Two society dames meet for tea in an elegant parlor, elegant as only a parlor could be in mid-Civil War Philadelphia. Now normally the demands of city charity functions keep these ladies far too busy for luncheon frivolity, but today is a special occasion. One of them has just become a grandmother. They spend the afternoon gossiping and reminiscing on motherhood, when by happenstance the categories merge. For “Obstetrics; the Science and the Art” by Professor Charles D. Meigs, had caught both women’s attention in yesterday’s medical journal. Hardly surprising, of course; in these times, it behooves a lady to follow what’s what at her local hospital. Whats more, ‘Meigs’ is an old and respected family name in their circles. Though rather less respected by our regal ladies, it happens, after reading his article. Doctor Meigs belongs to a small but staunch camp which opposes any use of anesthesia during childbirth. It is an opposition about which our new grandmother has many thoughts, none of which are flattering for Doctor Meigs.
The ladies engage in energetic conversation about the article. Acknowledging the topic is outside the typical repertoire of the charitable patron, they strive for precision. One rings an attendant to bring in yesterday’s paper, so that they might establish better discourse. At last both ladies agree that were they to have children in a Midwifery, it would not be one chaired by Doctor Charles Meigs. However, they do concede to him that doctors probably cannot transfer child-bed fever from one patient to another, on his premise that “Doctors are gentlemen, and a gentleman’s hands are clean.”
Accompanied by Schubert’s’ 4 Impromptus, D. 935 performed by Maria Pires
Her voice trembled with the outrage of the vindicated. “There!” she pronounced, “There is the passage to which I had referred, Ingrid.” Her elegant finger jabbed at the paper on the melon bulb table, trembling as righteously as her voice.
With considerably more aplomb, Dame Ingrid adjusted her spectacles and read dramatically (for she had a resonant voice that lent itself to drama) “…I have been accustomed to look upon the sensation of pain in labor as a physiological relation of the power, or force; and notwithstanding I have seen so many women in the throes of labor, I have always regarded a labor-pain as a most desirable, salutary, and conservative manifestation of life-force. I have found that women, provided they were sustained by cheering counsel and promises, and carefully freed from the distressing element of terror, could in general be made to endure, without great complaint, those labor-pains which the friends of anesthesia desire so earnestly to abolish and nullify for all the fair daughters of Eve.”
“Salutary, indeed!” sighed Elisabeth. “It is just as I remembered. Oh, my poor Felicia, that such a man might have resided over her last night. I do shudder to think, Ingrid… And it makes one wonder just why Charles’s feelings are so strong. I know of very few women who, having endured childbirth without numbing benefits of ether, remember these desirable and salutary labor-pains as clearly as Dr. Meigs seems to recall them.”
“Just so, dearest,” replied Ingrid in a considering tone. “Whats more, such is the view of…” here she turned to the introduction and pronounced with relish, “the Professor of Midwifery and the Diseases of Women and Children in Jefferson Medical College at Philadelphia.”
“Bless the Almighty for chloroform,” responded Elisabeth.
“To Him be the glory,” murmured Ingrid. “And all those who use it. Which is not to include,” and Ingrid recited the the introduction again, “Lately one of the Physicians to the Lying-In Department of the Pennsylvania Hospital, Vice-President of the Philadelphia College of Physicians, prestigious Member of the American Philosophical Society, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and the American Medical Association.”
“Good lord,” whispered Elisabeth, “all of them?”
“All the same person, dearest. Thank God for chloroform.”