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Deliver Me from Pain

Anesthesia and Birth in America

Jacqueline H. Wolf

Publication Year: 2009

Despite today's historically low maternal and infant mortality rates in the United States, labor continues to evoke fear among American women. Rather than embrace the natural childbirth methods promoted in the 1970s, most women welcome epidural anesthesia and even Cesarean deliveries. In Deliver Me from Pain, Jacqueline H. Wolf asks how a treatment such as obstetric anesthesia, even when it historically posed serious risk to mothers and newborns, paradoxically came to assuage women's anxiety about birth. Each chapter begins with the story of a birth, dramatically illustrating the unique practices of the era being examined. Deliver Me from Pain covers the development and use of anesthesia from ether and chloroform in the mid-nineteenth century; to amnesiacs, barbiturates, narcotics, opioids, tranquilizers, saddle blocks, spinals, and gas during the mid-twentieth century; to epidural anesthesia today. Labor pain is not merely a physiological response, but a phenomenon that mothers and physicians perceive through a historical, social, and cultural lens. Wolf examines these influences and argues that medical and lay views of labor pain and the concomitant acceptance of obstetric anesthesia have had a ripple effect, creating the conditions for acceptance of other, often unnecessary, and sometimes risky obstetric treatments: forceps, the chemical induction and augmentation of labor, episiotomy, electronic fetal monitoring, and Cesarean section. As American women make decisions about anesthesia today, Deliver Me from Pain offers them insight into how women made this choice in the past and why each generation of mothers has made dramatically different decisions.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

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INTRODUCTION: “Terrible Torture” or “The Nicest Sensation I’ve Ever Had”?: Conflicting Perceptions of Labor in U.S. History

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pp. 1-12

Of all the bitterly contested obstetric treatments of the past 160 years, the administration of anesthesia for labor pain has prompted the longest-lasting disagreement. William T. G. Morton inadvertently sparked this discussion when he demonstrated the miraculous use of ether during surgery before an enthralled audience at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston in 1846. Within a year, James Young Simpson...

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1 Ether and Chloroform: The Question of Necessity, 1840s through 1890s

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pp. 13-43

On April 7, 1847, Fanny Appleton Longfellow of Cambridge, Massachusetts, pregnant with her third child, became the first woman in the United States to inhale anesthesia while giving birth. Longfellow’s decision to use ether was not precipitous; indeed, finding a physician willing to administer the substance took considerable time and effort. Before the birth, her husband, the poet Henry...

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2 Twilight Sleep: The Question of Professional Respect, 1890s through 1930s

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pp. 44-72

On April 7, 1847, Fanny Appleton Longfellow of Cambridge, Massachusetts, pregnant with her third child, became the first woman in the United States to inhale anesthesia while giving birth. Longfellow’s decision to use ether was not precipitous; indeed, finding a physician willing to administer the substance took considerable time and effort. Before the birth, her husband, the poet Henry...

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3 Developing the Obstetric Anesthesia Arsenal: The Question of Safety, 1900 through 1960s

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pp. 73-104

Dorothy Reed Mendenhall, a pediatrician trained at Johns Hopkins University, gave birth to her first child in a Madison,Wisconsin, hospital in 1907. She did not anticipate a difficult delivery. One of her teachers at Johns Hopkins was famed obstetrician J. Whitridge Williams, and he had taught Mendenhall that few births were problematic, particularly if a doctor allowed nature to take its course...

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4 Giving Birth to the Baby Boomers: The Question of Convenience, 1940s through 1960s

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pp. 105-135

Living in Los Angeles in 1948 and pregnant for the first time after three years of marriage, Alice Munro Isaacs knew almost nothing about childbirth; she was the first in her social circle to become pregnant, and her mother had never discussed birth with her.Yet she was unperturbed by her lack of knowledge and happy to rely on her obstetrician’s expertise....

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5 Natural Childbirth and Birth Reform: The Question of Authority, 1950s through 1980s

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pp. 136-167

When Ina May Middleton, a twenty-six-year-old Northern Illinois University graduate student, was pregnant with her first child in 1966, she did not worry about labor pain. Her mother’s assurance that labor was not that bad had instilled in Middleton an offhand confidence about birth. She did, however, dread the prospect of unconsciousness. At a routine appointment one week before her due date, she told her obstetrician she did not want any anesthesia during labor. Her...

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6 Epidural Anesthesia and Cesarean Section: The Question of Choice, 1970s to the Present

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pp. 168-196

Anna Dobros, a twenty-six-year-old nurse living in a suburb west of Chicago, was pregnant with her first child in 2003. During her pregnancy she worried about labor pain; listening to friends’ stories about birth and watching births on television had frightened her. She talked to her obstetricians about her fear, and they were both very reassuring. They told her, “Oh, you can get through it. You’ll be fine.” She laughed...

Glossary of Medical Terminology

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pp. 197-203

Notes

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pp. 205-265

Index

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pp. 267-277


E-ISBN-13: 9781421403236
E-ISBN-10: 1421403234
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801891106
Print-ISBN-10: 0801891108

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 8 halftones, 4 line drawings
Publication Year: 2009