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Humanity has been fortunate enough to make advancements in medicine as time goes on. Medicine, and the lack of it, plays an important role in Our Town. Emily’s death is a key part of the conflict in the play. The third act’s name isn’t given, but the reader can draw the conclusion that its subject is death. If better medicine and medical practices were present for the setting of the play, it could have ended a lot differently than it did.
Our Town took place from 1901 until 1913. Practices were very different from today’s. Many wives gave birth in their own home. It wasn’t common for people to deliver babies at hospitals or other health-related facilities. From 1912 to 1915, only half of women who gave birth were being attended by physicians. Hospitals had a taboo around them at the time. Antiseptic policies were not as strict during this time, and doctors could pose a risk of infecting a woman or her child if they had been spending the day going from patient to patient. People argued that in a home, there was only one patient, while in a hospital, there were many. Most women felt more at ease being with family and familiar surroundings.
Emily’s process of preparing for giving birth might’ve been very similar to a typical early 1900’s woman’s process. One book by Henry Davidson Fry included very specific instructions for preparing for childbirth. While some methods of his were questioned, most were commonly practiced, when the book was published in 1907. Fry recommended that a birthing room was prepared for the woman. He strongly advised that this room should not be near a bathroom, as he said that sewage fumes could potentially damage a newborn child. Another book by Louis A. Spaeth recommended that a woman be properly dressed before giving birth. An appropriate outfit, according to Spaeth, would’ve included a short underskirt, an under vest, a blouse, a petticoat, warm stockings, and slippers. Similar books contained other tips for properly delivering children, although methods contradicted each other from book-to-book.
As of 1915, the infant mortality rate was one out of ten births. The maternal mortality rate was 680 out of 100,000 births. Without the use of vaccines or antibiotics, the risk of infection was high. More miscarriages occurred when there wasn’t a physician present. Seventy-five percent of women gave birth without the use of painkillers. As of 2015, the infant mortality rate was 6 out of 1,000 births. The maternal mortality rate was 17.8 out of 100,000 births. Twenty percent of women gave birth without the use of painkillers. Clearly, there is a considerable difference in these statistics, showing how much tradition and ideas have changed over the years. These changes have certainly been for the better.
Today, childbirth doesn’t pose as much of a threat. Miscarriages are much less common thanks to the advances in medicine. From 1900 through 1977, the maternal death rate dropped nearly 99 percent. With the help of societal supports for maternal and child health programs, we have learned more and more about childbirth, and different ways that we can ensure that it is as smooth as possible. Women can pre-register at a hospital many months in advance. Women can even fill out a Childbirth Plan form and decide on specific preferences. They offer several natural pain management strategies such as calming whirlpools or massages. You can decide how you would like to deliver the child, whether it be lying on your side or on your back. Hospitals make accommodations for other children who may have to stay on the grounds. Some hospitals will even go as far as ensuring there will be transportation regardless of the time it is needed. Nurses can help regulate and control the number of visitors during your stay at the hospital if you would like them to. Needless to say, there have been many improvements over time. Even smaller improvements and attention to smaller details such as comfort preferences can make the stay a little more bearable for the patient.
While Emily’s death was essential to the plot of the story, it is a huge relief knowing that we have made so many medical advances. It was unfortunate that hospitals had such a stigma for a while, but this potentially helped them to make changes to become safer and more sterile places, where people could feel safe and at ease. Modern hospitals make extraordinary efforts to keep everything as sanitary and sterile as possible. Strict regulations can help put people at ease if they require medical services. All women should have the right to know they are in good hands if they ever wish to bring a child into the world.
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