When was reproduction invented? A debate in the Cambridge Festival of Ideas…

Oocyte image

From abortion to climate crisis, intimate experiences to planetary policy, reproduction presents urgent challenges today. This debate invites participants to stand back and take a long view.
The panellists, including the editors of the field-defining synthesis, Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day (Cambridge, 2018), will lead a discussion of when, how and for what purposes reproduction as we know it was made.
At one extreme, we could give reproduction a history that goes back to the evolution of life on earth. At the other, we might highlight the major changes of the decades after World War II, such as the pill and in vitro fertilization. But strong cases can be made for periods in between—for ancient Greek philosophers, medieval priests, Enlightenment savants and Malthusian couples—and this event will also consider their claims.

Panel: Rebecca Flemming, Susan Golombok, Nick Hopwood and Lauren Kassell
Chair: Jim Secord
Thursday 17 October: 6:00pm–7:30pm
St John’s College Fisher Building, St John’s Street, Cambridge CB2 1TP
Entry is free, but you have to book.

Reconceiving the womb in medicine, law and society

Description:

This symposium will explore diverse womb-related developments from the past, present and future, investigating important ethical and socio-legal questions emerging from new and future technologies.

Historically, the womb has featured in medical, social and legal debates about women. A functioning womb saved a woman from the ‘curse’ of barrenness, but also was often blamed for women’s erratic behaviour and used to deny women many opportunities and legal rights. What can we learn from women’s ‘hystories’? Today, attempts are repeatedly made to police pregnancy, interfering with women’s rights on the grounds of fetal health, as the womb is treated as a conflict zone for public health. The womb also is a focus of reproductive futures. Until recently, pregnancy was only possible for a woman born with a healthy womb, but science is facilitating exciting possibilities for gestation such as artificial wombs. Will the womb become a non-binary reproductive organ?

Schedule:

These and other exciting questions will be addressed through three diverse sessions, each encompassing two or three prepared talks followed by a panel discussion.


9.30 – 10: Arrival and Coffee

10 – 10.15: Welcome and Introductions

10.15 – 12: Reflecting on women’s hystories: ‘wandering wombs’ in science and society (Session 1)

12 – 12.30: Coffee Break

12.30 – 2.15: Exploring reproductive autonomy: the womb and evolving attitudes, rights and responsibilities (Session 2)

2.15 – 3: Lunch

3 – 4.30: Speculating about reproductive futures: partial ectogenesis and
de-gendering reproduction (Session 3)

4.30 – 5: Close

5 – 6: Wine Reception


Confirmed speakers:

Session 1: Professor Margaret Brazier (University of Manchester), Dr Sarah Fox (University of Manchester) and Caroline Henaghan (University of Manchester)

Session 2: Professor Stephen Wilkinson (Lancaster University), Dr Nicola Williams (Lancaster University) and Dunja Begovic (University of Manchester)

Session 3: Professor Emily Jackson (London School of Economics) and Elizabeth Chloe Romanis (University of Manchester)


Confirmed panellists:

Dr Amel Alghrani (University of Liverpool), Professor Rebecca Bennett (University of Manchester), Professor Susan Bewley (King’s College London), Catherine Bowden (University of Manchester), Professor Emma Cave (Durham University), Dr Alexandra Mullock (University of Manchester), Laura O’Donovan (Lancaster University)

Mon, 4 November 2019
09:30 – 17:00 GMT

The University of Manchester
Oxford Road
Manchester M13 9PL

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Admission free – register via Eventbrite

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De Partu working lunch at Born Yesterday conference

A De Partu working lunch will take place during this week’s Born Yesterday conference at the University of Nottingham. It will be held during the lunch break on Thursday 5th. An announcement will be made to confirm the venue. Non-members are welcome.

Agenda:
1. Welcome
2. The Jean Donnison Essay Prize – planning
3. Collaboration with the British Society for the History of Medicine on a proposed project, ‘History of Health Scholar’
4. Discussion of a proposal for the website content to become entirely open access
5. Review of newsletter – to continue or not?
6. Treasurer’s report
7. AOB

RCM Library temporarily closing 19th August…

RCM Library and Heritage Collections: our move and temporary closure

Later this year, mid-November, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) will be moving to their new home in Union Street, located close to London Bridge.

