Historian Traces Cold War History of Natural Childbirth

November 8, 2013

Paula Michaels of Monash University in Australia will lecture on “Lamaze: The Surprising Cold War History of Natural Childbirth” on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 4 p.m. in 601 Herter Hall.

In the 1970s, “natural childbirth” was in vogue in the United States. In the country with the most medicalized maternity care in the world, mothers fought for a more woman-centered approach to childbearing. The name of French obstetrician Fernand Lamaze was synonymous with this new way of giving birth. The Lamaze method, also known as psychoprophylaxis, used patterned breathing and conscious relaxation to help women manage the pain of labor without reliance on drugs. But the method’s roots lay in the Soviet Union, where in 1951 Lamaze witnessed a birth using psychoprophylaxis. Michaels will reconstruct the surprising story of what came to be known in the U.S. as the Lamaze method from its origins in the USSR, to its transmission to France and then to its popularization in the U.S.

Michaels teaches history and international studies at Monash University in Melbourne. She is the author of the prize-winning “Curative Powers: Medicine and Empire in Stalin’s Central Asia.” A recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Institutes of Health and the National Endowment for the Humanities, Michaels’ “Lamaze: An International History” will be published in 2014.

Presented by the history department, the event is co-sponsored by the Five College Women’s Studies Center.