How Egyptian Woman Gave Birth


I recently visited the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose and was appalled at their “birth room” exhibit, a recreation of what a birth place looked like in ancient Egypt. The space, which consisted of a representation of an outdoor arbor, built to isolate the pregnant and post partum mother of the household, was complete with a bed, and bricks on which a woman would squat while delivering her baby.

My question to one of the museum workers: Wouldn't it be awfully hot outside to have to live out there; especially with the mother and baby open to the elements? And I can't imagine teetering on bricks to deliver a baby. I was under the impression through the Old Testament and other pictures and works, that women in ancient Egypt stood or knelt to give birth. The worker had no counter or information for me.

Later I thought: That may have been artistic license on the part of the curators to describe a “birth room” in ancient Egypt. But then again, maybe not, since the audio mentioned that birth was a chaotic and unpredictable process, that women/midwives would attend the Egyptian mother's birth and that an obstetrician would be called in to attend to complications! I was amazed that anyone could incorrectly say this.

As a biological function, birth is quite predictable, even thousands of years ago. But more importantly there were no obstetricians in 3000 BCE. M.D.'s are a product of modern history and obstetricians did not create their fraternity until the 20th century.

This disparaging museum view, implies that midwives were not competent, could not handle complications, did not know about herbs and had to rely on obstetricians. This is plainly false.

I think the birth room exhibit was fraught with error and the curators used a current white, male, medical model or template - incorrectly imposed over an ancient culture, to educate/propagandize to the public, while subtly promoting rescue medicine.

Obviously the curators demonstrated “cultural bias” - the phenomenon of interpreting history, anthropology, etc. by the standards to one's own culture - in this exhibit. Oxford Dictionary of Journalism, notes cultural bias as “The reporting (or exclusion) of events from a particular perspective; for example, that of a Western male, white, middle-aged, heterosexual, ... ”

As Janet Ashford (writer, historian, artist, teacher) wrote to me: “It sounds like the Rosicrucian museum has things all wrong.” Her website: http//www.jashford.com/childbirth-in-history.html provides some more insight into the history and birthing practices of many cultures throughout history. Included are pictures.

Delusion as well as political intent is inherent in our society. Unfortunately, midwives and parents are continually struggling to correct false images – such as birth is scary and unpredictable. However, the other important message, in contrast to “birth fright” is (as midwife, author, educator Carla Hartley has pointed out) to “trust birth.”

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Lee Ann González    (480) 295-1465