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Natural Childbirth by Grantly Dick-Read

dick-read-natural-childbirth-175wOne of my little-known passions is collecting out-of-print books on birth.  Often, these "lost resources" offer both nuggets of wisdom and reveal in amazing ways how attitudes toward birth have changed over time.

And I would guess that the mother of all such lost books, is the book that coined the term "Natural Childbirth," written in 1933 by Doctor Grantly Dick-Read.  The book was a clinical analysis of a natural childbirth experience written as a scholarly work targeted at medical community.

At the time, birth pain was "managed" in hospital settings by knocking women unconscious using chloroform.  However, after watching a woman refuse chloroform and deliver her baby without trauma or excrutiating pain, Dick-Read came to believe that fear and tension were the cause of labor pains.

Dick-Read's groundbreaking ideas, however, were immediately ridiculed by the British medical community, eventually resulting in his fellow obstetricians expelling him from the London clinic where he practiced.  Ever persistent, however, Dr Dick-Read started his own practice, and 10 years later created a book targeted at the general public instead of the medical community.  This later book became an international best-seller, and Dick-Read toured the world speaking and teaching, eventually settling in South Africa where he studied traditional African births, a five-year experience that strengthened his beliefs, probably in a "well, smack me on the head" sort of way.

When I received my first original copy of this groundbreaking work, I sat down with a friend and we eagerly flipped through the pages stopping at one of the photos.  It was a photo of a xray of a baby in utero -- an xray?  It was a reminder of how far we have come, and that even the founders of the natural childbirth movement would probably be considered barbaric by today's standards.  Sometimes, I imagine that I would love to go back in time, just to see how far we have come, and to meet the people who got us there.  Reading Dick-Read, however, is an example of why you should "never meet your heroes."  He may have nudged the natural childbirth movement in the right direction and even given it a name, but

In the end, what Grantly Dick-Read's life experience teaches me is that we should probably be listening more to the people having babies and less to what the prevailing medical or even spiritual wisdom may be regarding birth.  Dick-Read's great revelation came when one of his own patients refused to accept chloroform.