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October 11, 2007

Attending To Birth

Attending To Birth

When Ruth Lubic was first training to be a nurse in the 1950s, the maternity ward was the last place she wanted to be. There, women were regularly restrained with handcuffs to keep them from reaching for their newborn babies. They were also given drugs to numb their pain and erase their memories.

When it came time for Ruth to give birth to her own son, an enlightened doctor encouraged her to have her husband with her in the delivery room - something that was never done at the time. Then the doctor suggested Ruth herself become a nurse-midwife.

Ruth had never heard the term before. Although women have been assisting other women at birth for thousands of years, by the 1950s in the U.S., the practice was considered old-fashioned.

Ruth set out to become a midwife. The problems she faced finding work and creating the first free-standing birth clinic in the country are both funny and depressing. But in large part, Ruth is responsible for the resurgence of midwives in the birthing process today.

Now Ruth is 80 years old, and still fighting - this time to keep a birthing center afloat in Northeast Washington D.C., a place with one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country.  

Listener Follow-Up - 500 Things

Sallye Coyle heard Dick's conversation with Chris McNaught, a man trying to whittle his belongings down to 500 things.

Sallye knows about the importance of traveling light - when she was a young woman, she backpacked across Europe. Later, when she traveled in Europe with her children, she taught them to pack just the essentials - pants, shirts, shoes, and maybe a camera.

On a trip from Florence to London, Sallye decided she and her children would forgo their usual pattern of traveling by first class sleeper car and get seats in another part of the train. They ended up meeting three young men with lives very different from their own - and very different baggage packed for their trips.

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