A month or so ago one of my sisters told me about a two page section within this book
The Marriage of the Sun and Moon: A Quest for Unity in Consciousness by Andrew Weil (Jul 23, 1998)
in which the writer describes the drug I believe was given to my mother (and therefore in some form also to me) during her very difficult and no doubt terrifying delivery of breech-birth me during the 24-hour period from the morning of August 30, 1957 until I breathed my first breath at 8:31 a.m. on August 31st.
I just read that passage and present it here for information only:
Weil is describing Datura from the Nightshade family of which scopolamine is derived —
“During much of the twentieth century, scopolamine enjoyed great popularity in obstetrical medicine in the United states. Under the name “twilight sleep,” it was injected into millions of women in labor to make them amnesic for the experience of childbirth. Obstetricians thought of it as a drug that simply erased memory for a few hours, and women who did not want to know anything of their labor and delivery liked it in retrospect. In 1966, as a third-year medical student in Boston, I took several weeks’ training in obstetrics at a prestigious teaching hospital where scopolamine was still in vogue, and I watched many women under its effects. Anyone interested in altered states of consciousness who sees such cases will realize quickly that scopolamine is not simply an amnesic drug. Rather, it causes extreme confusion and disorientation, especially to people in pain. Women in labor who are “scoped” often appear agitated, hostile, even deranged. They writhe, scream, curse, and groan — hardly behavior that justifies the seductive term “twilight sleep.”
“In my opinion, the amnesia that follows this traumatic experience is not a direct effect of scopolamine but an inability to maintain continuity of awareness through such violent distortions of consciousness. The “scoped” woman is not unconscious. Her ordinary waking consciousness is fragmented. What comes through is primitive material from deep layers of the mind, strongly colored by pain and fear. People well versed in the repertory of altered states, who are familiar with deep meditations and trances or have trained themselves in the art of conscious dreaming, might be able to retain awareness through a scopolamine-induced delirium and not be amnesic afterward. People unfamiliar with such states do not have a chance.
“Far from simply erasing a portion of experience, scopolamine releases such intense energies from the unconscious that the experience is later repressed and becomes inaccessible in the ordinary waking state. I have no doubt that women who deliver under scopolamine would recall their experiences under hypnosis and find them intensely unpleasant. Neither do I doubt that scopolamine strongly influences the birth experience of the baby, if only because of the state of the mother. Back in 1966, when obstetricians did not think of babies as conscious entities, no one considered this aspect of procedures in childbirth. Today, women are more interested in participating consciously in childbirth, and some obstetricians think about the impact of what they do on the newborn. Scopolamine, not unhappily, has passed out of general use.
“In labor, scopolamine delirium is violent and terrifying, but it is hard to know whether this quality is inherent in the drug or is a result of the drug in a particular situation. Labor itself produces significant excitement and changes in consciousness. Also, obstetricians always gave scopolamine in combination with opiates and other psychoactive drugs.
“If we look over accounts of Datura intoxication far from clinical settings, we find the same thing: It is a violent experience, often characterized by terrifying hallucinations and delusions, and frequently followed by some degree of amnesia.” (pages 168-170)
My mother was neglected and abused as a child. She was probably pre-Borderline from childhood, and may have been fully Borderline by the time she went into labor with me.
As she was giving birth to me she believed ‘the devil’ was coming to get her – that the devil had sent me to kill her.
My mother did not forget this delusion when I was born. It was entirely real to her. Because we survived the birth, I was to my mother not human, but the devil’s child ‘sent as a curse upon’ Mother’s life.
I cried when I read Weil’s account of the effect of this drug on women in labor, and he is not even speaking of the effects of the opiates that were used in combination with scopolamine in a ‘twilight sleep’ concoction. I cannot prove my mother was given this drug, but EVERYTHING points in that direction. Everything.
I never had a chance. Not one single solitary chance from the moment I was born of escaping the 18 years of terrible abuse, pain, terror and suffering that I believe this drug caused.
That my grandmother did not save me from my mother, that my father did not save me from my mother, that NOBODY outside our family saw what was happening to me — is beyond my powers to comprehend.
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5 thoughts on “+THE TERRIBLE REALITY OF MY BIRTHING”
Thank you for sharing this quote from Dr. Andrew Weil, conveying the truth about the widespread use of scopolamine – one of the most damaging medical practices imaginable. Right up there with Thalidomide; yet probably much worse, given how widespread the use of ‘TS’ was, and how many people it had to have damaged, because the harm done wasn’t so visible as that done by thalidomide. How many people’s lives were made more difficult by the use of such a powerful drug as scopolamine? We’ll likely never know.
