Ever wondered what child birth was like in the early 1940s? I bet not!
Well, it wasn’t a piece of cake. Pregnant women back then were heavily sedated, a procedure known as ‘Twilight sleep.’ With the belief that labor pains were destructive causing a lot of complications and terror for future births, Dr.Kronig, a German humanitarian and scientist focused on developing a drug called Scopolamine, from a toxic plant that would help deal with this pain. Well as it failed in its first trials causing a number of complications, it was later coupled with other sedatives like morphine to yield better results.
‘Twilight sleep’ birthing was a practice that involved administration of these heavy sedatives to pregnant women just before delivering. This would cause them to go into a state of obscurity and ambiguity not capable of feeling pain during child birth. It became widely known after 1913 when 2 female reporters from New York went to Frauenklink, one of the female clinics in Germany to witness the miracle of painless birth also known as “Dammerschlaf”.
Twilight sleep was then viewed as a way to manage labor and it became widely demanded causing hospitals to put it into practice up to the 1960s even with its negative implications.
Here are 15 truths about Twilight sleep.
1. It Erased Memory of the Birth
The Scopolamine drug that was used would cause the expectant mothers to have no conscious awareness and amnesia, a state of not being able to remember recent events. this drug it comes from the deadly nightshade plant. Well administered, it got rid of labor pains and also erased memory of child birth altogether.
2. But mothers had horrible flash backs
As much as the twilight birthing was believed to be the long desired solution to having a ‘pain free’ birth, erasing all memory of the excruciating process, women had to live with terrible flash backs of the whole experience that they didn’t consciously live through. These would come back to torture them in bits but over periods of time as long as years.
It was depressing for many women who expected to sleep through it hoping to wake up to a happy newborn baby with no memory of how they got the child.
3. It Wasn’t Actually Painless
Not being able to remember didn’t mean no pain.
Well as scopolamine caused semi consciousness, the small doses of morphine which were given didn’t prevent pain.
Sadly they had to deal with the pain.
4. They were chained down
Many women were seen to appear psychotic, hitting their heads on walls, screaming constantly, lying in their own vomit and waste until labor ended.
Most of them had to be restrained, tied to their labor beds and put in straight jackets for their own protection. Their heads and eyes had to be wrapped up with towels to avoid injury.
5. Contractions were slowed and labor was longer than necessary
The morphine administered to the pregnant mothers caused contractions to slow down making labor very long and painful. Contractions are necessary for the baby to be pushed down to the birth canal.
Women generally fall within certain averages when it comes to labor and delivery. However for a ‘twilight sleep’ birth, a woman would stay at the clinic for a month until she was due to enable the doctors administer personalized doses of the drug under monitoring. The extended exposure to the drugs would lead to them crossing the central nervous system and affecting the placenta. This meant long recovery for the mothers and negative implications for the babies.
The new borns would be delivered unable to breathe normally because of the drugs.
Training for successful twilight birthing was recommended to last three years however, American practitioners witnessed only a few births in Germany (which reported high successes) returning home to practice the process. This coupled with very high demand for the solution back home caused physicians to take short cuts resulting in only a few successes which developed arguments against the practice.
6. Many Women Hemorrhaged
Unlike in Germany, elsewhere, all women were given the same doses of the drug and the monitoring was done by untrained nurses. This coupled with continuous thrashing, uncontrollable movement, irregular contractions and unpredictable labor while drugged put the women at risk of bleeding to death during the delivery.
7. They Were Forced Into Straight jackets
Pregnant women were forced into straight jackets to control their movements during labor. This intensified the stress on their hearts and heightened anxiety during the process causing high levels of mother and infant causalities as opposed to those reported in home births.
8. It was practiced until the 60’s
The end of this era
Demand for this Twilight sleep birth started to dwindle after the death of its hard core supporters, Francis Carmody in child birth. Then women, nurses and others who had witnessed this traumatic process begun to share their experiences and spoke out about it.
At that point, administration of anesthetics to the point of unconsciousness during child birth was no longer favored and the natural birth campaign begun in the early 70’s.
Thanks to this twilight sleep birthing era, hospitals and doctors took over the birthing process, reducing the number of home births by unqualified people.
Did you experience a ‘twilight sleep’ birth? Were you born this way? Let us know in the comments below!