An unexpectedly engrossing portrait of Fernand Lamaze and the road he took to make universal his method of painless childbirth, fashioned in novelistic style by his granddaughter Gutmann.
Working from interviews, family documents, letters, diaries, and notebooks, Gutmann has drawn an intriguing picture of Lamaze, starting with his move from Nancy to Paris as a young medical student and following him through the absinthe-and-brothel nights that preceded his years in the army, his service in WWII, and his return to Paris and subsequent marriage to Louise. Penury forced Lamaze to abandon the study of neurology and take up obstetrics. Although he became a notorious philanderer, his heart was clearly in the right place as far as his work was concerned, and he financed his treatment of poor and working-class women through the success of his growing practice among the city’s wealthy. Gutmann is plainly fascinated by Lamaze’s extramarital activities—at one point the good doctor had a several mistresses living in his apartment building (and dining at his table) at the same time, because he preferred to be honest about the whole situation—but Lamaze’s conviction that the pain of childbirth could be all but eliminated without chemical intervention is the story’s focus. Hints came to Lamaze when he learned that women in Hawaii actually gave birth with a smile on their lips; he also discovered that in the Soviet Union a painless-birthing technique was being developed that took its cues from the research into reflexive conditioning of Pavlov and Velvoski. Petty rivalries in the medical profession slowed him, as did the Cold War—but Lamaze’s greatest obstacle was the deeply held belief that suffering had to attend childbirth: So inoculated for generations, women inevitably created a uterine contraction that was painful. Gutmann also makes it clear that the Lamaze method is not an easy six-step technique, but a pregnancy-long humanistic process involving the doctor, midwife, and partner—and that insurance companies are not prepared to pay for.
A revelatory look into Lamaze writ large—the man and the arduous process that gave birth to his pain-reducing approach. (8-page b&w photo insert)