Giving Birth in Canada 1900-1950

Article excerpt

Wendy Mitchinson, Giving Birth in Canada 1900-1950 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), xvii + 430pp. Cloth. £42. ISBN 0-8020-3631-7. Paper. £20. ISBN 0-8020-8471-0.

Wendy Mitchinson, one of Canada's leading historians, did not intend to write a book on childbirth. She initially planned to produce a sequel to her earlier book The Nature of Their Bodies: Women and Their Doctors in Victorian Canada. However, in the course of researching an overview of the medical treatment that early twentieth-century Canadian women received, Mitchinson discovered a wealth of material which, luckily for her and us, forced her to redefine her agenda along more original lines. Rather than follow a well-trod scholarly path on medical treatment, Mitchinson instead charts hitherto unexplored terrain: women's experience of childbirth in the first five decades of the twentieth century.

Although a specialised study, Giving Birth in Canada fits into, draws upon and contributes to, the broad-based research findings of works on gender and medicine. It considers a number of diverse and inter-related topics: gender, maternalism, medicalisation, professionalisation, the impact of technology (not only on childbirth, but also on the relationship between practitioner and female patient, practitioner and ancillary caregiver, and general practitioner and specialist), institutionalisation and the influence that cultural norms and expectations had on the type of medicine that was practised.

One thing that Mitchinson makes clear is that the history of medicine and childbirth cannot be fully understood unless both are situated within the broader context of historical change. …