Thus the role of midwife was outside the system of male dominance which was a disruptive force. Witch hunts at times began with the accusation of a midwife causing sterility or death of a newborn, or aiding abortion (p. 60).
The Middle Ages brought regulations governing midwives; fear of witchcraft, magic, and the devil, led to the male-dominated Church's requirement that midwives follow a moral code. The Church often licensed midwives in Europe. Midwives were then to report illegitimate births to the church, baptize dying babies, and they were not to use herbal knowledge for abortion or birth control. At this time the scientific study of human anatomy and physiology, beginning around 1500, was not available to women (Ashford, p. 64; McCool & McCool, p. 326).
In the early 1600s the French municipalities licensed midwives. Louise Bourgeois is a well-known Frenchwoman who practiced as a midwife for 27 years, to the French court and the royal family. Following the Council of Trent that consolidated the Catholic Reformation, midwives took an oath which included stipulations such as not using sorcery, and not aborting a fetus (Ashford, p. 65; Stock-Morton, p. 61).
The Middle Ages also brought the beginning or recognition of the field of medicine among the European wealthy. Church controlled universities started to formally train physicians, who were upper-class males. At the beginning of the 1600s, male physicians were beginning to attend difficult births. Male surgeons were found predominantly in London. Instruments were used for caesareans and removal of impacted fetuses. It is argued that although these interventions resulted in fewer maternal deaths during labor, more women tended to die of puerperal infections after the birth. Thus the war between physicians and midwives began and this European controversy led to the social belief that midwives needed to be trained in scientific methods and become part of the medic...
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