Charisma and Birth


Charisma is fickle, seductive and cruel – but, if we have it (I sometimes, briefly, wish I did), it is a good measure of what others think and miss-think, and a key to guiding tha self-possessed humility that enables us never to be too carried away by ephemeral adulation! 

My step father wrote (in the 1994 American edition of Childbirth Without Fear, HarperPaperbacks), pages 307 to 309

All this (his success with happy mothers) did not endear me to some of my colleagues. There were those who encouraged and helped, but there were other who not only disagreed but continued to make a number of untrue accusations. He most frequent and most damaging of these continued to be that I did not allow anaesthetics or anything else to relieve pain. This accusation was brought to my notice by a doctor whose wife wanted me to attend her. He had read a book in the medical library that I would not give anaesthesia. I knew at once the book to which he referred. It was popular with medical students because it was short and easy to read. The author never corrected the statement, although he knew full well thatit was a deliberate falsehood. My teaching on this has always been clear: (1)no woman should be allowed to suffer; (2) analgesia must always be available for the woman to use if she needs it; (3) analgesia is to be administered according to the clinical indication and the judgement of the attending physician.

One lady wrote and told me that my name should be struck off the medical register; such inhumanity was unbelievable in our enlightened age. Society whispered that I sat and watched women writhe in agony. A doctor who had intended to invite me to attend his wife wrote and explained that he did not think I was quite good enough as an obstetrician.

Another startling accusation was that there was some kind of mystical quality that I possessed that made the good results possible, but of course other physicians were not so endowed and could thus be excused from even trying to achieve the same results. Others dismissed the results the results as a kind of personal hypnotism. Frankly, when I saw myself in the mirror mornings, I hesitated, forone brief moment, before even considering this distinction!

I had considered hypnotism in my early research, along with anaesthesia and every other means of relieving suffering but had dismissed the thought of learning how to use it. Why hypnotise when education and understanding gave better results? Hypnotism only hides the phenomena of normal labour behind the ephemeral certain of disassociated consciousness.

It is true that I possess one personal quality that helped make the good results possible.But it is a quality I share with thousands of other doctors the world over. ItI said by psychologists that in the subconscious mind of a woman there are but two types of men: those who injure and abstract from her and those who protect and give to her. The first of these is the materialisation of cruelty, and the second the personification of kindness.

There is no more definite division of that in men than that which is found among the attendants upon women in labour. For without any question. Some by their presence alone stimulate the normal neuromuscular activities of parturition, and others in spite of the utmost sympathy, appear to cause delay and suffering. In short,there are “motor men” and “inhibitory” me in obstetrics.

An example of the sympathetic yet inhibitory physician is a medical man I once overheard tryto encourage his patient. “Ha, ha. Cheer up old girl. You’ve got to go through hell, but I’ll go anywhere with you, so keep smiling. Ha, Ha!” (I seem to remember my stepfather either saying to that man – or thinking of saying to that man, “Perhaps you’d like to go on ahead!”)Then there are others who inhibit because they are prompted by the impulses necessary or the perfection of the work they have to do during parturition.

Fortunately there are many others who are truly activated by motives of kindliness and human understanding, willing to assist the woman in her work of giving birth and to let her be the “star” of the show. These I characterise as ‘motor men.’ One of the many accusations made against me as that I was a ‘motor man’, but this Idid not mind.

One thing I would never do was to induce labour unnecessarily or hurry things along for my own convenience. We still hear of normal cases having the membrane ruptured early or the labour induced in some other way. So the physician can get the case over in time to do this or that. We still heat of anaesthesia and forceps employed to assist in the maintenance of a social program, and even for the purely selfish motive that t is the quickest method. Obstetricians are sometimes busy men, but there is no reason why busy men should not be good obstetrician! I have frequently been told, “But my dear so-and-so, I simply do not have time to do all this. There are other things to attend to and other things to be done.

Would you like to deny that this,written during the first half of the last century is now totally irrelevant?

This poem was written by a totally bewildered young man upon whom it had just dawned that the mindsets that made the horrors of WW II possible were embedded in the ‘civilised’ world into which he had been born.


Sir Frederick the Forceps Fitzroy,

A wizard obstetrical boy

Would whip ‘em away by night and by day

And boast of the skills he’d employ.

He’d time ‘em to suit all his tea brakes

And gas ‘em to stifle their screams

Then home to his large … and dull family

Bemedalled and peerage filled dreams!