The desire of having a painless labour is a shared dream of many women since the dawn of time. Although most of treatments employed in the past for such a purpose were empirical and fairly ineffective, during the 1900 it was possible to completely exterminate the pain with the Spinal Epidural procedure. Even with its high efficacy  and low rate of complications, the technique was then like today, not much used, mainly because of its great cost. In 1914, the Epidural was still a rather unknown method, therefore scientists and doctor would be looking for other possible options.

After having read an article about a painless delivery in 1914, lady Charlotte Camody had left the US direct to Freiburg, Germany. Here she got to the hospital and waited for her labour to happen. Once she started feeling the first sorrows the doctors administered to her a mix of medicines which made her wake up 12 hours later.

“Maybe my child will come tomorrow”, she thought. After a few seconds though, she realised how different her body felt. “I’d feel lighter, I took a sit with not much trouble as if I was all changed”. A few minutes later, the nurse came back in the room with an infant, that she called Charlemagne even though she struggled to believe her eyes.

Charlotte had just given birth with the Twilight Sleep procedure

Its German name was Dämmerschlaf” as well as “Freiburg Method” and was make one think that this was the start of a new era, free from labour pain. The insensibility was induced by an injection of both morphine and scopolamine which would put a woman in a sleeping wakefulness which would obliviate her of  all that hurtful memory.

In the US, once the girl was back home, Charlotte Camody got involved with numerous female groups because of her experience. Some associacions rose, pushed by young women willing to have a chance to choose such a treatment themselves in their own continent.

The method had been invented by the German doctor named Carl Gauss, that started his reaserch in 1903 as he was trying to replace the chloroform, used in thr 19th century to relieve labour pain. Mr. Gauss was not the first doctor who had attempted this; in fact Dr. Schneiderlin had utilised the combination of morphine and scopolamine during regular surgical anesthesia. Gauss showed his results in 1907, when the scientific community had a look at his new suggestion for handling pregnancy. From now on, the tecnique gained more and more popularity to the point that, a couple of years later, it was considered as a viable solution.

In 1915, the New York Times published an article about the twilight sleep and the book written by Hanna Rion “The Truth About The Twilight Sleep“. The book would say that 69 German medical reports  declared that the combination of morphine and scopolamine was totally risk-free for the child”.

The truth was sadly very different according to the women’s dreams

Initially  it was advertised as “a new era for women and through them for all the humankind”. Soon though, the Freiburg method got abandoned due to its side effects. Some of those complications would involve the emotional sphere: since they were completely removing the memory of the labour, their mothers would face emotional issues. One of them testified:

“The following thing I would remember was “I am awake”, then “how long before I’ll have my baby?” and just in the meantime, a nurse came to me with a pillow and on top of that there was my baby. They told me that he was mine, as probably he was. However I certainly could not prove it to the court”.

Below: a pregnant woman waiting to be examined

An even more serious aspect was the narcotic effect that the procedure had on the infant, causing depressive effects on their central nervous system: this would provoke respiratory distress and other serious consequences on the newborn.

Furthermore, what the Twilight Sleep would grant was not the absence of pain but actually the absence of the memory of it. For the doctors, obstetricians and nurses whom would follow the operation, the labour of an anaesthetised woman was a horrible experience because the women would suffer superior pain compared to a regular labour.

The difference was simply that no one (almost ever) would remember anything of what had happened

The hospital of Riverside Drive, Manhattan, was about to shut down due to the protests of  people for the noise that pregnant women would make once in the midst of their suffering. Also some of them could remember the memory of the pain, which would turn into proper nightmares because experienced in a completely anomalous sleeping/vigil state.

Below: child born with the twilight sleep method

Beside this, the supporter of the Freiburg Method Charlotte Camody died during her labour in 1915. The cause was due to hemorrhage probably disconnected from the anesthesia. Her death, however, pushed people even more into thinking that the procedure was not right. Eventually the starting of the second world war made German inventions look bad, hence all of this determined  how the end of this controversial technique was soon to come.

Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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