A study of how birthing methods have evolved and how key practices have returned
There was a time when birth
was treated as a natural process rather than a medical condition. Before
1800, women gave birth seated in birth chairs or on stools and were helped
along by midwives. Then societal changes in attitudes toward women and
the practice of medicine made birthing a province of the male-dominated
In Birth Chairs, Midwives,
and Medicine Amanda Carson Banks examines the history of the birth chair
and tells how this birthing device changed over time. Through photographs,
artists' renditions of births, interviews, and texts from midwives and
early obstetricians, she creates an evolutionary picture of birthing practices
and highlights the radical redefinition of birth that has occurred in the
last two centuries.
During the 1800s the change
from a natural philosophy of birth to a medical one was partly a result
of heightened understandings of anatomy and physiology. The medical profession
was growing, and with it grew the awareness of the economic rewards of
making delivery a specialized practice. In the background of the medical
profession's rise was the prevailing perception of women as fragile invalids.
Gradually, midwives and birth chairs were relegated to rural and isolated
The popularity of birth chairs
has seen a revival in the late twentieth century as the struggle between
medical obstetrics and the alternative birth movement has grown. As Banks
shows through her careful examination of the chairs themselves, these questions
have been answered and reconsidered many times in human history. Using
the artifacts from the home and medical office, Banks traces sweeping societal
changes in the philosophy of how to bring life into the world.
Amanda Carson Banks is Director of Development for the College of
Engineering and Computer Science at California State University, Sacramento.
Her articles have appeared in journals like Journal of American Folklore,
Impromptu Journal, and Women & Language.