Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Wendy Kline's "Coming Home"

Wendy Kline is professor and Dema G. Seelye Chair in the History of Medicine in the Department of History at Purdue University. She is the author of Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom and Bodies of Knowledge: Sexuality, Reproduction, and Women's Health in the Second Wave.

Kline applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Coming Home: How Midwives Changed Birth, and reported the following:
The “Bowland Bust,” as I call it in the book, is one of the most surprising and significant moments in the history of alternative birth in the recent United States. So I’m delighted that a humorous description of the arrest, as well as a photograph of the undercover agents in hippie regalia, appear on page 99 of Coming Home:
The scene unfolding inside the Birth Center quickly drew media attention. The drama was enhanced by the appearance of two officers in hippie attire, much to the puzzlement and amusement of witnesses. Carol Bredsel, a registered nurse who was in the house during the raid, described the disguises as “really hysterical. I don’t know why they wore those hippy clothes. I told the guy, ‘your beads are getting caught up in your beard.” Linda Bennett reflected, “it’s as if you decided to dress as a hippie and you only had Woolworth’s.”
Because of the presence of the photograph, there isn’t very much text on the page, thus limiting the extent to which a reader can get a sense of the entire book. However, it’s such an intriguing moment – the reader knows that there’s been a raid, and that somehow, law enforcement believed that undercover agents disguised as hippies would result in greater acquiescence among the midwives and pregnant women located within the center. Readers might be familiar with the conflicts between the counterculture and law enforcement (particularly around illicit drug use), but unaware that the subject of home birth was equally, if not more, a source of major tension at the time.

Coming Home tracks the source of that tension – the rising tide of home births beginning in the 1970s along with the increasing visibility of midwives. For many, this came as a surprise. By the mid-twentieth century, two things appeared destined for extinction in the United States: the practice of home birth and the profession of midwifery. In 1940, close to half of all U.S. births took place in the hospital, and the trend was increasing. By 1970, the percentage of hospital births reached an all-time high of 99.4%, and the obstetrician, rather than the midwife, assumed nearly complete control over what had become an entirely medicalized procedure. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, an explosion of new alternative organizations, publications, and conferences cropped up, documenting a very different demographic trend; by 1977, the percentage of out-of-hospital births had more than doubled. Home birth was making a comeback, but why? A quiet revolution spread across cities and suburbs, towns and farms, as individuals challenged legal, institutional and medical protocols by choosing unlicensed midwives to catch their babies at home. Drawing on archival materials and interviews with midwives, doctors, and home birth consumers, Coming Home analyzes the ideas, values, and experiences that led to this quiet revolution and its long-term consequences for our understanding of birth, medicine, and culture.
Learn more about Coming Home at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue