Did women suffer from less birthing damage 100 years ago?

My grandpa is 85 years old. he was the youngest of 12 children, 7 brothers and 4 sisters. they all died except for one brother. I understand this was common in rural areas less than 100 years ago.

Did women suffer less damage from birthing? They didn’t do cesarean back then. These wives had a child almost every year?

No, they suffered more birthing damage. Quite often, it killed them. You just don’t happen to be descended from one of the woman who died young in childbirth. (Which is not surprising, as those women had fewer descendants.)

My dad used to say that there used to be an old saying about a man having two wives - one to bear his children and the other to raise them (after the first one died).

I’ve heard it was believed that a woman who had too many, too close together could lose teeth. The babies would pull minerals from her body. Always wondered about that, though. I could see bones getting thin, but teeth seem pretty complete once they erupt.

They did cesareans, but not as often. They were perceived as a last resort - sometimes very literally as the mother was already dead.

I hope not. 85 kids would probably be a handful.

They did have caesarean back then. There are historical reports of it occurring as early as the 3rd century BCE. The name Caesarean actually comes from Caeser, Julius’s line. It was referenced in Shakespeare’s play of the same name though it’s doubtful Julius was actually born that way. Most women died of it until fairly recently.

Speaking of, a good deal of women died and still die from childbirth related issues. In America it’s around 1 in 10,000. In some African countries it can be as shockingly high as 1 in 7.

As for injuries during childbirth here’s one study:

which says it showed 35 of participants had tears in their sphincter even weeks after birth and 80% of the women with forceps delivery. But at least they survived. And the baby survived. Back in the day, the shape of the forceps was sometimes considered a trade secret which means that those who made their own would run the risk of tearing the baby apart when bringing it out. Fun times!

So back in ye olden days? I guess if you survived and your baby survived you considered yourselves lucky and didn’t complain so much about all those “silly” little things like your vagina and anus tearing. But they still happened.

I found fascinating articles

It says that uterine prolapse was first recorded in Ancient Egypt. From reading it seems most women that bore children had some sort of pelvic prolapse, and it was considered regular. Greeks believed womb moves around on its own and doesn’t stay in place. They just shoved it back in there and had tenth kid.

You cited a 1:7 death rate in Africa, but even if you don’t die, you stand a strong chance of suffering an obstetric fistula:

Without treatment, your life is pretty much ruined. Presumably this was also true for women everywhere in the distant past. The surgical repair was developed in the mid-1800s, but pertinent to the OP’s question, it’s likely that it was not widely available 100 years ago.

The frustrating part is that a good many OFs are actually preventable with skilled assistance during childbirth - and of those that still occur, the repair surgery (which costs just a few hundred dollars) has a 91% success rate.

Was interested to see that a documentary film on the problem of obstetric fistulas in African women was just released, with Meryl Streep narrating.

There’s another doco about this topic called “A Walk to Beautiful”. It’s aired a number of times on PBS, and you can get the DVD on Netflix. It is excellent.

My mom’s oldest brother was born at home in 1930, and had they been in a hospital, Grandma would have had a c-section. IDK what happened, but it must have been a nightmare. My uncle was no worse for the wear; he had a very successful career in insurance, ran marathons for many years, and just turned 85 a few weeks ago. So, my other uncle and mother were born in a hospital, both with no complications, but they didn’t want to take any chances.

Whether a c-section is necessary or not is a debate that has been raging since the late 1840s, when the discovery of surgical anesthesia made the procedure feasible on living women. The discovery of spinal anesthesia 40 years later made it even safer (and interestingly, the first agent used for this was cocaine).

There used to be a hospital in New York City that was devoted solely to the repair of obstetrical fistula; it closed ca. 1900 because improved medical care drastically reduced its incidence. However, I personally know a woman who had one about 35 years ago when her 10-pound son was born vaginally after a very rapid labor, and she had a 4th degree tear that didn’t heal completely. :eek:

Dr. Richard Sacra, one of the American missionaries who got Ebola last year, lived in Liberia for many years and travels back and forth to work at a hospital in Monrovia. He doesn’t do OB care here - he’s a family practice physician - but when he’s over there, he mostly does c-sections, often on women who have been in labor for a week or more. :eek: Most babies there are born at home, without any problems, but when something goes wrong, it goes REALLY wrong, and in most areas, there isn’t much that can be done about it. That’s the way things used to be in this country, too.

Here’s a presentation he gave at a private school in his hometown several months after his discharge from the hospital. Someone on another board said, “No offense, but why is this clown wearing pajamas”? :stuck_out_tongue: and I replied, “He’s not wearing pajamas. He’s wearing native Liberian attire.” He talks about what he did over there.


BTW, if you have a weak stomach, you don’t want to know about some of the things that were done in the event of an obstructed labor. Embryotomy and pubiotomy are exactly what they sound like they are. :eek: :frowning: The latter is never done nowadays; the former is only done on a deceased baby.

that reminds me of something I see in the washroom

My maternal grandmother died in childbirth, in 1929; her uterus had hemorrhaged. It was her eighth child. She was only 42.

Years later, my maternal grandfather married my paternal grandmother.

OBs do this all the time, and it’s very safe for both mother and baby when done correctly and appropriately.

But it looks creepy and is modern, which means it must be bad, somehow.

Torontonian, if you’re trying to argue that the Western wold has gotten worse at keeping mothers and children alive through childbirth, you’re wrong and, happily, you aren’t going to find any uptake here. Even the people around here most enamored of SCAM (Supplementary, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine) agree that modern mainstream OB/GYN technique has greatly improved outcomes in all cases, especially the most difficult.

Im not trying to argue. I always wondered how women had had some many kids back in the day. I finally found information that agrees with the idea that it was considered a norm when almost all wives had some degree of prolapse. In modern time it is not normal

Back in the day, pessaries (vaginal supports) were commonly used for prolapse. They were rings or other shapes, usually made of hard rubber, and were designed to keep things in place if surgery wasn’t an option for any number of reasons.

I think they still use those today. Wouldn’t it be discomfortable to walk around with one all day?

Rather more comfortable than the alternative.

I had an emergency c-section at 35 weeks due to HELLP syndrome. If I’d gone into labor a century ago I probably would have died of it, having very few platelets to stop bleeding. So no.

How? Your premise is flawed. Birth control was invented, ergo, people have fewer children.

It saved my son and me from an emergency c-section.

I am a dentist and I am sure I hear at least one woman a month tell me how great her teeth were until she got pregnant and the baby(s) took the minerals from her teeth. So a lot of women must still believe it.