The RCOG’s Research and Information Services, including library, archives, rare books, museum and artworks, along with the integrated library and heritage collection of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) will be packed and moved to Union Street, before the College re-opens mid-November.

The Reading Room (library), located next to the reception area in the RCOG’s current building at Sussex Place, will be temporarily closing on Monday 19 August, in preparation for this move.

Whilst the Reading Room is closed, we will continue to respond to email enquiries. Access to eBooks, e-journals and other e- resource will also be available throughout this time. A limited document delivery service will be available.

Access to the Archives will continue as much as possible, by appointment only.

The Museum is now closed to tours and will reopen in Spring 2020.

Please note it may take longer to respond to enquiries during this time.

Please see Our New Home website for further details.

Royal College of Midwives – Special collections

‘This collection comprises primarily personal papers originally deposited at the Royal College of Midwives, now held at the RCOG. It includes case registers, pupil case books, notebooks, diaries, photographs and printed material, relating to the experiences of midwives and how childbirth has changed throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.’

A very useful table of contents is available via the JISC Archives Hub.

A collection of useful links is available in the members area of our website including links to archives, libraries and museums and items related to historiography…

Mary Cronk (1932-2018)

Mary Cronk

Mary Cronk, who has died aged 86, was held in high regard by the mothers she cared for and the many midwives to whom she was an inspiration and a role model.

Mary came from a strong radical tradition. Her father was a Clydeside shop steward and her mother worked for the Co-operative Society in Gourock, Scotland. Mary’s outlook was radical: she wanted to understand how things worked socially and physiologically, and she had instinctive empathy with those at the bottom of the pile.

Mary trained first as a nurse at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, later moving to undertake midwifery training at Queen Charlotte’s in London. Her passions were midwifery and sailing. While living in London she joined the Corinthian Sailing Club where she met Joe, who she married in 1957.  They sailed their boat, handbuilt by Joe, to the Mediterranean and lived on it until their third child was born.

On returning to the UK Mary worked as a domiciliary (community) midwife. She politely stood up for the women in her care, famously challenging consultant obstetricians who required all “their patients” to have episiotomies. She also supported her less brave colleagues who accidentally dropped the scissors rather than perform unnecessary episiotomies and subverted hospital policies to help mothers by the many other practices she labelled “doing good by stealth”.

In 1991 she left the NHS and worked for many years as an independent midwife, supporting women whose decisions around their birth did not fit with increasingly rigid NHS policies. She became an expert in breech and twin birth at a time when obstetricians were opting for caesarean section in such cases. She was highly skilled but not cavalier in her approach and subsequent research has shown the wisdom and safety of her practice.

Mary was loved by the women she cared for. Many women booked her for each of their births and she attended the births of many women whom she had herself helped into the world. She travelled great distances to support mothers who sought her out for her skills, her kindness and her deep respect for childbearing women.

Though never employed or qualified as a midwife teacher, Mary became one of the most famous midwife teachers in the world. She told stories, illustrated by adopting the maternal position required, or getting someone else to, as arthritis limited her mobility. She demonstrated clearly with a doll and pelvis. She used pictures in a way that enabled us to really see the mechanisms of birth. Anyone who attended the “Day at the Breech”, or heard her talking about twin or breech births appreciated the clarity of her explanation. She had so many memorable turns of phrase and her useful phrases which parents might use in answer to professional “advice” were wonderful in highlighting where power lies and where it should lie.

She was not a natural writer and her writing was a challenge to edit. Her gifts were those of someone who really understood the physiology of birth and could explain it clearly. She was a skilled observer, a good listener and her practical curiosity was phenomenal. She was of the great and ancient tradition of midwives who learned and taught as they practiced. Such midwives are now very rare. Yet her teaching demonstrated the error of the long held assumption that midwives without higher education must be ignorant.

She was generous with her knowledge and her praise, last teaching from her wheelchair at an international conference in 2016. She inspired two generations of midwives.

As Mary fearlessly supported mothers, she recognised the need for strong midwifery and lay representation on the statutory bodies which regulate midwifery. She was a midwifery board member of the English National Board, served on committees for the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting, and was a member of Council of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) from 1999 – 2003. In 1998 she was awarded the MBE for her services to midwifery; she had great heart-searching as to whether to accept the honour and did so because “it is really for midwifery”.

