Twilight Sleep: The Horrifying Truth About Your Drugged Up, Crazy Preggers Grandma

Today I solved a great family mystery.

It’s been widely discussed in my family, that my grandmother had no recollection of giving birth to any of her three kids. She couldn’t explain it… as far as she knew they just put her to sleep and she woke up with a baby.

My mother, who was very much conscious for my birth, didn’t buy that bullshit.

So, it was often postulated that either the great and mighty Lois was lying, or that there was, indeed, some way that women in the 50s and 60s gave birth without being at all conscious for it. While Lois was not known for being uncannily honest, I figured this wouldn’t really be a thing she lied about… Would she find and open her Christmas presents well before Christmas, and then seal them up like nothing happened? Absolutely. Would she steal her daughter’s dolls to practice hair cutting and then lie about it? You’re damn right. Did she spend my life from age 4 up telling me that she was a robot alien sent here to take me away from my mother, just because she thought the unsure fear in my eyes was hilarious? Yeah… and that’s probably a reason that I’m hella fucked up. Still, lying about remembering the birth of her children just felt a little out of place for her. It was not her typical MO.

I always wondered what miracle of science had been lost to the pages of history, where a woman would give birth under sedation and just wake up with a baby. That sounds WAY better than the shit they do now, dontcha think? No screaming, and you don’t even know if you shit on a table in front of a group of people you’ve never met before. It just sounded like a thing that we should be doing now, since it worked then. Granted, I was sure that the practice was done away with for a reason, but like… WHAT could be worse than childbirth pain?

Childbirth pain hurts so much that women gladly let doctors (anesthesiologists) jam needles into their spine (epidurals, which are safe procedures). I don’t have exact statistics on the chances a spinal tap (it’s not a spinal tap) like that will leave you paralyzed (it’s pretty negligible, tbh) but that is scary shit! Wouldn’t things just be better if the woman were unconscious? I mean a woman in a coma can still give birth to a child, so consciousness isn’t really necessary, is it? (Coma patients CAN give birth under perfect circumstances, but it’s not safe, recommended, or well studied.)

I recently started listening to a podcast called Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine. It’s good. They talk about old medicine and how fucked up it was. It’s also child friendly, in the sense they don’t curse… unlike this blog, where I say fuck a lot. Anyways, in 2014 they were expecting a kid, so they did a series of childbirth related podcasts. On the actual BIRTH episode, they talked about different ways that men had fucked up the long-standing tradition of men having nothing to do with childbirth, and all the stupid shit they did to “improve” childbirth. (There were good things that came from educated doctor men getting involved in childbirth, but like… this show is about how medicine fucked shit up, not how it helped people… except the vaccine episode, which is great, but also addresses the fact that the dude that developed the smallpox vaccine did some underhanded shit to poor people….)

ANYWAYS, (so much derailing and side-barring) I was listening to the childbirth episode and they got to the point in history where Twilight Sleep became a thing.

Twilight Sleep
In 1903, this guy named Carl Gauss thought, “Hey… why don’t we drug these women giving birth?” Yeah. Great idea, buddy. So, he mixed morphine (obviously a great painkiller) with scopolamine (which has been known to cause hallucinations, confusion, memory loss, agitation, seizures, and all kinds of potentially fatal things for mom and baby, since it can cross the placenta barrier). Gauss thought it up, and people just went with it.

This meant that women would go to the hospital, essentially remember going to sleep, and remember nothing else, but would wake up with a baby. Unbeknownst to the mothers, they would have been strapped down to hospital beds and out of their god damn mind. They’d be violent and unpredictable. I’d scream and cry and see shit errywurr… And then they’d give birth, recover, and remember NOTHING.

You’d think that something from 1903 would have died out pretty quick, but this actually PEAKED in the 50s, which is when my darling grandmother had her kids. So, her lack of memory pretty much points to this being the method she had her kids with, and it didn’t really fade out till like the 70s…Which is a LONG TIME to have crazed women shooting out infants.

Unless you’d previously had a kid, you didn’t know what happened in the delivery room, and even then you didn’t remember shit. Dudes didn’t know what was up, because they weren’t allowed in the delivery rooms. So it just had a tendency to go on. Finally, in the 70s it faded out of style, since people kind of wanted to be more involved with their kids. There’s a real statistical indicator that the mothers that gave birth this way had a cognitive dissonance toward their kids, because there is no birth experience, and that’s probably why things like lamaze became popular. You’re awake and dealing… and supposedly that will make you a better mother.

Anyways. That’s what I learned today, and that solves the mystery of why my grandmother didn’t know anything abut childbirth.

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