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A Curated History Of Childbirth

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Photo Via The Motherhood Archives

We’ve come a long way, baby. That’s what we can’t help but tell ourselves after looking through Irene Lusztig’s The Motherhood Archives online essay, which accompanies her 2013 film of the same name. Once she became pregnant (and after she gave birth) the filmmaker started collecting old maternal images, film stills, and video shorts off the internet. 

What results is a jumpy history of sorts that touches on era-specific ideas and behaviors floating around pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood over the last 100 years. Or, in Lusztig’s words, “A meditation on the medicalization and institutionalization of birth and motherhood in America, as told through maternal ephemera made throughout the twentieth century and now buried in archives and sold on eBay.”

A collection of haunting imagery and films—including the Training for Childbirth exercise video from 1940 and the highly disturbing 1967 Maternity Hospital Routine—spans the scrollable, 12-part series. There are personal scribbles inside baby books from the early 1900’s and a section on Twilight Sleep births, in which women were given drugs to forget the pain endured during labor, before “they woke happy and animated and well in body and soul; and found, with increduous delight, their babies, all dressed, lying before them upon a pillow in the arms of a nurse.” Yikes.

It also moves into the ’70s more evolved Lamaze movement and fancy birthing suites paraded around in 2012.

All in all, it’s an interesting look at what mothers of the past considered the norm, and makes us think about what the mothers of the future will think of today’s prevailing childbirth methods.

Take a look at it all here, or buy the DVD of the film here, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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