Childbirth: Images Spanning Thousands of Years

Whatever position gets the job done, I say.

A year ago my husband gifted me with Randi Hutter Epstein’s book Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth From the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank.

It is an excellent read for myriad reasons.  Myriad, I say!  Doesn’t the phrase “myriad reasons” make me sound a little bit smart?  I think it does.  That’s why I employed it when describing Epstein’s book.

Get Me Out runs the gamut of pregnancy, exploring the medical and cultural history of pregnancy and childbirth, from folk remedies and old wives’ tales to ultrasound images and fertility drugs.

It was so mind-altering reading it got me to googling images relating to sections of the book and I was amazed at what I discovered.  From ancient times to now, whether carved into rock or snapped by a camera, images of childbirth are absolutely fascinating.

As you click through the following images, note the different birthing positions, and ask yourself why today women generally give birth lying down in a bed?

  • Ladies and Gentlemen, Childbirth. 1 of 25
    Ladies and Gentlemen, Childbirth.
    Women have endured unspeakable horrors to arrive at today's standards for childbirth.
  • Interested In Giving Birth In A Dress and Petticoats? 2 of 25
    Interested In Giving Birth In A Dress and Petticoats?
    At the beginning of the eighteenth century, all males were excluded from attendance in "lying-in rooms". All decisions were made by female midwives who frequently were not well trained
  • Midwives from Waaay Back 3 of 25
    Midwives from Waaay Back
    A midwife and an assistant stand by at the birth of twins. Miniature from Chururgia, by Gerard of Cremona, twelfth century.
    Image: Source
  • Often Childbirth Meant Death 4 of 25
    Often Childbirth Meant Death
    We have all heard of epidurals, episiotomies, induced labor and dilation as well as horror stories of 24-36 hours of labor. All of these facts of modem childbirth were not the reality for mothers in the early 1800s. Indeed, childbirth was the greatest risk to a woman's health and the single most common cause of death.
  • The Very First Doulas? 5 of 25
    The Very First Doulas?
    Egypt: relief from the Temple of Hathor at Dendera (304-30 BC; Egyptian Museum, Cairo). This relief shows a squatting woman in childbirth (using a birth stool), while being assisted by two goddesses
  • 18th Century France 6 of 25
    18th Century France
    Illustration of childbirth in a boudoir; midwife and father present in 18th century France. Image:
  • Another Image of Childbirth 7 of 25
    Another Image of Childbirth
    Source Unknown
  • The History of Medicine In Mexico 8 of 25
    The  History of Medicine In Mexico
    Handmade oil painting reproduction of The History of Medicine in Mexico The People's Demand for Better Health, detail of childbirth, 1953, a painting by Diego Rivera.
  • Portrait of Childbirth in Renaissance Italy 9 of 25
    Portrait of Childbirth in Renaissance Italy
    Not until the Renaissance do we see emerge a large number of objects associated with the ritual of childbirth, and specifically, painted portraits of women in the act of labor or confinement. Birthing scenes had yet to occur in either monumental or decorative Western art. Yet during the Renaissance, the image presence of the female-centered birth process was depicted in considerable numbers.
    If the birth process did not prove fatal, the next greatest risk was a systemic infection that was called puerperal fever, or blood poisoning originating with birth or miscarriage. Often a portion of the placenta or "afterbirth" was retained and gangrene would then claim the life of the new mother.
  • The 1500s 10 of 25
    The 1500s
    A childbirth broth bowl dating from 1533-38 reveals two different acts in the narrative of childbirth. The laboring woman sits in a chair and gazes back at the viewer. At a nearby window that appears to open to a balcony, an astrologer stands facing the night sky, casting the chart of the imminent child.
  • How the Cavemen Did It? 11 of 25
    How the Cavemen Did It?
    This source for this image is unknown, but I've got to figure it pretty much resembles what went down.
  • Childbirth in Pompeii 12 of 25
    Childbirth in Pompeii
    This ivory relief from Pompeii shows a scene of childbirth. The mother is seated to the right; a woman is standing next to her, offering support. The midwife is seated and delivering the infant. Another woman stands behind the midwife, either raising her hand in blessing or to receive the infant.
  • Discovered in Florence, Italy 13 of 25
    Discovered in Florence, Italy
    Researchers at an excavation site some 20 miles northeast of Florence discovered the images on a small fragment from a ceramic vessel that is more than 2,600 years old. The images show the head and shoulders of a baby emerging from a mother represented with her knees raised and her face shown in profile, one arm raised, and a long ponytail running down her back.
  • Scene of Childbirth 14 of 25
    Scene of Childbirth
    Scene of childbirth in the Mayan culture...the men must be there to support the women while she squats
  • Another Depiction of Childbirth 15 of 25
    Another Depiction of Childbirth
    Roman 4 AD
  • Scary Times 16 of 25
    Scary Times
    The death rate of children was appalling in the eighteenth century. Childbirth in the Middle Ages was considered so deadly that the Church told pregnant women to prepare their shrouds and confess their sins in case of death.
  • Quite a Scene 17 of 25
    Quite a Scene
    And here you thought there were too many people in your hospital room.
  • Childbirth in the 17th and 18th Centuries 18 of 25
    Childbirth in the 17th and 18th Centuries
    "It is estimated that one of ten women could expect to die from childbirth related causes in the Old Regime. A married woman would become pregnant, on average, five or six times. Given that up to 10% of the labors were fatal,this means a woman had a 50% to 60% chance of dying during her reproductive life."
  • How Nice for the Men 19 of 25
    How Nice for the Men
    This illustration shows a woman in childbirth. In the top panel the woman in labor sits in a birthing chair surrounded by women while the men, including the father-to-be (labeled "a"), wait outside. In the bottom panel the new mother continues to have women in attendance while the men hold a celebratory feast. Image: Source.
  • The Midwife Wins! 20 of 25
    The Midwife Wins!
    I cannot find the artist who created this depiction so, for now, this remains source unknown.
  • No Options But Natural 21 of 25
    No Options But Natural
    Many modern advances that we consider commonplace were an impossibility for women of any class in the 1800s. Anaesthetic, in the form of chloroform or ether, was first used to assist in a difficult delivery on January 19, 1847 by a Scottish physician named James Simpson. Prior to this time, "natural" childbirth was the only option.
  • This Was Fashionable, At One Point 22 of 25
    This Was Fashionable, At One Point
    As the latter half of the 18th century turned into the early 19th century, it became "fashionable" in the upper to middle class to be "delivered" at home by a male physician. The physician's tools were the forceps and the scissors; the focus was the birth canal. Developed in the 17th century in Europe to extract stillborn infants from their mother's wombs, forceps (called iron hands) became standard procedure in the United States to extract the living infant.
  • Street Art 23 of 25
    Street Art
    A mural depicting childbirth in San Francisco, California
  • Natural Childbirth 24 of 25
    Natural Childbirth
    "When we stop analyzing, stop trying to consciously act or respond and just trust and allow birth to take place. This is when birth gets good!"
    Image: MyNaturalChildbirth
  • Childbirth in the Hospital 25 of 25
    Childbirth in the Hospital
    This photo depicts how I gave birth to my first two children. I'm rethinking my options for my third. It's all about choices, ladies. CHOICES.

Article Posted 5 years Ago

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