On Friday, the world lost a wise and beautiful woman who initiated great change and progress for families giving birth around the world. Elisabeth Bing, co-founder of Lamaze, died on Saturday at the age of 100. She lived a rich life, passionate about her belief that women could trust their bodies in birth, and teaching and touching hundreds of thousands of women and families in the process.
For those unfamiliar with her name, Elisabeth, also known as the "Mother of Lamaze," co-founded what we now know as Lamaze International, along with the late Marjorie Karmel. Elisabeth was born in Berlin, Germany in 1914, and in high school fled to England with her family to escape the Nazis. In England, she trained and worked in physical therapy before eventually working with new mothers during the early postpartum period. She was dispatched to help mothers with massage and exercise, as it was customary at the time to require moms to stay in the hospital bed for 10 days following birth. Elisabeth soon became interested in looking further at the current labor and delivery practices, which she found "very frightening and upsetting." At that time, in the late 1930s and 1940s, women giving birth were either heavily sedated (resulting in very little memory of their birth) or provided nothing at all to relieve or cope with pain. After moving to the United States in 1949, Elisabeth embarked on a long and winding journey that ultimately positioned her as a revolutionary in childbirth education (attending childbirth classes was not a "thing" during that time). For more details on Elisabeth's history, check out this interview from 1999.
The basis for Elisabeth's teachings came from a combination of the works from Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, author of Natural Childbirth, Dr. Isidore Bonstein who wrote Psychoprophylactic Method, and Marjorie Karmel who trained with Dr. Ferdinand Lamaze, most known for promoting "psychoprophylaxis," a pain-relieving method for childbirth involving trained relaxation and patterned breathing. Elisabeth ultimately wrote her own book entitled Six Practical Lessons for Childbirth for an Easier Childbirth, which detailed specific, practical strategies women could use to give birth naturally, the way they wanted, and with their own choices. The book was originally written in 1967 and the most recent revised copy was published in 1994. Of course, Lamaze today is less of a "method" for birth and more a philosophy of teaching women about choices available that make birth safer and healthier, and how the experience of birth profoundly affects women and families. But at the foundation, Lamaze still echoes the core of Elisabeth's vision for women:
“I hope I have made women aware that they have choices, they can get to know their body and trust their body.”
For any woman or man who has attended a Lamaze childbirth class, for any woman who has heard "trust in your body," for anyone who has ever learned about the power of relaxation and breath during labor, for anyone who has come to believe that birth is one of the most important experiences in life, and for anyone who has been affected by the transformation of parenthood, we proudly and thankfully acknowledge the life, work, and love of Elisabeth Bing.
Our sister blog, Science & Sensibility, also has written a beautiful memorial for Elisabeth, including several first-hand accounts from other influential Lamaze members.
Photo credit: © Librado Romero/The New York Times
Journal of Perinatal Education. The History of Lamaze Continues: An Interview with Elisabeth Bing. 2000.
Journal of Perinatal Education. Lamaze Method Versus Philosophy. 2002.
Science & Sensibility. Elisabeth Bing, Mother of Lamaze, Remembered for Humanizing Childbirth. 2015.