Birth Pregnancy & Obstetrics | Hektoen International

A history of breastfeeding and wet nurses

Nursan Cinar, Sumeyra Topal, and Sinem Yalnizoglu Caka Sakarya, Turkey (Winter 2018)   The bond established with the milk never breaks off even if years passed. Wet nurse’s own son (at left) and milk son. Photo by Sümeyra Topal. Breastfeeding has been vital to life since the beginning of humanity. For infants who are unable to […]

“Sara, Bill, Kristine, … you’re pregnant!” Gestational surrogacy, biomedicalized bodies and reconceptualizations of motherhood

Eva-Sabine Zehelein Frankfurt, Germany (Fall 2017)   The day we left the hospital, a therapist from the perinatal loss department presented us with two death certificates and asked us if we wanted the bodies for a burial. … We were being taken out the back like the trash, sparing those families who came to the […]

The midwives of San Gimignano, 1336

Mary A. Osborne, BSN, RN SeniorBridge, Chicago, Illinois, United States Before the story line for Alchemy’s Daughter flew into my imagination, the idea of writing historical fiction had not occurred to me. I had penned a number of short stories, often inspired by my experiences as a home care nurse, and two semiautobiographical novels that […]

When angels sing

Mary Sommers Chicago, Illinois, United States (Fall 2012) Photography by Matthew Paulson   All living things have a natural urge to sing. Humans and other mammals, birds, insects, and even the great, extinct woolly mammoth sing special songs to call their children home. Though singing is universal, many people feel uncomfortable singing, as if we’ll […]

Miracle on Kedvale

Mary Sommers Chicago, Illinois, United States (Fall 2012)   Photography by Oplotnik Elizabeth enraged her family by falling in love—the wrong thing to do, as far as they were concerned, for a poor girl from a broken home in a small town in Mexico. During a secret courtship, she became pregnant. Elizabeth’s pregnancy added another […]

When did you last let your heart decide?

Sukanya Sam Chennai, India (Summer 2015) This woman in labor is not my patient. But the nurses worriedly tell me that the baby’s heartbeat could not be localized. Both handheld Doppler machines had broken down in the labor room unit of our small tertiary hospital. I was the resident on duty. I use the Pinard’s […]

Cultural warfare: investigating childbirth practices in “Doctor Zhivago”

Stephanie S. Colello Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, New York, United States (Spring 2015)   Caption: “Stalin’s tenderness to our future children shines!” I was fortunate to spend a year studying the transformation of Russian childbirth practices through the lens of Russian literature – an endeavor that at first glance may seem farfetched. […]

Leaders in the development of Western obstetric practice

 The history of obstetrics contains too many notable figures to simply select six key leaders in its development. However, as Laura Kaplan notes in “Changes in Childbirth in the US,” featured in the current issue, modern obstetrics has been greatly influenced by the invention and modernization of the forceps (Chamberlen and Smellie), the introduction of […]

Forceps: a brief history

“He’s a little old man very pale of complexion / Into many things makes a narrow inspection / His head’s very long and his hand’s very small” are the mysterious lines that open an anonymous 17th century English poem.1 Often presumed to refer to Hugh Chamberlen the Elder—the last of the famous Huguenot immigrant family […]

Birth trays in the Italian Renaissance

Recurring outbreaks of plague and their resulting demographic catastrophes largely contributed to the Renaissance emphasis on family and procreation. After the initial epidemic in 1348, the plague returned more than a dozen times over the next two centuries. Childbirth was seen as a vital measure to combat plague’s devastation, and a woman’s most important duty […]