When it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, there’s plenty of bellyaching going on. Expectant mothers grouse about their round-the-clock nausea and flaming hemorrhoids; their misshapen feet and throbbing backs - and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Sometimes a little reminder is required of all that there is to be thankful for. And we’re not talking about the big things either - like the wonderful gift of a baby or the everlasting reward of parenthood.
Just the fact that today, there are many choices and options available to expectant mothers is something to hold dear. And nowadays, survival during childbirth is pretty much a given - although this wasn’t always the case back in the day. Not to mention that only decades ago motherhood as a concept was still controlled by a man’s world where male doctors and husbands called most of the shots.
Then there were the pre and postpartum care methods of yesteryear to consider. As readers will soon note, many practices from the past were strange, silly, disgusting and just plain dangerous - making childbirth a risky business that often didn’t have a happy ending. After getting through this article, expectant mothers of 2017 may breathe a collective sigh of relief about the huge historical bullet they dodged.
So future moms - hold onto those bellies and quit complaining as things are gonna get real. Here are 16 reasons expectant mothers should be thankful it’s 2017.
16 Suck On That
Any woman who’s gone through childbirth knows that it does a number on her private parts. But luckily there’s plenty of helpful remedies to alleviate swelling: from frozen sanitary pads to sitz baths with epsom salt. If any of that seems off-putting, then prepare for a shock.
During the 1800s, women were advised to bathe in warm milk or water for some relief after giving birth (sounds okay). Sometimes poultices made from bread and milk were applied to a woman’s taxed perineum (still okay). Yet if both of these didn’t get the desired results, there was another option to reduce swelling and it involved placing leeches on a woman’s genitalia.
Before continuing, it’s only fair to note that leech therapy has earned a coveted spot in the annals of effective medicine. These little blood suckers have assisted in saving countless limbs let alone lives. Their unique saliva can help generate blood flow and clotting where necessary while also helping to reduce dangerous engorgement following surgery or apparently in some cases...even childbirth!
15 Twilight Zone
“Twilight sleep” is the terminology for a specific method of labor and delivery that started in the 1920s and carried on for a further forty years. It has a soothing sound and even the bare bones idea of it sounds promising: a pregnant woman drifts to sleep and when she wakes up, lo and behold she has a baby. Sign us up!
But the harsh reality of the “twilight sleep” process was that it was brutally inhuman. Women were administered narcotics so powerful they were deemed on par with being lobotomized or going psychotic. As a result, they were restrained by straps or even strait jackets and thrashed around in their own waste while a doctor yanked their baby out with forceps. Afterward, the women involved would have no memory of the events. As for the babies born, many of them suffered the effects of the drugs - some were even born comatose.
14 Baby Tongs
Believe it or not, but once upon a time forceps were considered cutting edge in childbirth technology. Truth be told they probably did save many lives yet they’ve also been responsible for countless deaths and devastating injuries.
Historical records show that forceps have been used to assist in births as early as the 16th century. Although they didn’t become a regular feature of the obstetric world until 1915. As a result, between the years 1915 and 1929, there was a marked increase in infant mortality rates from forceps-related injuries.
Presently, they are sometimes still used as part of an assisted birth. That said, they currently come in a variety of shapes and sizes rather than a one-size-fits-all metal claw. Not to mention that medical practitioners of today are generally more skilled and efficient when using the devices. And besides the use of forceps, there are plenty of other current methods to assist in difficult births including vacuum extraction as well as C-sections.
13 Shush Your Mouth
Similar to a certain celebrity-infused religion, many Native American cultures in the late 19th century urged laboring mothers to remain silent. This didn’t mean the birth was a quiet or silent process - actually far from it. The female family members of the expectant mother would pick up the slack and cry and groan in her place. We’re not quite sure what the reasoning behind this particular custom was - perhaps it allowed her to save precious energy for pushing. Although more likely, it involved a spiritual belief.
When it comes to the religion of Scientology, the entire birthing process is kept as silent or quiet as possible. The teachings claim that noise or words uttered during childbirth can be traumatic to a new baby entering the world and can even negatively affect them in the future.
Either way, modern mommies should be thankful that nowadays they have the liberty to curse up a blue streak as they bring forth a new life. As long as they’re not practicing Scientologists, that is!
12 Far From Pristine
Infection and disease are what ended up doing in so many new mothers in the mid 1800s. But it wasn’t always that way. Up until that point in time, most laboring women gave birth at home and were attended to by other women - midwives who had an instinctual knack for childbirth. But mid-century, this attitude changed and many women began seeking care from male physicians who they believed were far superior and skilled than an uneducated midwife relying on instinct.
It was also during this time that women were encouraged to give birth in a hospital as opposed to at home. Keep in mind that hospitals were not the immaculate and sterile environments we know them as today. In fact, many doctors had no concept of the importance of sterilizing instruments and even basic hygiene practices. Examining woman after woman without washing their hands is what lead to the spread of many fatal infections.