Mary is survived by her husband Joe, her son Peter, her daughter Maggie, grandchildren Louis, Phoebe, Georgia and Ella and great-grandchildren Milo and Madelene. Her son John predeceased her.

Mavis Kirkham
February 2019

Mary Cronk, midwife, born 29 October 1932, died 21 December 2018.

Sworn midwife: Mistress Katharine Manley of Whitby, her work and world

‘There is no formal memorial to Mrs Manley’s near half-century of service to the people of Whitby. Yet her diary, a veritable gold mine for the genealogist and for the social historian, remains with us, enormously enriching our understanding of a vital aspect of a bygone age.’ (p. 34)

A page from Midwife Manley's diary (1720-1764)
A page from Midwife Manley’s diary (1720-1764)

With acknowledgements to MIDIRS, we are pleased to provide online access to a paper about the Whitby midwife Mistress Katharine Manley, whose  diary can be found in the museum in Whitby. The diary documents her 44 years of experience from 1720 to 1764.   

If you are a De Partu member, please enter the members’ area, where there is a range of resources and links on the history of childbirth.

To access the area, you will need to log in (right sidebar) with your email address as the username and the password which was sent to you when you joined. Please note that new passwords are issued each year following renewal of subscriptions.

Sworn midwife: Mistress Katharine Manley of Whitby, her work and world

Written by Dr Jean Donnison and published in MIDIRS Midwifery Digest  in 2007 17(1):25-34.  

De-medicalisation of breast feeding …

Wellcome Collection image: Madonna and child showing breast feeding. Milan. Musee Poldi-Pezzolige

In 1982 Chloe Fisher, who has dedicated much of her life to educating midwives and women on infant feeding and to supporting breast feeding mothers, published a historical review of  modern breastfeeding ‘management’ and the origins of certain restrictive practices which prevailed for a considerable time during the twentieth century. While contemporary medical experts were advocating limiting the duration of initial breast feeds and no night feeds, at the end of this paper Chloe highlights the words of those who challenged such notions but whose work had hitherto been largely unrecognised. The following is a quotation from the concluding paragraphs of her paper:

‘Early in this decade [the 1950s] two well designed research projects (Illingworth and Stone, 1952: Newton, 1952) came to the conclusion that removing the restrictions would aid the establishment of lactation and reduce the incidence of problems. Other work led the author of a comprehensive history of infant feeding to say, of self-demand feeding,“When this regime becomes universally adopted, as surely it will, so the last chapter on the history of infant feeding will be concluded” (Wickes, 1953). That was in 1953!  

In the developed world, slavish adherence to the earlier theories probably did as much harm to human lactation as the promotion of artificial feeds. But that we should have been guilty of taking these ideas to the developing countries, where artificial feeding can cause gross malnutrition, if not death, should make us pause for serious thought. How did it take another 20 years for the hoped-for improvements to begin to occur here? There is no simple answer, but a large contribution to the delay must have come from the rapid increase in hospital confinements, as it was in hospitals that these practices were firmly established. The rapid and happy changes that are now taking place owe much to the insistence of the many mothers who wish to breastfeed their babies. For the few professionals who are deeply concerned to increase breastfeeding, both for the sake of the mothers and their babies, exciting and rewarding times lie ahead.’ 

The UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative World Breast Feeding Week (August 1st–7th 2018) ended recently. In the UK, the week was preceded by a sensational Channel 4 film in the Dispatches series, ‘Breast feeding uncovered’,  which explored the experience of breast feeding mothers today through the eyes of a breast feeding investigative journalist. It would appear that, while many women are now motivated to breast feed, society’s attitude towards feeding in public and the recognition of its benefits to babies and families and ultimately to society, could be better.

J C Allotey 09/08/18

References

Fisher, C. (1982). Mythology in midwifery – or “making breastfeeding scientific and exact”. Oxford Medical School Gazette, Trinity Term, 30-33.

Illingworth, R.S., and D.G.H. Stone (1952). Self demand feeding in a maternity unit. Lancet, 1, 683.

Newton, N. (1952). Nipple pain and nipple damage. Journal of Pediatrics, 41, 411

Wickes, I.G. (1953). A history of infant feeding. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 128, 151