How a racist guy with a terrible name helped create a childbirth movement…
For every celebrity who says she’s having a natural birth, there’s the ghost of a British obstetrician cheering in the spectral wings. Meet Grantly Dick-Read…
Dick-Read literally wrote the book on the natural childbirth movement: Childbirth Without Fear, still in print more than 60 years after it was first written. He pioneered the so-called “natural childbirth movement” in the early and mid-twentieth century, postulating that labor pains were a result of fear, tension, and culture. Dick-Read claimed that educated women in urban environments were overprotected and coddled, so they suffered excessive pain in childbirth.
Breathe in, breathe out. Image via the Wellcome Center.
Dick-Read thought a woman should remain entirely aware during her delivery so she could “truly fulfill herself emotionally when she sees and welcome the child emerging from her womb into the world.” The ideal patient to show off this philosophy of childbirth? “Primitive women” whose bodies were well-toned by physical work and whose minds were uncluttered by such thing as anxiety. Her ultimate goal in life should be to have kids, he opined.
He envisioned, as a result, “traditional” European family values reemerging. In his dream world, there would be happier births and more women having babies, creating a higher fertility rate. And white Britain would remain number one around the world. Such incredibly racist ideas, as noted by Dr. Amy Tuteur, yielded some of the foundations of a subfield of modern obstetrics. Like many scientific movements, it has deeply disturbing origins.
Dick-Read wasn’t the only advocate of natural childbirth back in the day; his philosophies of telling women to relax while giving birth were picked up by Fernand Lamaze (progenitor of the Lamaze class), among others.