My third child came into the world weighing just under 11 pounds, a fact that elicited awe and pity all round, especially when they discovered I’d had him the old-fashioned way. Despite his size, he was my easiest. I delivered him sitting in a tub of water, coached by a midwife, and completely relaxed after several weeks preparing with hypnobirthing techniques. I focused on staying calm, and let my body do the rest.

Years later, watching the British drama Call the Midwife on PBS, I find myself in tears each week as I relive the intense wonder of childbirth. Set in a community of midwives in post-war England, the show depicts women in a different era enduring the timeless challenges of labor and delivery. It was interesting to note a shift in the most recent season: as England’s healthcare system expanded in the ’50s, more women began to give birth in hospitals with physicians rather than at home with midwives. The show leaves me wondering how I’d given birth 50 or even 100 years ago.

Women, especially in developed societies, have access to better information and medical care than ever before. We are indebted to the contributions of people like Elizabeth Bing, one of the founders of Lamaze, who died at the age of 100 last month. Bing began working to overhaul obstetric care at a time when women were heavily sedated for labor. Instead, she believed in mothers being “awake and alert” and sought to prepare women to make informed decisions throughout the process. She focused on teaching women to trust their innate ability to give birth, although the breathing exercises probably remain the most renowned aspect of Lamaze fundamentals.

I applied Lamaze breathing methods for my first delivery, ...

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