Friday, February 8, 2008

Birth: the surprising history of how we are born

I've been wanting to read this book, by Tina Cassidy, since I heard about it shortly after James was born. Now I have, and I have to say--it wasn't that surprising!

Okay, it wasn't surprising...for me...a woman who has extensive knowledge of the history of childbirth and issues surrounding it. I would probably recommend it as a primer for those who don't know much about this subject, though. I enjoyed the organization of the book as well as many of the anecdotes contained within. My favorites were included in the "pain relief" chapter:

...Sitting at the head of his dining table, he tested all sorts of drugs on himself. One day an assistant recommended that they try chloroform, a relatively new discovery. They obtained a sample, filled tumblers with the "curious liquid," and drank it straight. At once, they became very chatty. Then incoherent. Then they crashed to the floor. When Simpson came to, he knew he was on to something. They continued to experiment with chloroform, albeit more gingerly, and even persuaded some women to join in the tests, including Simpson's niece...who cried out under its influence, "I'm an angel! Oh, I'm an angel!" (p.138)

...This method of administering pain relief was pioneered in 1898 by German doctor Karl August Bier, who injected cocaine into his assistant's lower back. To test whether the assistant, Dr. Hildebrandt, was numb, Bier pulled on the man's pubic hair, yanked his testicles, hit him in the shins with a hammer, and singed his thights with a cigar. Hildebrandt felt only vague sensations of being touched. (p. 162-3)

Good grief!

Anyway. So it was a fairly predictable read for me, with a few surprising and fun tidbits. It was written by a journalist, so it's supposed to be "unbiased" but of course it's not, really. Everyone has a point of view, and I just wish people were better at explaining where they're coming from. For example? This woman is still working under the modern-day American medical assumption that women's bodies just don't really work right. For example, when discussing when to cut the umbilical cord, she talks about how "there is some concern that allowing too much blood to flow from the placenta can raise the infant's blood pressure (p. 342)." Wait a our bodies were designed to need someone to clamp off the cord as soon as possible after a baby is born? But...we don't come with a sterile pair of scissors!

You's just that whole mindset not being highlighted again. But luckily, that doesn't happen too often. She's generally fairly impartial.

So that's about it. The book was decent but not spectacular. My only other piece of advice is this: don't read it while pregnant! It has some fairly scary stories, mostly in the "medical fads" chapter. Just a word for the wise.

Now I'm off to read more Mr. Darcy! Yay!

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