The Industrialization of Childbirth
Carol Burnett once said that "giving birth is like taking your lower
lip and forcing it over your head."
I’m sure that the moms reading this would agree. Perhaps reading about
childbirth is the last thing on your mind, especially if you’ve already
given birth, but trust me, this one is interesting.
Atul Gawande wrote an article for The New Yorker about how childbirth
went industrial, including this tidbit of the history of the obstetric
forceps, which invention was kept as a family secret for 3 generations:
The instrument was developed in the seventeenth century by Peter
Chamberlen (1560-1631), the first of a long line of French Huguenots
who delivered babies in London. It looked like a pair of big metal salad
tongs, with two blades shaped to fit snugly around a baby’s head
and handles that locked together with a single screw in the middle.
It let doctors more or less yank stuck babies out and, carefully applied,
was the first technique that could save both the baby and the mother.
The Chamberlens knew that they were onto something, and they resolved
to keep the device a family secret. Whenever they were called in to
help a mother in obstructed labor, they ushered everyone else out of
the room and covered the mother’s lower half with a sheet or a
blanket so that even she couldn’t see what was going on. They
kept the secret of the forceps for three generations.
In 1670, Hugh Chamberlen, in the third generation, tried and failed
to sell it to the French government. Late in his life, he divulged it
to an Amsterdam-based surgeon, Roger van Roonhuysen, who kept the technique
within his own family for sixty more years. The secret did not get out
until the mid-eighteenth century. Once it did, it gained wide acceptance.
At the time of Princess Charlotte’s failed delivery, in 1817,
her obstetrician, Sir Richard Croft, was widely reviled for failing
to use forceps. He shot himself to death not long afterward.