Her Majesty STILL Knows Best

The Duchess of Cambridge just entered the hospital to give birth to her second child.  She’s in the luxurious Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. She and Prince William will have a two-room suite with Wifi, satellite TV, and a chef on call.  Of course none of that matters very much to a mother embarking on what we now call “natural childbirth.” The “natural” process, these days, does get a little help from medical science.  I decided to re-post an article I wrote a couple of years ago, when the new baby’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, changed childbirth for most mothers by insisting on having some anesthesia.

Mothers all over the world owe a debt of gratitude to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria of England.  At the time she was doing her duty for England by giving birth to 9 children, women still suffered through childbirth with no anesthetic of any kind.  In 1850, before she gave birth to her 7th child, her physicians investigated the possible use of anesthetic with Dr. John Snow.

Dr. John Snow, public domain

Dr. John Snow, public domain

Dr. Snow was a pioneer in the use of chloroform and ether to ease the pain of various medical procedures.  It sounds as though Victoria’s beloved Prince Albert was especially interested in alleviating her pain in childbirth. The procedure was unheard-of at the time, though. For whatever the reasons, nothing came of it and Victoria suffered as usual.

Queen Victoria with her eldest daughter, public domain

Queen Victoria with her eldest daughter, public domain

But in 1853, prior to the birth of Victoria’s 8th child, Dr. Snow was finally asked to administer chloroform to Victoria.  He had studied the use of anesthetics for many years.  He knew just when to administer the anesthetic, so as to provide the best pain relief without slowing the natural process of labor. He agreed to attend Victoria.  Was he a little nervous?  Maybe, maybe not.  By all accounts, he knew exactly what he was doing. The chloroform was a resounding success.  Victoria used it again for her 9th child.

The (male) religious leaders of the day treated the news with some consternation–after all, the Bible taught that women were supposed to suffer during childbirth.  But no one was about to argue with the judgment of their beloved Queen. In any case, the Queen was the head of the Church of England. Women all over England, and then women all over the world, began demanding anesthetic during childbirth.

Queen Victoria in her coronation regalia, public domain

Queen Victoria in her coronation regalia, public domain

An article from UCLA,  detailing the history of Dr. John Snow’s medical innovations, is at http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/snow/victoria.html.

As Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, awaits her turn in history, she can be confident that the birth will be as comfortable as possible.  No doubt Prince William is as anxious about her well-being as Prince Albert was about Victoria’s. I wish Kate a safe and easy delivery of the long-awaited heir!

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