Skip to main content
Back to Results
Cover image of Deliver Me from Pain
Cover image of Deliver Me from Pain
Share this Title:

Deliver Me from Pain

Anesthesia and Birth in America

Jacqueline H. Wolf

Publication Date
Binding Type
Request Exam CopyRequest Review Copy

Despite today's historically low maternal and infant mortality rates in the United States, labor continues to evoke fear among American women. Rather than embrace the natural childbirth methods promoted in the 1970s, most women welcome epidural anesthesia and even Cesarean deliveries. In Deliver Me from Pain, Jacqueline H. Wolf asks how a treatment such as obstetric anesthesia, even when it historically posed serious risk to mothers and newborns, paradoxically came to assuage women's anxiety about birth.

Each chapter begins with the story of a birth, dramatically illustrating the unique…

Despite today's historically low maternal and infant mortality rates in the United States, labor continues to evoke fear among American women. Rather than embrace the natural childbirth methods promoted in the 1970s, most women welcome epidural anesthesia and even Cesarean deliveries. In Deliver Me from Pain, Jacqueline H. Wolf asks how a treatment such as obstetric anesthesia, even when it historically posed serious risk to mothers and newborns, paradoxically came to assuage women's anxiety about birth.

Each chapter begins with the story of a birth, dramatically illustrating the unique practices of the era being examined. Deliver Me from Pain covers the development and use of anesthesia from ether and chloroform in the mid-nineteenth century; to amnesiacs, barbiturates, narcotics, opioids, tranquilizers, saddle blocks, spinals, and gas during the mid-twentieth century; to epidural anesthesia today.

Labor pain is not merely a physiological response, but a phenomenon that mothers and physicians perceive through a historical, social, and cultural lens. Wolf examines these influences and argues that medical and lay views of labor pain and the concomitant acceptance of obstetric anesthesia have had a ripple effect, creating the conditions for acceptance of other, often unnecessary, and sometimes risky obstetric treatments: forceps, the chemical induction and augmentation of labor, episiotomy, electronic fetal monitoring, and Cesarean section.

As American women make decisions about anesthesia today, Deliver Me from Pain offers them insight into how women made this choice in the past and why each generation of mothers has made dramatically different decisions.

Reviews

Reviews

It is sometimes difficult to reconcile the attitudes of contemporary thought with the historical event that is under consideration. As I closed the book, I was still uncertain about whether more anesthesia is better. But I am relieved that we live in an era in which it is no longer accepted that there is a physiological advantage to pain during labor.

I would recommend this book to health professionals who are committed to understanding and acknowledging that every woman experiences childbirth in an individual and unique manner.

It is perhaps Wolf's utter engagement with the material that is responsible for producing such a dynamic history.

Wolf opens her readers' eyes to the vast history that has layered the medical community's ignorance onto a persistent belief that childbirth is the worst pain a human will ever experience, then topped it off with a population's growing need to 'schedule' birth into our increasingly busy lives, and come up with a society... [that] should not—really, cannot—labor without numbing their bodies to the sensations of birth.

Much needed addition to the blossoming scholarly work on childbirth history.

See All Reviews
About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
296
ISBN
9781421405728
Illustration Description
8 halftones, 4 line drawings
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: "Terrible Torture" or "The Nicest Sensation I've Ever Had"?: Conflicting Perceptions of Labor in U.S. History
1. Ether and Chloroform: The Question of Necessity, 1840s

Acknowledgments
Introduction: "Terrible Torture" or "The Nicest Sensation I've Ever Had"?: Conflicting Perceptions of Labor in U.S. History
1. Ether and Chloroform: The Question of Necessity, 1840s through 1890s
2. Twilight Sleep: The Question of Professional Respect, 1890s through 1930s
3. Developing the Obstetric Anesthesia Arsenal: The Question of Safety, 1900 through 1960s
4. Giving Birth to the Baby Boomers: The Question of Convenience, 1940s through 1960s
5. Natural Childbirth and Birth Reform: The Question of Authority, 1950s through 1980s
6. Epidural Anesthesia and Cesarean Section: The Question of Choice, 1970s to the Present
Glossary of Medical Terminology
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Jacqueline H. Wolf

Jacqueline H. Wolf is a professor of the history of medicine and chair of the Department of Social Medicine at Ohio University and author of Don't Kill Your Baby: Public Health and the Decline of Breastfeeding in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. She is also the host of Conversations from Studio B, a monthly radio show on health and medicine that airs on the NPR affiliate in southeast Ohio...
Resources

Additional Resources