You Won't Believe Why The Chainsaw Was Actually Invented

Childbirth is a momentous occasion. It’s also an occasion, however, which induces pressures and anxieties for many expectant parents. 

The solemn atmosphere of a delivery suite, paired with being surrounded by medically trained strangers. It’s a lot! Now let’s go back in time. 

The history of childbirth technology holds some surprising (and actually quite gory, so take this as your trigger warning) tales. 

In years gone by women have had to endure a variety of bizarre inventions and practices which were once considered to make the birthing process easier. Join me as we delve into the darkest depths of history and uncover the unsettling origins of the chainsaw and other unconventional birthing methods.

The Switch From Home to Hospital Births

Before we take a look into the history of unconventional birthing tools, we must first consider why they were invented in the first place. Childbirth in the Middle Ages was often performed in the home. 

The expectant mother would be surrounded by women, both midwives and family members who would support them through birth. It was done by women, for women and was a relatively successful process in many ways. Besides the hygiene differences, birthing back then wasn't too far off what you’d consider a ‘natural birth’ these days.

It was around the mid-1800s when childbirth became more medicalised. Surgeons and scientists claimed the domain, which in effect meant that men claimed the domain. 

The field of obstetrics was born and births were transferred from the home to hospitals. Birth however was still considered one of the most dangerous things a woman could do, which inevitably led to the development of new technologies and tools to make the process ‘easier’. Not all of these tools however had the mother's health in best interest.

Let’s take a look…

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The Chainsaw

In the late 1700s, amidst the dawn of modern medicine, two Scottish doctors, John Aitken and James Jeffray, devised a rather chilling contraption to assist with childbirth…. The hand-cranked chainsaw.

Contrary to its modern-day use, the chainsaw was originally invented to saw through the pelvises of labouring mothers to assist with childbirth. 

Known as symphysiotomy, this barbaric procedure was performed even more barbarically, without anesthesia. Mothers going through this ordeal would be fully conscious feeling every inch of pain. Over time the chainsaw was adapted and mechanicalised in the 19th century. It wasn’t long after this however that the chainsaw was superseded by the Gigli twisted wire saw, which is commonly still used today for cutting bones in amputation procedures.

Centrifugal Force

In 1963 a patent application was filed by George and Charlotte Blonsky, a childless couple, to facilitate the creation of a machine that would help mothers give birth via centrifugal force. 

This particular tool would be used for women who struggled to push when required. The woman would get strapped into the machine and would rotate at 7G’s (almost as fast as a fighter jet) in order to create enough centrifugal force that the baby would simply shoot right out. 

And if you’re wondering where the baby would go, it would get caught in a net... Of course. Please tell me you read that in a sarcastic tone. The patent application was granted, but thankfully expired in the 1800’s. There’s only one official life-sized machine (unused of course) which appeared at the Science Gallery Dublin’s #FailBetter exhibition.

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Still used today, forceps became adapted as a birthing technique in the 16th century. Peter Chamerlen the elder and his brother, Peter Chamberlen the younger (confusing, right?) pioneered this particular practice to deliver babies. 

Back then forceps were made from wood, covered with leather and coated with animal lard and resembled more of a scissor-style fitting than the large spoons we see today. Forceps would be used to assist birth if the mother was unable to push the baby out, they grip the baby’s head helping the midwife or obstetrician assist with delivery.

Vacuum Extraction

As medical advancements began to grow rapidly vacuum extraction emerged as an indispensable tool for assisting childbirth. This particular method was pioneered by Jorge Odon, an automobile mechanic. 

Doctors would place a suction cup on the baby’s head to guide the baby out during a difficult birth. Vacuum extraction holds many similarities to forceps however this method is seen as less intrusive and less impactful on the mother.

In the history books of childbirth, you’ll see inventions that make you grimace, tools too scary to look at and processes that shock to the core. Thankfully the delivery suite you see now isn’t the same delivery suite used back then! 

Medical intervention these days are a wonder and can quite literally mean the difference between life and death for both the mother and the child.

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