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Vintage ad depicts bondage obstetrical table

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Would you want to be strapped to a table to give birth?

When modern moms go to the hospital to have a baby, they often birth on their backs. Happily, today's birthing tables look nothing like these vintage ones.

The New York Academy of Medicine's Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health's Facebook page often posts interesting tidbits about medical history which I find fascinating. However, a recent post gave me pause — serious pause. It featured an ad for a "newfangled" obstetrical table that actually looks like a sexual torture device, where the patient could be tied down while giving birth. Doesn't that sound like fun?

The vintage ad appeared in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1962. It depicts a new table "for dramatically better management of obstetrical procedures." The patient would lie flat on her back — and not just flat, but really flat with no incline whatsoever. Her pesky legs are splayed high above her head and out of the doctor's line of sight, and she's strapped to the table. Don't forget the handy bucket under the foot of the bed to catch the placenta and whatever else falls out.

The mom-to-be definitely won't move much, so there will be nothing to bother the doctor who is there, of course, to completely manage the birth. The problem? In addition to being strapped to the table, the position she's in offers no gravity. She also has no freedom to move around, and there is nothing to comfort the mother who is actually the one doing all the work.

Just looking at the photo gives me serious heebie-jeebies. I had to take a few deep breaths to clear the claustrophobia that I felt. It honestly looks more like a torture table that you'd find in some psycho's basement than an actual medical assistive device. This awful table was advertised to physicians who clearly only had their own comfort in mind — forget about the poor laboring mom.

I agree that birthing on the back is no picnic and goes against our natural inclination to birth in an upright (or semi-upright) position, but what modern moms go through in hospitals these days has to be loads better than the experience of the women who were unfortunate enough to be strapped in to a table like this.

As it is, more and more hospitals are becoming more mom-friendly in the birthing department (such as the photo that appears at the top of this article of a suite complete with birthing tub). There are fewer attempts to corral the mother-to-be, and more hospitals are really open to letting her do her own thing. This is so much better on her body and her baby. And moms are also opting for free-standing birth centers or home birth, which enables them to have even more freedom. 1962 was only 52 years ago — will today's birthing beds and hospital protocols seem archaic in another 50 years? I have a hunch they will.

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