Guest Column: Education and Childbirth (1950)

Let’s use education to dispel the fear of childbirth
by Phyllis Wright

Childbirth_wo_Fear“Go ahead and scream. Everyone else does.”

“When it came time for me to have my baby I found I would have given anything to postpone it. I was so frightened.”

“You go right down to your death-bed when you have a child, but that’s the way it was meant to be.”

“It’s the worst pain there is to bear on earth, but you soon forget your suffering when you see your baby.”

These and many more statements reached my ears when I was pregnant with my son, now almost fourteen months old. I was working at a college library as the library secretary while my husband was finishing school. Consequently, my acquaintances were mostly people who had had at least four years of college and who were informed and intelligent on many subjects, but most of them were ignorant in the matter of childbirth. To them, it was near fact that women suffered great pain in the delivery of a child, pain was as sure as the grave, any other idea was plain foolishness and they wanted no part of such nonsense that it need not be.

At first my attitude was similar to theirs. I just didn’t want to know anything about it. I hoped that the doctor would put me in a deep sleep and that I would later wake up to find that I had a baby. Obtaining knowledge of how the baby arrived was definitely not my desire. But my doctor did not quite agree with me. He felt that I should know something about the delivery of a baby.

Sometime during the course of the nine months, my attitude toward being pregnant and having a child changed completely, and I am now a very staunch believer that having a baby is not a painful ordeal but one of the most wonderful and satisfying experiences a woman can have. This transition did not take place at once but came by thinking about the part the baby played in being born and the effect that birth had on him, by listening to and reading about the experiences of girls who did not even want to have an anesthetic, and by reading about childbirth in Dr. Grantly Dick-Read’s Childbirth Without Fear (first published in 1942), one of the most worthwhile books I believe I have ever read. To sum it up, it is my belief that then I became educated about childbirth and was able to discuss the old wives’ tales that had been pounding in my ears.

My ‘education’ stood me in grand shape to have my son. My labor was very short. There were no complications. I needed no anesthetic or analgesics. Yes, there were a few pains, about eight of them while my cervix was dilating, but, to me, they felt like gas pains and did not cause me any distress. And, yes, too, there was labor. I used up what seemed to me to be every bit of energy I had and then I needed more and it was there. It was the hardest work I have ever done—but also, it was the most satisfying.

I now very keenly realize that it was education that took the fear out of having a baby. The fact that many of the ‘educated’ people I met on a college campus were not cognizant or informed about this most common and important creation in the world caused me to feel that there is a deficiency somewhere in our formal education network.

Lately, more and more of our high schools have added sex education to their curricula. Could we not also teach our boys and girls to have an attitude of fearlessness toward childbirth? I do not mean that we should instruct that no one needs an anesthetic to have a baby, but I do feel that it would be much to everyone’s advantage to approach having children with a knowledge of how the reproductive organs and muscles work when not encumbered by the tension caused by fear. Now that science is discovering that birth has an effect on the health of the child, now that we know that birth without the aid of anesthetics is the shortest and safest way, now that many women have proved that we need not suffer to bear a child, does it not seem wise to unlatch the handcuffs of civilization and give the advantage of the primitive women of having children without fear to generations today by finding a place in our system of education to dispel the fears connected with childbirth.

Ladies_Home_JournalI came upon this article written by my recently departed mother, just as people were arriving at a remembrance reception we were putting on for her. Along with this article were several small short stories and papers Mom had written all through her life and during her marriage of 21 years. She never mentioned to me this particular article or the fact she had submitted it to Ladies Home Journal (ref. rejection slip on right) and to Parents Magazine. Note the etiquette that she and other married women in correspondence referred to themselves as Mrs. <husband’s name>. Also, recognize that the content of this article is still likely relevant today; a cursory review of Amazon shows that the book she refers to—Childbirth without Fear, by Dr. Grantly Dick-Read—has gone through several printings, with a new edition out in May 2013. — ed.SunFLOWer

Let me also point out that yours truly is the son whose birth she prepared for so courageously with education. 🙂



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