This little narrative describes opposition to the use of chloroform to ease the pain of delivery based on the divine decree that childbirth was to be painful. If it’s true, it’s one for the “stranger than fiction” file. I’ll try to run down more on it over the week. In the meantime, I see no author explicitly listed on the site I took it from, but the URL is here:
James Young Simpson, professor of midwifery at Edinburgh University, had become dissatisfied with ether in obstetric cases. He had found the heavy bottles difficult to carry up the many steps of the tenement blocks where his patients waited. He was also worried that the newly invented gas light might cause the ether to explode.
Simpson decided to try chloroform, which had been discovered virtually simultaneously in the US, France and Germany in 1831/2. In 1847, after experimenting on himself and his friends, Simpson thought the results so good that, within a week, he gave it to about 30 of his patients.
He later commented that, with chloroform, ‘the natural process [of childbirth] goes on with more regularity when not under the influence of the will of the patient.’
However, when the news got out, Simpson faced an uproar. Straitlaced physicians claimed that pain in labour was a biological necessity. Scottish churchmen cried: ‘Heresy!’ – for had not God told Eve, ‘In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children’?
Although Simpson continued to use chloroform, the outcry did not die down until 1853 – the year that Queen Victoria (1819-1901) consented to have chloroform for the birth of her seventh child Prince Leopold. By the time she had the volatile liquid for her last confinement in 1857, the anaesthetic’s position in obstetrics was secure. It would be more than a century before nitrous oxide, pethidine and, later, ‘natural’ childbirth came into vogue.