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Response to Review of Lamaze: An International History

I thank Dr. Al-Gailani for his careful reading of and thoughtful reflections on my book, and I appreciate the uncommon opportunity to respond to a few of the interesting observations that he raised.

Al-Gailani points to the many rich veins that remain to be mined in the global story of the psychoprophylaxis. Investigation of some of these stories is already in train. For example, Ema Hrešanová writes about the experience of state socialist Czechoslovakia and post-socialist Czech Republic, and Margie Franzin has recently begun work on Spain.(1a) Shedding unprecedented light on the method’s eastward trajectory, an article on the adoption of psychoprophylaxis in the People’s Republic of China appeared just as my book went to press.(2a)

I share Al-Gailani’s curiosity about the practice of psychoprophylaxis in the Global South, but there is little indication that the Lamaze method’s advocates have had any meaningful engagement in the world’s poorer countries. The persistent myth of the ‘primitive’ woman and her ability to give birth with ease – something I am at present writing an article about – may help to explain the conspicuous absence of interest.(3a)

Where I do see an un-met need for further research is on the experience of middle-income countries, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean. Lamaze himself travelled to Cuba and Argentina to promote the method there. Writings by Lamaze and others were translated into Spanish early on. Lamaze’s rival, British physician Grantly Dick-Read, too, toured Latin America and engaged in a lively correspondence with physicians there.

Even in national contexts about which we know more, there are histories yet to be written. As Al-Gailani notes of my brief excursion into Algeria, I could only gesture toward some of them. Building on her earlier work, Marilène Vuille is currently undertaking further examination of psychoprophylaxis in France; this work may provide evidence of the regional variation that I glimpsed.(4a) On the other side of the Atlantic, Lamaze International’s efforts, of uneven success, to reach beyond its core urban, middle class, white constituency to African-American and Latino communities merits detailed study.

A significant gap remains, as Al-Gailani astutely observes, concerning the fate of psychoprophylaxis in Great Britain. Grantly Dick-Read’s similar method, known as Natural Childbirth or the Read method, rivalled psychoprophylaxis in the Anglophone world throughout the 1950s. At that decade’s close, members of the main British organisation for the promotion of the Read method, the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), fought over what stance to take toward psychoprophylaxis. Those favouring psychoprophylaxis ultimately won the day and ousted dogmatic supporters of the Read method. Several scholars, myself included, are now delving more deeply into the aftermath of this transition. Given the role of the National Health Service, the British case, of course, differs profoundly from the American one. Nonetheless, I think we will see that psychoprophylaxis in Great Britain broadly followed the same trajectory as in the United States, a reflection of the common Anglo-American conversation among maternity caregivers and birth activists.

Notes

  1. Ema Hrešanová, Kultury dvou porodnic: Etnografická studie (Plzeň, 2008).Back to (1a)
  2. Byungil Ahn, “Reinventing scientific medicine for the Socialist Republic: the Soviet psycho-prophylactic method of delivery in 1950s China’, Twentieth-Century China, 38 (May 2013), 139–55.Back to (2a)
  3. For a thoughtful analysis of natural childbirth and notions of the primitive, see S. Nestel, ‘”Other” mothers: race and representation in natural childbirth discourse’, Resources for Feminist Research, 23, 4 (1995), 5–19.Back to (3a)
  4. Marilène Vuille, Accouchement et douleur: Une étude sociologique (Lausanne, 1998).Back to (4a)