Comparing Obstetric Practices

Anandi’s thesis was on the topic of obstetrics among Hindus. It is a fifty-page document written in her beautiful cursive script.  It is as good a primary source as it is possible to have on the beliefs and practices relating to childbirth during the 1870s-1880s in India.

A careful reading of the thesis has suggested several questions:

  1. What were the main points of similarity and difference between American and Indian practices?  One similarity is that childbirth had not yet been “medicalized” and was still mostly under the purview of women — midwives and older female relatives. One big difference is that anesthesia (chloroform and ether) was widely in use in America — and not at all in India.
  2. It goes without saying that childbirth is a vastly different experience in the present day than it was then — both in India and in the U.S. Even so, it is fascinating — and humbling — to read of the hardships that attended childbirth in previous eras. For example, I was shocked to read that childbirth was so dangerous that a woman would make out her will as soon as she found out that she was pregnant.  What makes this tidbit even more heartbreaking  is the fact that women on average became pregnant six to eight times. So, this battle to snatch birth/life from the jaws of death had to be waged that many times. Finally, the prevalence of childhood diseases made for high infant mortality rates and most women were (reluctant) members of the club of women who had lost a baby or young child.
  3. What do Anandi’s choice of topic and the manner in which she approached it tell us about her and how she had changed as a result of her American education and sojourn.

I also plan to read the theses of some of the other students in Anandi’s cohort. This will help me develop a better understanding of topics of interest in America at that time. This will also shed light on the thesis orientation – was it observational or experimental, what / how many references were cited, and what was the level of knowledge about these topics at that time.

Much to ponder and research, before beginning to write.


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