By Sandra Londino, MS, CNM, LM
Home birth is common among women in many countries, but in the US it's rare and poorly understood. This wasn't always the case. During colonial times, women gave birth in their homes, attended by women, with male physicians allowed into the birthing room only when labor deviated from the norm.
During the second half of the eighteenth century, male physicians began taking a more prominent role in childbirth, especially for members of the upper and middle class, who saw being attended by physicians as a status symbol. Commonly held sexist beliefs about the intellectual and emotional inferiority of women contributed to this shift. By the turn of the century, doctors were attending half of all births, though midwives still served the poor and rural folks.
In the early 1900s, medical leaders began calling for the abolition of midwifery entirely. Prominent obstetricians of the time believed that pregnancy and childbirth were dangerous, pathological conditions that could be best managed in hospitals with drugs, specialized procedures, and surgery. Thus, women began to believe that hospitals offered them the safest and most satisfying birthing experience. This happened in spite of the favorable outcomes that midwives experienced, such as lower rates of maternal death and neonatal injury and death, and more comprehensive postpartum care. By the early twentieth century, thousands of American women still died from postpartum infection every year. Serious perineal lacerations, head injuries to the fetus, and breathing disorders resulted because of inappropriate and careless use of forceps and chloroform. As midwifery declined during the first half of the century, maternal and infant mortality rates steadily increased. By 1935, the percentage of births attended by midwives in the US had decreased to 12.5 percent.
By Penny H. Baron
The importance of the arts, beauty, and imagery in everyday life was acknowledged and utilized by ancient healers to bring the human body back into balance — body, mind, and spirit. For almost one thousand years, beginning around 500 BCE, "temple medicine" was the predominant form of healing throughout Europe, the Near East, and the Mediterranean. This fascinating history is outlined in the book Aesclepius: A Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies, by Professor Emma Edelstein.
If you were ill or troubled, physically or emotionally, part of your medicine was to journey for days to a temple where special diets, herbs, exercise, massage, rest, and consultations with priests would be part of your healing program. Along with these healthful practices, individuals enjoyed walks in beautiful gardens to observe statues created by famous Greek sculptors. Roaming minstrels provided music to lift the human spirit, and there were dramatic performances portraying the cycles and rhythms of human life. Even the images and symbols in dreams were considered important and interpreted by priests in the morning as guidance for an individual's healing regime. Personal written testimonials from this time period were etched in stone and later discovered in archeological ruins at ancient temples, giving us a glimpse into the temple medicine of two thousand years ago.
So what do these ancient discoveries have to do with our modern-day lives? Everything. Many recommendations by prominent physicians today practicing Integrative Medicine bear a striking resemblance to temple medicine. One well-known physician, Elliott Dacher, MD, has written the book Whole Healing: A Step-by-Step Program to Reclaim Your Power to Heal, which highlights the significance of certain healing practices, including both alternative and traditional forms of medicine. From an alternative or holistic perspective, time devoted to prayer, meditation, and walks in nature, along with the experience of poetry, music, dance, and art — all are part of a model in which the arts complement Western medicine. Engaging in both spiritual and creative practices, according to Dacher, allows individuals to develop a sense of inner peace, meaning, purpose, and coherence — qualities often lost when we become ill, yet so central to healing.
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