Friday, April 30, 2010

We've Come A Long Way, Baby...or having one.

Childbirth in the old west often resulted in death of the mother due to complications, and often the baby as well.  Doctor's were spread thin, and pioneers usually lived miles from the nearest town on any plot of land they could homestead.  If a mother-to-be was lucky, she knew another woman who considered herself a midwife based on the amount of babies she'd assisted in bringing into the world.  Often the criteria was how many she'd had of her own.  It didn't take much to be an authority in those days.

Had I lived during that time, my son and I would surely have died.  Although my first son, close to 10 pounds, was a normal delivery, my second son turned sideways and lodged his hand in the birth canal.  The resulting emergency c-section saved us.  In those days, we just wouldn't have survived, period.

There was nothing to ease the pain of labor as we have these days.  No epidurals, no spinals, no Lamaze training to help prepare the mother... nothing.  Women went through grueling hours of pain to bring a child into the world, and many died in infancy because of the widespread diseases and living conditions.  It wasn't uncommon to see a family cemetery started behind a homesteaders shack, with crosses marking the names of babies lost at childbirth or in infancy. Imagine giving birth in the back of a Conestoga wagon, often while the wheels bumped over a rutted trail in the middle of nowhere.  It took something major to halt the wagon train before day's end, and something as commonplace as birthing wasn't a reason.

What I can't understand because I'm such a wimp is why women today want to suffer through childbirth without drugs.  I respect their right to feel every cramp and consuming pain, but having a child is when "just say no to drugs," doesn't make sense to me.*smile*

Pregnancy wasn't reason enough for pioneer women to take it easy.  They still met the responsibilities of their households; some even plowing fields and sowing seeds for the very crops on which their futures depended.  I doubt that a complaint of swollen ankles went very far to shirk their duties.

Let's consider the Indian women of the time period.  Warriors believed that a bleeding woman was possessed by evil and could zap their strength, so during a woman's menstrual cycle, she was isolated that entire time--usually in a specially built lodge deemed the women's lodge.

This same tepee was used for birthing children, and taboo for the men.  When a woman's labor began, she and the tribe's medicine woman and perhaps a few female relatives retired to the lodge for the birthing ceremony.  Most tribes were very superstitious and took great care to pray and chant over the mother and the babe she  carried.  The Plains Indians, specifically, cherished their children, considering them a gift from Waken Taken, their heavenly father.

Usually in the women's lodge, a long narrow trough was dug in the dirt floor and a pole sunk deep into the earth.  The laboring mother squatted over the indention, grasped the pole, and pushed until the baby was delivered.  The afterbirth was caught in the trough, while the baby was swaddled in soft pelts and dried with moss.  The child's umbilical cord was kept in a specially beaded pouch.  Lakota Sioux tribe used two pouches; one to hold the real cord and the other to fool the evil spirits.  The one containing the cord was hidden in the baby's cradleboard until he/she was old enough to wear clothing and then hidden within their attire. This was done to protect the little one from harm.

So ladies, consider the advantages we've shared and the leaps and bounds the medical field has taken to make childbirth a safer and less painful process.  I'm grateful every day that I live in an era that made it possible for both of my children to be born, safe and healthy.  I also pay special homage to the person who created the epidural and the medication administered during my cesarean so I didn't have to be awake while someone dug around in my insides.  *lol* Hey...for those of you who stayed awake during your surgery...Kudos.  When they asked me if I wanted to remain alert during the delivery, I didn't just say no...I said, Hell No!


Diane Scott Lewis said...

Ginger, fascinating information. I remember watching "Anne of the Thousand Days" about Henry the VIII's second wife, and her miscarriages that doomed her, and thinking both my boys would have died in that time period because of complications they had after birth.
Thank God for modern medicine.

Anita Davison said...

Very interesting, Ginger. And to think, we make a fuss today about home births and insist they are a more 'natural' way to give birth! My midwife always said no labour can be called normal until it's over!

Lea said...

hehehe well, sorry to disappoint but the only time I got an epidural was with my fifth kid, and that's because they just wheeled me in another room and said I had a long time to go yet so why suffer. I knew the baby was going to pop within the hour but I gave in.

She was my longest 'suffering' - three hours. The rest came within two hours, push and out they came. My first born, however, due to complications (while monitoring her heartbeat fell to 5 so they rushed me for surgery). My twins came one minute apart and that's only because the second one was stubborn, breach, and the doctor went in and grabbed her by the legs and said, "Oh no, you're coming out now." hehe

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Ginger,

Great blog! I was already aware of much of this, but you deliver (so to speak ;^) ) the information with that special Ginger flair...!

Sounds as though it would have been better to be an Indian than a pioneer woman. I suspect that the native Americans knew more about the process and passed down midwifery skills from one generation to the next. They probably also had herbal concoctions to mitigate the pain.


Cheryl said...

I cannot imagine delivering a child back then. I went natural with one of my girls and that was enough for me.

I love what you're posting, Ginger. Keep you the great work.


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