Mother and Child Were Saved:
The Memoirs (1693-1740) of Frisian Midwife Catharina Schrader

translated and annotated by Hilary Marland

Catharina Schrader’s memoirs span 52 years and an estimated 4,000 deliveries, which she carefully documented throughout her life as a midwife. When she was 88 years old, "Vrouw" Schrader recorded her last birth. On October 30, 1746, she died in her hometown of Dokkum.

This is one of the most compelling life stories I have ever read. Among the details that Vrouw Schrader recorded are the fees she charged. She described the social status of her various clients, and charged on a sliding scale according to what each woman could afford. We get a glimpse of the morality surrounding marriage, as well as some folklore and superstitions about pregnancy and delivery in this era. Vrouw Schrader reflects on the very important role of community and close friends and neighbors, and her strong sense of duty is evident in her writing.

Vrouw Schrader’s innermost feelings and religious experiences are expressed most clearly in the prayers which she made at the commencement of every year. She prays for "bodily strength to assist her fellow-man in their need."

Vrouw Schrader attended the births of 64 sets of twins and three sets of triplets. Successful births with placenta previa are recorded as well as many types of breech deliveries. Other presentations she described are face and posterior. Third-stage complications such as retained placenta and hemorrhage are noted. She used herbs as well as manual removal in some situations.

Herbs in general were used to speed labor, support the woman, stop bleeding and expel the stillborn. "Steaming the mother over an herbal bath to relax and soften the opening" was popular with Vrouw Schrader.

Interesting to note is Vrouw Schrader’s destructive rather than constructive criticism of other midwives, which may have been the result of competitiveness and professional jealousy. However, she was called many times by other midwives to aid in difficult deliveries, completing births successfully where other midwives had given up.

Through Catharina Schrader’s carefully kept memoirs we are able to take an in-depth look at midwifery’s past. This book gives me confidence in old ways. However, not all of Vrouw Schrader’s stories were successful, and I would caution aspiring midwives not to practice her techniques without first getting proper instruction. Overall, this is a fascinating book that I very much recommend.