Pain and Blame: Psychological Approaches to Obstetric Pain, 1950-1980

In: Knowledge and Pain

This chapter1 reconstructs the recent history of pain in childbirth, a universal physiological phenomenon intertwined with the socio-cultural context in which it unfolds. It focuses on the period from the 1950s through the 1970s, a time of flux in the understanding of childbirth pain within the medical profession and the general public. This era witnessed an emphasis on the role of female psychology in obstetric pain. Two similar psychological approaches to obstetric pain emerged: natural childbirth, promoted by British physician Grantly Dick-Read, and psychoprophylaxis, developed by Soviet neuropsychologist I. Z. Vel’vovskii and popularized in the West by French obstetrician Fernand Lamaze. In an effort to highlight trans-national influences and national idiosyncrasies, I take a comparative approach to the meanings attributed to childbirth pain in France and the United States, viewing them against related relevant developments in the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom and tracing the ways in which the dynamic, dialogic clinical encounter between medical practitioners and their patients inscribed shifting social meanings and values on labour pain.

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