Birthing the Placenta in the early days of Canada

I’m a little hesitant to post the following because of the undertones of colonial disdain but I’m going to go ahead because this is the source of my conviction about the 30 Minute Third Stage. If this story can be used as a cautionary tale for midwives and physicians, I think it’s important to share it. Please read it with a sympathetic view to the time and place.

From CBC Radio “Ideas” program “Doctoring the Family
By David Cayley and Jutta Mason

(beginning of excerpt) David Cayley (announcer): It is clear that pre-medical birth cultures, both Native and non-Native, had many resources to deal with difficulties, but the picture is naturally not without its shadows and isolated cases of shocking cases of incompetence are easy enough to find. Rita Dobois, for example, recalls that although native midwives were usually very cautious about manual extraction of the placenta, she did encounter one very striking exception.

Rita Dobois: The placenta, they didn’t like to pull on it. Now, there was another case here in Manitoba that one of my friends went to and they did a terrible job there. Now, that midwife was known in the community as not being a very good midwife, and she did a delivery on a young woman, a woman who was about 19-20 years old and it was her first baby, and the placenta did not come away fast enough for her liking, and she went in after the placenta. It was very strange, I was quite surprised that she apparently took the placenta and whatever she got and put it into a cloth and put it on the lady’s abdomen and sent the patient in to Norway House, to the doctor, because she was still bleeding. When the doctor opened the cloth, he almost died of shock because there was the uterus, the cervix, the bladder and part of the bowel. She had taken everything out. She had yanked it all out—everything. And that was something that we could not understand, because we had never seen this happen.

So, this nurse said that she was sent in there for the next period. It was freeze up in the fall. She said there were two babies delivered and this midwife insisted that she do the delivery. So she thought well, I’m going to be there, I’m going to see this thing. And so she was there for the delivery and she said it was really an amazing thing because she had never heard a midwife or seen a midwife do this. As soon as the baby was born, I mean just as fast as a wink, her hand was going in to pull out the placenta because the woman was going to die if the placenta wasn’t out. And at one point, the nurse said to her, if you don’t take your hands away from there I’m going to hit you over the head right now and knock you out, because you’re going to kill this lady. And this woman got really upset because she thought that what she was doing was really the right thing to do. And so they got a clock and they sat there and watched the clock. And this nurse kept saying to her, take your hands away, it’s not 30 minutes yet, it’s not 30 minutes. And so finally in 30 minutes, the placenta separated and delivered by itself, and this woman was absolutely amazed.

So, when the nurse asked around the community, you know, how much experience this woman had, they said not a lot, but they thought that she wasn’t that bad. So then when they had the second delivery, Lenore said to this woman, well, you’re going to do the delivery, but there’s the clock and I’m telling you, if you touch that woman before 30 minutes I’m going to really sock you a good one. And so she said the woman just sat there and waited and watched the clock and watched the nurse for fear that she was going to get a clobbering. And in 30 minutes, the placenta separated and came away nicely, and this woman was amazed. She said, you’ve got magical powers. She said no, but she said I bought this clock and it’s yours, and you watch it. And she said, the next time there’s a delivery, even if I’m not here, you expect me to clobber you if you touch her before 30 minutes. And this woman was really amazed, she just couldn’t believe that 30 minutes was like a magic number. Because to her, as soon as the feet were out, you had to go in there and pull out the placenta, right away, quick. . . There was this terrible fear of losing the patient to hemorrhage. We’ve never seen that anywhere else. (end of excerpt)

Related link: 30 Minute Third Stage

5 thoughts on “Birthing the Placenta in the early days of Canada

  1. Adding comments that came in on Facebook about this post:
    R. W.: I took dinner to a new mom from my church about eight years ago. Her birth had gone fine, but then the doctor pulled her uterus out with the placenta and she ended up being rushed off for reparative surgery before she even got to enjoy her newborn.
    1 February at 10:42 via mobile • Like

    O. H. (midwife) wow, thanks Gloria, that is scary, didn’t know you could actually take all that out that easy.
    1 February at 11:01 • Like

    Gloria Lemay: I read a Chilliwack, BC obstetrician’s post about being called to the hospital at 2 a.m. for an unusual problem with a placenta. He said that he realized halfway there that the family dr had the uterus right out of the woman’s body with the placenta still attached. His summary of the situation: “Good thing it wasn’t a homebirth.” When I challenged him and said that this was someone pulling too hard and too soon on an umbilical cord, he actually said “No the dr didn’t pull at all.” Yeah, right.

  2. I am unsure of the benefits of posting this story – it is fear mongering – although I have read other aspects of your blog and find them to be women centred. I loved the footling breech birth and the ‘ten ways to tell if your doctor’ is about to do a convenient lscs-
    Margo – midwife

  3. Margo, I believe it has more to do with not blindly trusting Health Care Providers no matter their credentials or “lack” thereof. If you plan to have an attendant at your birth, ASK OTHER MOMS ABOUT HER. Always inquire into your community about a Health Care Provider before you allow them to attend your birth. Always.

  4. Oh my gosh, I didn’t realize that was even possible. I already know I don’t want postpartum oxytocin to help deliver my placenta (I’m planning on birthing naturally at a hospital) but now I REALLY know I don’t want anyone trying to…dig it out. That’s awful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *