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Elisabeth Bing, 'Mother of Lamaze,' dies at 100

Julie Ryan Evans is an editor and writer who has covered everything from Capitol Hill to the politics of preschool. A mother of two, a runner of races, and a gourmet chef wannabe, she currently lives outside of Orlando, Florida.

The pioneer of the natural birth movement leaves an amazing legacy

Known as the "Mother of Lamaze," Elisabeth Bing died over the weekend at the age of 100. While hers may not have been a household name, she forever changed the birth experience for women around the world.

It was a time when births were secretive, heavily medicated affairs; women were often tied down during labor; and dads paced in waiting rooms with cigars. Bing was considered "crazy" and a radical in her time for promoting natural, family-centered births.

In Lamaze Parents magazine, she wrote in 1990, "I remember well how I was told that, surely, this was all a fad, that women would soon forget and that ideas as strange as encouraging a woman to be awake and aware while giving birth were beyond all rational thinking."

Bing, however, changed that thinking. Trained as a physical therapist, her interest in natural childbirth began in the 1940s as she observed women and doctors in the maternity ward. She didn't like what she saw and started studying alternative methods. After moving to the United States, she began giving private childbirth classes, and in 1960, she and Marjorie Karmel founded what is known today as Lamaze International — an organization designed to promote natural, healthy and safe births.

And childbirth was forever changed. Fathers (and sometimes children) entered the delivery room; women learned more about the birth process and their bodies; and many embraced drug-free deliveries. In 2000, Bing herself remarked on the huge shift in childbirth practices since the introduction of Lamaze:

We are not being tied down anymore. We're not lying flat on our backs with our legs in the air, shaved like a baby. You can give birth in any position you like. The father, or anybody else, can be there. We fought for years on end for that. And now it's commonplace. We've got it all.

Unfortunately Bing herself wasn't able to benefit from her own work. She once told a group of students:

I wish someone had told me all about labor and delivery, and I wish they had taught me to use my body correctly. I did not know how to help myself. And I wish someone had shown me how to relax. Nobody told me anything beforehand. I was frightened and helpless and very lonely.

Fortunately, though, she helped teach the rest of us these things and ultimately helped so many women have better births. What an amazing legacy she leaves.

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