I think the conclusions you draw about how the use of so-called “Twilight Sleep” – a deeply insidious term – affected your mother, are quite accurate. Given her fragile state of emotional health, it could have easily pushed her over the edge into madness…and the consequences for you were all the more horrible for being partly caused by the smug certainty of the medical profession of the day…
That the process of birthing has been so ‘pathologized’ by the medical profession for so long, and that women have been subjected to the kinds of violence they have because of the hubris of the medical profession – which has been heavily dominated by men for so long (thank god that’s changing!) – it. makes. me. furious!
Mothering – the most important job on the planet, bar none – is challenging enough. Our culture’s ignorance of all the (easily avoidable) additional problems it loads on to the process of childrearing…stacks the deck against parents and children alike.
When I first began working in hospitals in the late 60’s as an orderly, I remember a class I took where the teacher described a common micro-ogranism, pseudemonas aeruginosa, as ‘harmless and non-pathogenic.’ A few years later I was working as a Respiratory Therapist, and I watched many people die from pneumonias caused by that ‘non-pathogenic’ organism…
The point being that I quickly decided to be skeptical of any and all medical claims to certainty about anything. Today’s medical ‘truth’ is tomorrow’s medical embarrassment revealed…
A quick search re: ‘Twilight Sleep’ turned up these three posts about the depiction of the use of ‘TS’ during the birth of a child, on the current TV series “Mad Men” (if you’re not familiar with ‘MM,’ it’s set in the late-fifties & the sixties). Apparently they depicted it quite accurately; and the post at the middle link points out that the practice of barring fathers from the birth of their children: “conveniently meant that women had no one to witness the awful side effects of the procedure, or demand that it stop.”
Linda, thank you again for all that you do…
Thank you for the ‘man’s voice’ in this critically important area of the well-being of mothers and infants.
I will follow these links later – still am coop-building
not sure if they cover this part of the ‘twilight sleep’ nightmare or not…..
Your words: “That the process of birthing has been so ‘pathologized’ by the medical profession for so long, and that women have been subjected to the kinds of violence they have because of the hubris of the medical profession – which has been heavily dominated by men for so long (thank god that’s changing!)”
The gist of TS’s use in America – prior to 1915 a group of educated ‘feminist’ suffragettes traveled to Germany where their friend gave ‘painless childbirth’ under TS
All excited these women rushed back to America to ensure the ‘right to painless childbirth’ was made available to all women.
Over 100 articles appeared in the media over the course of the fight these women waged with the ‘white male dominated’ US medical establishment.
Doctors were in fact appropriately afraid that the drug, if introduced into US, would prove harmful to women.
The drug was designed in Germany to be ONLY administered by a physician attending a woman’s birth – had to be administered in exact dosages at the exactly right time during delivery. US doctors rightfully knew that if in US use, hospitals would NOT assure its appropriate and safe use – but rather the likely outcome would be for hospitals to line delivering women up in beds, strap them down (which they often did with massive leather restraints – a GREAT NO! NO! for any pre-borderline or borderline woman) — and ignore them except to administer higher and higher more frequent dosages of TS.
Perhaps your links also mention that MANY neonates born to TS mothers were born dead and needed to be resuscitated.
After the angry women-with-a-cause achieved their mission — a friend of theirs in the US died in childbirth under the influence of TS. IMMEDIATE silence hit the press as these women faded — off to where? The graveside of their beloved friend?
By that time it was far too late. ‘Twilight sleep’ had gone malignant in America.
btw – more complications for Mother – her mother raised her to hate Catholics. Mother chose Queen of Angels hospital near downtown Los Angeles for delivery. Her husband was banned from accessing her during her 24-hour labor. Nothing could have been worse.
For my first son I was put under general ( out completely)…I sadly lost my sanity with both boys.My first childbirth experience left a huge scar or mark on me / essence because I had every intention of welcoming my son with my breast and body. I never realized how altered I was until this event.My oldest told me the other day, ” I lost your smell and sounds when I was born mummy…I love your smell”..I wasn’t conscience until the next day.Even at that point I was shell shocked and numb, nurses were coming and going while I was trying to move, I was trying to feel…I could hear my son thrashing around in the little cot beside me – my instincts told me my son was looking for me, he was panicking, he wanted mom.A nurse walked in and sensed something was wrong .She offered to put my son in my arms, I eagerly accepted him …our eyes met, I was his mommy, his gestures…he was a stranger to me.His birth was really difficult, he was “sunny side up”.His head was facing my spine… I was in sheer agony as a result of his position in my womb.This prolonged my labor ( 48 hrs)… too long and I was certain death was eminent.As a result my essence left my body completely! I actually remember staring past the nurse and strangely I saw an “alter” or protector of mine. Pain was gone, husband’s death grip on my hand subsided…I was free from my body!
Oh – dear Helen!!
I never heard that term but that’s exactly the way my firstborn was facing – and yes, they left me in hard labor 48 hours, also. Mine was also a horror story
There’s a term I found online – true for my mother’s experience as well — BIRTHING RAPE!