CHE BIRTH of a child has always been of great concern to human H beings. Every society we know anything about, the most complicated and the most simple, has developed a way of thinking about conception and made rules for protecting the pregnant woman and her unborn child and for the arrangements attending the birth of the new baby.
Every society has a pattern of providing for the care of the infant while he learns to eat, to sit up, to recognize his caretakers, to walk. and to talk. Throughout man’s long history, birth has been a matter for magic and for religion, for philosophical spethilation. for the expression of the claims both of the family and of the community. And into this mixture of magic, religion, philosophy, and social concern has been incorpo•
rated over the centuries a slowly developing knowledge of how the human body functions and a medical means of protecting life and health. All these interests-and today that of industry as well-have been involved in the process of childbirth. Each interest influences the young girl’s attitude toward wifehood and motherhood. Society has its say in what the mother herself is to do and what the father’s role will be. Community opinion, tempered by advice from neighbors and styles set in magazines and on TV, will decide how much is to be left to obstetrician, pediatrician, hospital. well•baby clinic, child can center. and nursery school professionals.
I low to have a baby is something that each generation of women has to learn. Where wild creatures inherit many biological patterns from
their forebears, human beings rely on a body of social tradition that they have to learn piece by piece, beginning in childhood and continuing throughout their lives. When the little girl holds her first doll, she is beginning to learn about childbearing and child care.
So is the little girl whose doll is broken by an angry and competitive brother. The little girl who is allowed to place her hand on the fluttering life within her mother’s body and told to expect a brother or sister is getting a more advanced lesson. When a society is stable, what the grandmother learned as a child can be passed on to her granddaughter. but when a society is changing rapidly. as almost all societies are today, the grandmother’s experience, and even the mother’s experience. may be of little help to grand-daughters or daughters.
It becomes more and more necessary to turn to current sources of advice and help, to magazines and radio and TV. to pamphlets and books, and to the professionals-nurses and doctors and teachers. Today the new mother has to try to reconcile what she learned from her mother, what she learned from her schoolmates and girl friends, what her husband learned from his parents and his friends (who may have grown up in very different circumstances). what her current neighbors bring from their past experiences, what the mass media are saying. and what the doctor or the nurse recommends. Many pieces of all this advice will not quite fit together.
Our knowledge is growing so fast that often children born only ten years apart are brought up so differently that it may seem as if they had been born in different centuries or on different continents. In the swiftness of change, bits of the past mingle but do not blend with bits of the present, and for the resulting contradictions, of course, the new mother has to pay a price.
Even the mother who already has had several children may find herself confused. But she at least has the advantage, from her experience, of realizing that new knowledge is being developed all the time. As recently as 1938, for example, we did not know about the Rh factor in blood. A developed immunity in the moth-er’s bloodstream from this factor can threaten the mother or her baby, and the situation an become worse if blood from someone of the wrong Rh type is transfused.
Today awareness of the necessity of testing the Rh factor for each pregnancy is widespread, and we have methods of replacing the infant’s blood supply and of protecting the mother if she gives birth to a baby of contrasting blood type.