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Lamaze: An International History by Paula A.…

Lamaze: An International History

by Paula A. Michaels

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If childbirth is known for something, it’s being painful. And many mothers give silent thanks to French obstetrician Fernand Lamaze for inventing a method to ease some of that pain. It’s pretty much a given that, if you’re having a baby, you’re doing “Lamaze.” The method is so engrained in American culture that few are aware that it has been around for less than a century…and that it has Soviet roots! (Cue scary music.)

Curious about the real origins of this popular birthing technique, historian and mother Paula A. Michaels, Senior Lecturer at Australia’s Monash University, combed archival material from four countries and even conducted personal interviews to learn more. In Lamaze: An International History (Oxford, 2014), she presents the stories behind the search for a painless delivery, from the Grantly Dick-Read method to I.Z. Vel’vovskii’s psychoprophylaxis to “Lamaze” as practiced today. There’s also much about the cyclical popularity of anesthesia, on the upswing more recently with the introduction of the epidural. What the reader will quickly discover is that these techniques didn’t materialize out of thin air, but were the products of social forces at work. Michaels’ story is not merely about obstetrics, but about Cold War tensions, political propaganda, psychology’s role in medicine, feminist movements, American consumerism, and the fads of “natural childbirth” with all its shades of meaning.

I don’t have much interest in medicine – my stomach churns when people talk about their operations – but I can honestly say I enjoyed reading Lamaze. It gave me a new understanding of and appreciation for the techniques, drugs, and machines available to new mothers today. I hope the book finds its way to the reading lists of many graduate-level history classes, particularly those in Gender History that want to discuss patriarchy, psychotherapy, and the control of women, and those covering 20th Century United States History that could benefit from an unusual perspective on Soviet-American relations. As for new mothers, I recommend only giving it to those who you know would appreciate a scholarly book. For the rest, they’ll have to wait until a PBS documentary is made.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book as a First Reads giveaway winner on GoodReads.com. There was no obligation to write a review. ( )
  AnnetteOC | Dec 28, 2014 |
In the early twentieth century, women faced one of two certainties when giving birth: either be awake during the labor and experience all the pain that comes with it or be placed under general anesthesia and have the baby delivered with forceps. Neither one of these scenarios were particularly enjoyable. And on top of all that, doctors and fathers were more likely to make the decisions before the mother would. But around the 1940s, the two interests of hypnosis and natural living combined to form a new practice in medicine. Paula Michaels’s Lamaze looks into the interesting amalgamation that became psychoprophylaxis, more commonly known as the Lamaze Method.

Dr. Fernand Lamaze, a French obstetrician visiting the Soviet Union in 1951, witnessed a curious birthing technique. Dr. I.Z. Velvovskii trained his patients to disregard the pain associated with childbirth by focusing energy on breathing and conditioned responses to contractions. It is curious that Lamaze was both a) able to observe medical practices in the Soviet Union during the beginning of the Cold War and b) allowed to report his findings to the world. The techniques which were born (pardon the pun) in the most stoic of nations led to a movement that allowed women to be both part of the process and control (or at least attempt to control) their own bodies at the same time.

Michaels’s historical investigation of the Lamaze method is as interesting as it is straightforward. It’s a small book (under 140 pages), but covers everything you need to know about the subject. I would have never guessed that Lamaze learned the method from Russian doctors. Also, Michaels places the medical practice in a broader social context, one that grew from the women’s liberation movements of the 1920s and 1930 and includes many letters from women of the time. If you’re at all interested in medical history, then this one will be a good one for you. ( )
1 vote NielsenGW | Jan 27, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0199738645, Hardcover)

The Lamaze method is virtually synonymous with natural childbirth in America. In the 1970s, taking Lamaze classes was a common rite of passage to parenthood. The conscious relaxation and patterned breathing techniques touted as a natural and empowering path to the alleviation of pain in childbirth resonated with the feminist and countercultural values of the era.

In Lamaze, historian Paula Michaels tells the surprising story of the Lamaze method from its origins in the Soviet Union in the 1940s, to its popularization in France in the 1950s, and then to its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s in the US. Michaels shows how, for different reasons, in disparate national contexts, this technique for managing the pain of childbirth without resort to drugs found a following. The Soviet government embraced this method as a panacea to childbirth pain in the face of the material and fiscal shortages that followed World War II. Heated and sometimes ideologically inflected debates surrounded the Lamaze method as it moved from East to West amid the Cold War. Physicians in France sympathetic to the communist cause helped to export it across the Iron Curtain, but politics alone fails to explain why French women embraced this approach. Arriving on American shores around 1960, the Lamaze method took on new meanings. Initially it offered a path to a safer and more satisfying birth experience, but overtly political considerations came to the fore once again as feminists appropriated it as a way to resist the patriarchal authority of male obstetricians. Drawing on a wealth of archival evidence, Michaels pieces together this complex and fascinating story at the crossroads of the history of politics, medicine, and gender.

The story of Lamaze
illuminates the many contentious issues that swirl around birthing practices in America and Europe. Brimming with insight, Michaels' engaging history offers an instructive intervention in the debate about how to achieve humane, empowering, and safe maternity care for all women.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:35 -0400)

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