Lamaze advocateElisabeth Bing

Bing’s family fled Germany’s Nazi regime in 1932, and settled in England, where she became a hospital physical therapist and, during World War II, drove an ambulance. At the hospital, she took it upon herself to go to the maternity ward every day to give massages to new mothers, and help them exercise to get their strength back. She also started to assist in labor and delivery, but “What I saw I disliked intensely,” she said years later. “I thought there must be better ways” than to drug mothers out of their minds as they gave birth. In 1942, British obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read published an update to his 1933 book Natural Childbirth. The new edition, Revelation of Childbirth (later retitled Childbirth without Fear) became an international best-seller, and inspired Bing to study the field. Dick-Read’s premise was that a significant amount of the pain of childbirth was caused by fear, and women could avoid being heavily drugged by learning relaxation techniques, or “psychoprophylaxis.”

In 1949, Bing moved to the United States. She not only brought her ideas with her, she started recruiting obstetricians to send expectant mothers to her for childbirth classes. “We don’t call it natural childbirth, but educated childbirth,” she once said. In 1951, the field took another leap forward when French obstetrician Dr. Fernand Lamaze (1891–1957), learned how relaxation techniques aided childbirth; he spent the rest of his life promoting the idea, and Bing learned his methods, too. As a result, Bing co-founded the American Society for Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics — which was later renamed Lamaze International. Her 1967 book Six Practical Lessons for an Easier Childbirth spread her ideas rapidly, greatly improving mothers’ birth experiences and leading to healthier babies, too. She is now known as “the mother of Lamaze.” She didn’t oppose drugs, but wanted mothers to be able to make informed decisions about what they actually wanted — and also taught fathers how to support the mothers in the process. “It was a tremendous cultural revolution that changed obstetrics entirely,” Bing said. But she downplayed her own role. “It wasn’t really a movement by Lamaze or Read or me,” she said. “It was a consumer movement. The time was ripe. The public doubted everything their parents had done.” Bing died at her home in New York on May 15. She was 100.

From This is True for 17 May 2015