleading by the father of the family that to them it would be luxury - at the time his 6 children either shared the bed with him and his wife, slept on the floor or in a cupboard. The Council's reason for refusing him? The rules stated that they needed a 5 bedroomed property, which the Council was not currently building. Complete and utter insanity!

Another gory but equally enthralling aspect to life covered in this last book is how backstreet abortions were carried out, thanks to the law making abortions illegal until 1967. Women either killed or nearly killed themselves trying to get rid of yet another potential mouth to feed, or even more horribly from my point of view, killed the newborn out of plain sight. Left to drown in a chamber pot full of birthing blood and placenta, smothered & labelled as "stillborn'. Horrific. After being so desperate for a baby and then loving my daughter so completely, that love growing stronger with each passing minute despite the trials of raising a spirited toddler, I cannot contemplate the desperation those women must have felt. The utter poverty, depression, hopelessness. It really does make me truly grateful for what medical support we have available today, the NHS, and the luxurious houses we all live in and yet wish for more space/garden/more bedrooms for guests.

Totally worth a read

No comments:

Post a Comment