Birth is more than biology and . . . our concern lies with the social and cultural as well as its purely medical aspects."" Tracing American practices from colonial times to the present, the authors perceive childbirth as a social event, centered in the home and attended by women for years until 19th-century concepts of feminity and belief in the superiority of science pushed midwives out the door and let the doctors in. Pursuing this thesis in a heavily-footnoted text, they encounter midwives of disparate abilities, an assortment of passing fancies and backwoods expedients, and birth aids like the ""portable ladies' solace"" which supported back and legs during labor. As competition among doctors increased--along with puerperal fever--more women opted for medical intervention and midwives, unorganized in America, lost their traditional standing. The movement to hospitals and quest for painless deliveries (Scopolamine's ""Twilight Sleep"" induced oblivion) proceeded in the early 20th century and settlement houses, beginning with Hull House, pressed for medical care for the poor. Ironically, hospital environments conceived for safety and efficiency provided assembly-line isolation and alienating first days for mother and child. In documenting these practices, increased attention to prenatal habits, and the most recent trends towards natural childbirth and home deliveries (perhaps the ultimate in do-it-yourself pursuits), the authors attempt to avoid ideology, relying on mortality statistics and a range of sources--ladies' magazines, personal memoirs, English comparisons, etc.--but the real contributions of doctors and the role. of benevolent nurses receive scant attention. A bit slanted in spots but cogent and well-grounded overall.