The Rotunda Hospital, where I learned where babies came from and how difficult it could be sometimes to get them out, originally known as "The Dublin Lying-In Hospital", was founded in 1745 by a surgeon and man-midwife who was appalled at the conditions that pregnant mothers had to endure at the time. It was the hospital where my wife was born. It was originally a charitable institution so the hospital had several public function rooms in which fundraising activities were held. One of these areas was a large rotunda, after which the hospital is now named. The Rotunda (round room)is now the home of the famous Gate Theatre. The Rotunda Hospital is the oldest extant maternity hospital in the world. It was the training centre for Obstetrics and Gynecology for Trinity College Dublin and is where I got my midwifery and gynecology training.
Many of the deliveries took place, not in the hospital, but on the "district", that is, in the homes of the pregnant women. Some of these homes were slums in which no one should have had to live, let alone have babies. Although it may sound hazardous, there was an effective back-up team. When a woman was having a home delivery (by far the most inexpensive way to be delivered), a family member, often one of the many other children in the family would run up to the hospital and announce "Me Mammy's having the baby. Come quickly!" Often it was baby eight, nine or ten, so labour could be pretty short. The core delivery team was the mid-wife and two medical students and upon receiving the call, the mid-wife would mount her bicycle and head for the home to assess the situation. If the patient was indeed in labour, she would send a message back to the hospital to dispatch the students on call to the home. We joined the midwife and she, clearly in command, instructed us and supervised us in examining and assessing the patient. Thus we received all our early practical experience under the tutelage of the midwife. Of course, we had received all the theoretical instruction at lectures and clinics and watched the specialists work their miracles, but the 'hands - on' experience went to their interns and residents and not to us lowly medical students.
Lest you fear for the poor patients, there was an efficient 'flying squad' operating from the hospital that could have a highly efficient team out at the house, usually within minutes, at the call of the mid-wife or the students. This included an obstetrician and an anesthetist and we could do things in the home that would not be done outside an hospital today. Despite the fact that many of these slum homes were far from clean, our infection rate was extremely low because patients had resistance to their own germs. Often the dwellings were one room and we had to rig up a screen so that the woman could have some privacy from the other five children and her husband.
That's just the beginning of Rotunda Days and you will be hearing more about them in the weeks to come!
Let me know if you'd like to hear more!