A culprit by the name of “puerperal fever” was behind the deaths of many new mothers during the 19th century. It was later discovered that the spread of this fever was connected to doctors performing autopsies and then delivering a baby afterward without washing their hands in between!
11 Private Party
Since we're still on the topic of slovenly conditions of the past, it’s interesting to note that many doctors had a different take where a woman’s private parts were concerned. While many physicians didn’t see the point of scrubbing germs off their own hands - they did believe in scrubbing a woman’s vaginal area within an inch of its life.
Throughout the late 1800s and even the early 20th century, many records state that an expectant mother’s down below would be shaved, scalded with boiling water and then sprayed down with a toxic concoction of disinfectant in order to kill potential bacteria.
Many doctors harbored an apparent double standard in germ removal. While not concerned with their own lack of hygiene as they examined woman after woman, they believed the vagina was infested with germs that could be fatal for a newly born infant to come into contact with. So basically, these poor women had swollen, aching and raw vaginas before baby even made an appearance!
10 Safe Sections
Sure they’ve been around a while - but be thankful because even just a few decades ago, undergoing a C-section would have been a much riskier procedure than it is today. C-sections had a morbid start in history as they were first done in order to remove a fetus from a woman who died in childbirth so that mom and baby could be buried separately. Eventually, it was discovered that babies could sometimes be saved if done quickly after a mother’s death.
In terms of a C-section being performed on a living woman, they were strictly reserved for cases where it was believed the mother would die regardless. The first successful C-section in U.S. history where both baby and mother survived - was performed in 1794. Though it wasn’t until the 1800s that the procedure was performed with the hope of both mother and baby surviving.
Still, the prospect of survival remained bleak due to lack of antibiotics and the possibility of infection or hemorrhage. Gradually, medical practitioners were instilled with new and more modern techniques, safer anesthetics and medications. And here we are today - the surgery is readily available to anyone who needs it and the risks are minimal.
9 A Cut Below
Generous episiotomy - those are two words that definitely don’t seem to fit together yet that was the terminology floating around the maternity ward back in the day. During the 1970s, episiotomies were considered standard practice for most vaginal deliveries. The mistaken belief was that the procedure was better than tearing naturally. And while they are still performed on occasion, they are no longer considered status quo.
On record as occurring during childbirth as far back as the 1700s, they were also commonly done during the early 20th century on mothers deemed young or in order to help speed along the labor process. Back then, the medical profession was highly against natural childbirth as it meant that episiotomies could not readily be performed.
Nowadays, expectant mothers are free to engage in a dialogue with their healthcare provider beforehand about their views on episiotomies. If they don’t like what they hear, they can seek out further advice and even get a second opinion before baby heads for the exit.
8 Husbands And Wives
Obstetric services back in the day were sometimes more concerned with keeping a husband happy as opposed to ensuring a laboring woman and baby were safe. The “husband stitch” referred to an extra stitch a doctor would make following an episiotomy repair. The belief was that the tighter a doctor sewed up a vagina, the happier a woman’s husband would be.
However, what we now know is that sewing the vaginal opening up nice and tight does nothing to tighten the state of the vaginal walls. As a result, extra stitches will probably just make sex more difficult and possibly painful for all parties involved.
Upon hearing the term “husband stitch”, many people laugh it off as an ancient wives' tale. But sadly this true technique exists and shines a light on a shameful and sexist period within history - when most things were geared toward only men and their pleasure. And prepare for another shock - many women giving birth in this day and age still request extra stitches from their OBGYN!
7 Grin And Bear It
With all the options available for pain relief during childbirth, expectant mothers should really count their lucky stars. Merely a few centuries ago, pain was considered an inextricable part of childbirth and any sort of relief from it was not only strongly discouraged but actually considered sinful!
In 1591, a poor expectant mother was even burned at the stake for requesting pain relief during her difficult delivery of twins. Even with the advent of safe anesthesia, it didn’t really factor into the realm of childbirth - though it was deemed fine for most other surgical procedures.
And while going against God was the number one reason cited for suffering through the pain, a few other antiquated notions society seemed to harbor included the thought that pain relief would destroy the maternal instinct, it could result in dangerous side effects such as epilepsy or insanity, and it was considered immoral due to its similarities to intoxication.
It wasn’t until Queen Victoria gave birth in 1853 and requested a snort of chloroform to get through the delivery that society’s beliefs on the subject of pain during childbirth began to shift.
6 Take A Bow
Think a couple of doctors, some nurses, a cluster of medical students and a family member or two constitutes a crowd? When it comes to giving birth - think again. During the 18th century, European royalty were often expected to give birth in front of a full-fledged audience. This custom got started to ensure the royal offspring being born was legit and not a switched-up changeling in place of a stillborn or sickly baby.
