The Midwife Who Traveled to Distant Villages in France

My husband and I spent a week in Upper Michigan, off the grid. During the day I worked on projects around the old farmhouse. In the evenings we shared dinner with my sisters. After dinner I read books. I was shifting between two books. Do you do that? have two or three books going at the same time?

One of the books was about a midwife who was commissioned by the king of France to teach midwifery skills throughout the country. The mortality rate of mothers and infants was high and King Louis XV was concerned about the prospect of a diminishing population.

Nina Gelbart wrote the book, The King’s Midwife: A History and Mystery of Madame du Coudray. The book has a picture of “the machine” Madame du Coudray used to demonstrate the skillful assistance of birth. Madame du Coudray devised a model of a female pelvis from cloth and wicker, along with a model of a baby. She also wrote a book of instructions that was published.

The midwife was commissioned to travel to distant villages with her assistants. She spent weeks at a time holding classes, demonstrating the movements of birth, watching the students work with her “machine”. 

The common problems of human nature peeps out throughout the pages. Madame du Coudray taught surgeons and doctors—but some felt it was beneath them to learn from a midwife. Matrons that had been the village midwife for years felt they needed no further help. Catholic priests felt that any young woman who was not a member of the Catholic church should not be certified as a midwife—she wouldn’t be able to baptize the infant if its life was in danger.

Madame du Coudray was skillful in relating to women and men. She was able to hold doctors and surgeons in respect, while teaching midwifery skills. She kept her focus on saving the lives of women and children. It is a testament to her abilities that she held classes all across France for more than thirty years (1751 -1783)

The writing prompt for today’s Five Minute Friday is: DISTANT

Book Review: Born for Life

When I am planning to travel  I  usually  find  a  couple  of  books  for my kindle.  I prefer hard copy books most of the time,  but when traveling   e-books are a great option.

I saw the title online, Born for Life: A Midwifes’s Story, and was immediately drawn to it. It is a gem of a book.

Julie Watson writes a memoir about childbirth, her own and the many women she provided care for in New Zealand. She began her career in maternity care as a nurse aid in a small rural hospital. Some of the scenes reminded me of my early jobs as a nursing assistant.

She includes practices that are now outdated and no longer recommended—sugar water for infants, high forceps deliveries and more.

When she was 37 years old she studied to become first a registered nurse and then a midwife. As she approached her training she wrote this about the Nurses Amendment Act that was passed in New Zealand in 1990 and made the independent practice of midwifery legal.

The emphasis was on the midwife and the woman being in partnership, making decisions together about the care given. It was a model of equal power, rather than of a health professional telling the woman what to do and what would happen to her. Power was now given to women, which was so different from my own [childbirth] experience.

Ms. Watson began her practice in a hospital setting and then moved on to become an independent midwife with her own practice. She attended women in the home and in the hospital. Like so many other places in the world her practice as an independent midwife was seen as a threat to the business of birth.

For women interested in midwifery, it is a fascinating read.

Childbirth

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The Midwife’s Story

A number of years ago I read an article about a Finnish midwife. In 1909 she had been at the center of a court case, determining the legality of midwifery in Massachusetts. She had been arrested a number of times (despite the fact that her statistics for live births were better than most doctors practicing in the area).

I was struck by her determination, her sisu, in serving childbearing women in Gardner, Massachusetts. Why did she persist after multiple court appearances and a three-month sentence in the House of Corrections?

Her persistence fascinated me. So I began researching her life. I visited Gardner, Massachusetts and found her burial place in the Crystal Lake Cemetery. During the trip that my husband and I made to Finland, I visited the parish where she lived. The church records listed the significant dates in her life.

The court cases that were brought against Hanna influenced the decline of midwifery in the first half of the twentieth century. I am in the process of writing her story.

This post is linked to Five Minute Friday. Every Friday Kate Motaung gives a word prompt. And then we write for five minutes. Today’s prompt is STORY.  Visit this writing community by clicking here.