Midwives in History!

I was reading ‘Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth’ again, and I came across where she talks about the great midwives in history.

I thought it was so great, I needed to write about them.

These women are the traditional lay midwives, or what some people call “granny midwives”. They didn’t receive formal training, they just learned from midwives who learned from midwives and back and back.

One amazing woman is Mrs. Margaret Charles Smith of Eutaw, Alabama. She has a book about her time as a midwife, titled ‘Listen To Me Good’. (It’s definitely on my list).

She had about 3000 births from 1943 to 1981 with NO maternal deaths. Ya, NONE. This was during the time when she could transfer women, but back then, if you had a hospital bill unpaid, you weren’t allowed back. Most of her clients were farming people and such so they couldn’t afford birth control and she would witness all of their 10 or plus deliveries per woman. She is still alive, and still living in Eutaw with most of the people she delivered.

She was forced out in 1981, because of the stringent laws on lay midwives in Georgia, even though she was still capable and still loved her work.

The next is an absolutely amazing midwife. Catharina Schrader. She was in the Netherlands from 1693 until 1745. She witnessed 3017 births, and recorded everything she saw at them. Out of all of these births, her spontaneous labor percentage was 94%. This is a HUGE number. In all of her births, she only had 14 women die that were originally in her care, and 6 others that were transfered to her too late, because she was a more advanced midwife. If she had been practicing in 1935, her mortality rate would have been lower than the doctors practicing with all the advances we had. Her rate was 4.9 deaths out of every 1000 births. In the hospitals in 1935, the rate was 5.9 out of every 1000 births.

Out of her births, 24% were multiples, and 2% were placenta previa births. Placenta Previa is when the placenta is covering the cervix, and now you are required for a cesarean with this type of pregnancy.

In total, she had 10 cases of placenta previa in her care. The first occured on birth #661. She didn’t know what was happening, and the mother died. Her next case was birth #1250. Since she had thought about it a lot, she knew what to do. She took the placenta out, turned the baby to footling breech, pulled the baby out, and saved both mother and baby. Out of her ten cases, only 2 died. Considering now that they have to be cesarean, these numbers are amazing. Could you imagine what she would do now?

After this is Martha Ballard in 1785 to 1812. She assisted at 814 births, and had 5 maternal deaths. This is one for every 198 births! In 1930, it was 1 in every 150. Crazy numbers!

The last is one midwife in Kendal, England from the 1660s to the 1670s and assisted at 412 births and did not lose one mother.

With all our medical advances, how is it possible that doctors now have worse rates than midwives did in the 1600 and 1700s? It just doesn’t seem fathomable to me.


3 Responses

  1. Great post! I have heard about Catharina Schrader and her placenta previas before, and she was just AMAZING! What guts!!! 🙂

  2. Wow. What amazing women! Great post.

  3. Great stories. I love that book. Have you read the book "Bith: The surpring History of how we are born". It is a very interesting book. I want to read the book about Martha Ballard (I believe it's called A Midwive's tale" but I haven't gotten tot that yet.

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