Human birth requires assistance

Human birth requires assistance
Left, «Pioneer birth scene», artist unknown. Right, «Sage-femme kiowa soufflant une poudre e?me?tique dans la bouche de la patiente», Georges Devy. Source: Witkowski (1887) © US National Library of Medicine

Human birth requires assistance

Human birth requires assistance. In the book Histoire des accouchements chez tous les peoples (Paris, 1887), Gustave-Joseph-Alphonse Witkowski took a cross-cultural, anthropological perspective on birth. The book included hundreds of illustrations of birthing from living peoples and throughout history. All the illustrations show one or more people assisting the mother to delivery her newborn. In the scene from the Colonial North America on the left, two women and two men assist during a European-style birth. On the right is a birthing scene of the Kiowa people, Native Americans of the Great Plains. The woman in labor is standing, leaning on a staff; there are two midwives, one behind her and kneeling on the ground ready to receive the infant; the other midwife is standing with her hands on the pregnant woman’s shoulders, blowing emetic powder into patient’s mouth. Human birth requires assistance for biocultural reasons. Biologically, the late term fetus has grown to size that is nearly as great as the birth canal, formed by the pelvic bones. There is only about one centimeter of clearance between the dimensions of the fetal skull and the birth canal. To make the transition from the uterus to the outside world the fetus, usually born head-first, must rotate as it moves along the birth canal. This can be a difficult process and sometimes requires assistance from other people. Culturally, the birth is an important social and emotional event for the mother, her family, and the community. Assistance from others reinforces these social-emotional bonds. During pregnancy the mother received much care and attention from family and community. The birth rituals of all human cultures reaffirm that the mother and her newborn are valued members of the society. [Barry Bogin]