Legend has it that Marie Antoinette was almost crushed by the stampede of individuals rushing into her chambers when it was announced the royal heir was crowning. Claims reported that the room became over-heated with spectators crammed together like sardines and people scrabbling on top of furniture for a better view.
Apparently, following this debacle the custom soon changed. While royal women still had an audience witnessing them in childbirth, it was a tad smaller and comprised of royal advisers, ministers as well as trusted staff and confidantes only.
5 Let It Go
Definitely not for the faint of heart, bloodletting was once considered the primary go-to for whatever ailed a person. The belief behind it was that most diseases and ailments were caused by having too much blood. Possibly originating in ancient Egypt, bloodletting entailed slicing open a vein with a sharp instrument in order to allow blood to flow from the body into a waiting receptacle.
History books claim that in 1778, Marie Antoinette underwent bloodletting procedures while giving birth to her first child. So the story goes, she fainted (probably due to the audience stuffed inside her chamber) so doctors began the bloodletting procedure which roused her. This then solidified the health benefits during childbirth. Although in reality, there was most likely no connection between the two.
Within the United States, bloodletting within obstetrics was practiced in the early 1800s all the way until the 1940s where it was used to help relieve the effects of toxemia in pregnancy. Doctors also felt it promoted relaxation, kept circulation and pain in check and also decreased hemorrhage and vomiting during pregnancy and childbirth. Despite these supposed health benefits, we’re comfortable stating that most preggos in 2017 will give bloodletting a hard pass.
4 Tastes Like Chicken
Pregnant women nowadays may grumble at the thought of swallowing their daily dosage of maternal vitamins but trust us on this - be thankful. Back in the day, rather than being prescribed some folic acid or iron supplements, pregnant women and even new moms would sometimes eat mouse meat.
In ancient Egypt, mouse meat was considered chock-full of healing properties. Egyptians mashed mice up for toothache relief. And during the 15 and 1600s in England, people were recorded as eating fried mice or even mouse pie. They thought the meat could cure whooping cough, measles and even small pox. In many instances, pregnant women and newly-minted mothers alike would dine on mouse meat in the hope of passing along the health benefits to their growing fetus or breastfeeding baby.
So to all the preggos out there, here’s yet another potential craving to add to the list. Consider skipping the pickles and ice cream and try some mouse meat instead.
3 The Pressure's On
This outdated birthing technique is a definite blast from the past - and not in a good way! Often used in ancient and tribal cultures, applying fundal pressure entails pushing on top of a mother’s uterus in order to hurry labor along and basically force the baby out. In the past, this process was often used as a last resort when it was believed the laboring mother was going to die anyway.
The practice gained momentum during the mid 1900s, partly because women were typically urged to give birth while lying flat on their backs with feet in stirrups. American nurse Faith Gibson who worked in Florida during the 60s explained that obstetric nurses were trained to apply fundal pressure on a woman’s abdomen while doctors came along with forceps to scoop babies out.
Oftentimes, babies were in distress due to the narcotics administered to their mothers as well as the inefficient birthing position adopted. This is where fundal pressure came into play - babies needed to be born as quickly as possible. As a result, many babies were born not breathing (if they even survived). The lucky ones who were resuscitated sometimes sustained unknown trauma as well as brain damage.
2 Bloody Birthday
Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon for women to save a bit of menstrual blood to rub all over their newborns in order to drive evil demons away. Now for a bit of a historical explanation - many ancient cultures including the Egyptians believed menstrual blood or blood shed during the act of childbirth possessed some serious power. The blood was special because it didn’t originate from a wound or cause any harm - it actually represented the opposite - the possibility of new life.
Because of this, menstrual and childbirth blood were often used as a main ingredient in many medicinal recipes as well as beauty treatments. The blood was considered to be cleansing (back before menstruation became associated with being unclean) as well as curative.
The fact that this practice is pretty much unheard of nowadays is definitely something babies of today should be thankful for!
We saved the best for last. If the previous 14 points weren’t enough to remind an expectant mother how fortunate she is to be giving birth in this day and age, then perhaps this final sub-topic will do the trick.
In ancient times, many wives’ tales existed that promised a smooth and complication-free delivery. They ranged from the quirky such as rubbing dog placenta over a pregnant woman’s thighs to downright disgusting - like drinking goose semen, liquid squeezed from a weasel uterus or a pig dung concoction. It was also suggested that placing hemp soaked in honey or finely ground corn up their vaginas would help the process of labor and delivery move right along.
In ancient Greece, a vigorous battery of a pregnant woman was often undertaken in the hope of getting labor started. Four strong women would be assigned one limb each and would commence shaking the poor woman until her labor began.
So there you have it - preggos should rejoice and thank their lucky stars that they will be giving birth in the best year to date!