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#125418 - 03/19/04 07:47 AM A helping hand  
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dxb Offline
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We happened to see a TV programme called "William and Mary" the other evening. Mary is a midwife, and after the thing had finished my best-beloved reached for the dictionary and then finally today I looked it up in the AHD for a bit more info' which I thought I'd share:

ETYMOLOGY: Middle English midwif : probably mid, with (from Old English; see me-2 in Appendix I) + wif, woman (from Old English wf).

WORD HISTORY: The word midwife is the sort of word whose etymology seems perfectly clear until one tries to figure it out. Wife would seem to refer to the woman giving birth, who is usually a wife, but mid ? A knowledge of older senses of words helps us with this puzzle. Wife in its earlier history meant “woman,” as it still did when the compound midwife was formed in Middle English (first recorded around 1300). Mid is probably a preposition, meaning “together with.” Thus a midwife was literally a “with woman” or “a woman who assists other women in childbirth.” Even though obstetrics has been rather resistant to midwifery until fairly recently, the etymology of obstetric is rather similar, going back to the Latin word obstetrx, “a midwife,” from the verb obstre, “to stand in front of,” and the feminine suffix –trx; the obstetrx would thus literally stand in front of the baby.


Ed: Sorry, I guess I should have put this below the line in "Words from Medicine".



#125419 - 03/19/04 11:54 AM Re: A helping hand  
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Faldage Offline
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I'm not usually one to argue with the AHD on matters of etymology but, while I've always been with them on the mid part I thought the wife part refered to the one giving birth. That the midwife would be a woman was probably the more common alternative just because a woman would have the personal experience, it was not necessary and a man could be a midwife.


#125420 - 03/19/04 12:58 PM Re: A helping hand  
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inselpeter Offline
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Midwife --> Obstetrics

I wonder if this substitution doesn't reflect a change in the position of the mother during birth from squatting to lying prostrate, as well as the associated change in the gender of her assistant. Midwives are certainly almost always women, while obstetricians have traditionally been men. Here, the personal experience may be a factor since (as I am told), squatting is easier for the mother and lying is easier for her assistant.

Even though obstetrics has been rather resistant to midwifery until fairly recently..

Obstetrics has largely remained resistant to midwifery, but it has been the insurance industry that has lately brought it again near extinction.

..it was not necessary and a man could be a midwife.

I have been charmed by the presence of many midwives coming through my life, in recent years. In Chicago, one group of them reports having had one man in their class. Although licensed along with the women, however, he was unable to get a single client.




#125421 - 03/19/04 01:57 PM Re: A helping hand  
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wwh Offline
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The human race survived millions of years without any
assistance of women during childbirth. But babies are
precious, so when complications arise, special knowledge
is vital. I have the impression that the midwives never
had groups to teach beginners how to handle complications.


#125422 - 03/19/04 02:04 PM Re: A helping hand  
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Buffalo Shrdlu Offline
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assistance of women during childbirth

what are the birthing habits of other creatures? I know of animals that seek to be solitary, but are there others that give birth more commmunally?



formerly known as etaoin...
#125423 - 03/19/04 03:19 PM Re: A helping hand  
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wwh Offline
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Dear etaoin: you remind me of my daughters' cats. When the
second one was undergoing parturition, she just looked
bewildered. The other cat who had had her kittens a week
before jumped into her box and started taking care of the
umbilical cords.


#125424 - 03/19/04 03:24 PM Re: A helping hand  
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Faldage Offline
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Animals in which I would expect to see this sort of behavior in the wild:

Wolves

Chimpanzees (possibly also gorillas)

Elephants

Dolphins and whales

Maybe (I say maybe) some of the herding herbivores such as horses and cattle. (but not quite sure how they'd manage it)


#125425 - 03/19/04 03:24 PM Re: A helping hand  
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Buffalo Shrdlu Offline
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you remind me of my daughters' cats

I do? must be the whiskers...


started taking care
seriously, that's the kind of thing I was wondering about. so perhaps humans have helped each other along as well?



formerly known as etaoin...
#125426 - 03/19/04 03:43 PM Re: A helping hand  
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wwh Offline
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Dear etaoin: Care of the umbilical cord would be one big
thing the mother might need help with. After all the pulsations have ceased, and often before the placenta has
been passed, it has have a ligature tied around it in two place, tightly enough to prevent hemorrhage, a few inches from the umbilicus, and then cut between the ligatures.



#125427 - 03/19/04 03:56 PM Re: A helping hand  
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grapho Offline
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Although licensed along with the women, however, he was unable to get a single client.

I can sympathize with his plight inselpeter. No-one ever gave a gnat a helping hand*.

In fact:

No-one greets a gnat with a grin
Or applauds his aerial trim
Little wonder, I say
He goes out of his way
To get right under your skin.


*Any hand he ever got, he had to take for himself.



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