The Resurgence of Direct-Entry Midwifery

Although these campaigns cost midwives many clients, they had little effect on the law. Many members of the public, and even many doctors (particularly those in public health), believed that trained midwives could provide satisfactory care, at least for poor and nonwhite women who couldn’t afford doctors’ services. Consequently, laws passed during this era tended to have quite lenient provisions. In the end, however, imposing lenient laws rather than laws requiring upgraded midwifery training and skills resulted in the deterioration of midwifery and its virtual elimination. The only exceptions were in immigrant and nonwhite com- munities in the rural South and Southwest, where traditional midwives continued to conduct home births until at least the 1950s.

By the second half of the 20th century, childbirth had moved almost solely into hospital wards under medical care. Although childbearing women were grateful for the pain relief and safety that doctors promised, all too often women still found the experience painful, humil- iating, and alienating. Despite the absence of scientific support for such practices, doctors routinely shaved women’s pubic areas before delivery, strapped them on their backs to labor and delivery tables (the most painful and difficult position for delivering a baby), isolated them from their husbands during delivery and from their infants afterward, and gave them drugs to speed up their labors or make them unconscious—all practices that scientific research would eventually find unneces- sary or dangerous.

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