S. NAN SCHUURMANS, JAMES J. BOULTON,
PATRICIA A. STEPHENSON, AND
SHERYL BURT RUZEK
The history of birth technology is shaped by three major factors: advances in medicine, methods, and instruments that date back to before the Middle Ages; sociopolitical change; and feminist issues around female midwives and male physicians and around the autonomy and control of the childbearing woman.
From earliest recorded times until the Middle Ages, midwifery was performed by women for all women, peasants and queens alike. From the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, midwives were highly respected in Europe, and childbirth occurred at home. The earliest and most influential book on midwifery dates back to 1513 and was written by the German physician Eucharius Rosslin. First published in German, the book was translated into Latin as De Partu Hominis and later into English as The Byrth of Mankynde. An excerpt from the English translation reads,
The midwife herself shall sit before the laboring woman and shall diligently observe and waite, how much, and after what meanes the child stirreth itself. . . . [The midwife is encouraged to] instruct and comfort the party, giving her good meate and drinke, [all the while] giving her hope of a good speedie deliverance, encouraging and enstomacking her to patience and tolerance. [The midwife is] not to let the woman labour before the birth come forward and show itself. [She must not let the mother push until the head is visible, or she] will labour in vain, her strength will be spent and that is a perillous case.