It is with great sadness that I write that the birth world has lost two of its great heroes this week. Marsden Grigg Wagner, M.D., and David B. Chamberlain, PhD, are gone.
Karen Joan Wagner announced Monday to friends on Facebook:
“RIP My father, Marsden Grigg Wagner, died peacefully yesterday in hospital in West Virginia. He had an amazing life and did more and helped more people than most of us could ever dream of. I will remember him as warm and caring and loving and charming and brilliant and musical. He loved me very much and we had lots of great times together. I am lucky to have so many good memories of him.”
While news has been circulating throughout natural childbirth, doula, and midwifery circles via social media of the loss of Marsden Wagner, age 84, on Sunday, word came Thursday of the death of Dr. David Chamberlain, another man whose life and work has had huge impact in the same circles.
Dr. Chamberlain, also age 84, died on Thursday, May 1, 2014. The family is in seclusion and requests privacy for the next five days. They have asked for no calls, emails, or well-wishers for a few days. There will be information about memorial activities forthcoming.
These two men were giants, celebrated, quoted, and honored by midwives and natural birth activists the world over.
For 15 years, Marsden Wagner served as Director of Women’s and Children’s Health for the World Health Organization. He was a perinatologist and perinatal epidemiologist, as well as a sought-after speaker for birth conferences, including Midwifery Today conferences. He was an outspoken advocate for normal childbirth and for midwifery, and was sometimes called upon to speak to legislatures and policy makers about the benefits of midwives.
Marsden Wagner has published a number of influential books, including Pursuing the Birth Machine, Creating Your Birth Plan: The Definitive Guide to a Safe and Empowering Birth, and Born in the USA. He has written numerous articles that impact normal birth advocates all over the world.
His counsel has long been sought by filmmakers documenting childbirth issues. Interviews with Marsden Wagner appear in Rikki Lake’s The Business of Being Born, Barbara Harper’s Gentle Birth Choices, and in Pregnant in America. Marsden Wagner was one of the early whistleblowers on the dangers of the ulcer drug Cytotec that is being used for induction of labor, sometimes with deadly results. He has been adamant: “DO NOT USE Cytotec for induction of labor.”
Midwife and educator Gloria Lemay honors Marsden Wagner in her blog: “He wasn’t passionate about birth in a suffering way… he loved babies and he wanted to move obstetrics in an intelligent direction that would serve all of humanity, and he had fun with the journey.” She tells of how she once told him how much she admired him and how important his work was. He responded, “Gloria, you and all the women who actually go to the births, are the ones that I admire. You keep me going and I stand in awe of you.
Many years of his life have been invested in advocating for safer childbirth practices, and one of the primary things that Wagner has worked for is more midwives, and for a halt to the persecution of midwives. “We have for 50 years been brainwashing American women about childbirth, about how dangerous it is, how all the terrible things that can go wrong, and how you need to be in the hospital where all the doctors are and the machines are and all the operating tables so they we can take care of all the horrendous emergencies when they occur…. It’s absolutely not true.”
The single father of four worked tirelessly to bring about change, and often wrote or spoke scathing indictments of the medical birth machine. The Inquisitr has quoted Marsden Wagner previously when he nailed the bottom line about opposition to midwives, water birth, and home birth: “It’s all about territory. It’s all about power. It’s all about control. And at the end of the day, it’s about money.” Marsden Wagner never stopped encouraging women that the power of birth was theirs. His impact was immeasurable.
Dr. David Chamberlain was also a powerhouse of influence. He was a psychologist, author, and pioneer in the field of pre- and perinatal psychology. was the co-founder of BirthPsychology.com, the website for APPPAH – The Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health. He wrote the groundbreaking book Babies Remember Birth. It was renamed The Mind of Your Newborn Baby for its 10th Anniversary re-release. Chamberlain recently published Windows to the Womb, Revealing the Conscious Baby from Conception to Birth.
Dr. Chamberlain wrote and spoke extensively about the concept that babies in the womb are actually capable of learning, feeling pain, real communication, and having actual memories. During his lifetime of research, he documented many cases of people remembering events that occurred in the womb, memories that were empirically verified.
For too long, medical practitioners have treated newborn babies as though their screams were simply reflexes, that “babies couldn’t possibly be having real experiences.” The belief was that they couldn’t really be experiencing pain. But David Chamberlain found the reality is that they were indeed experiencing pain when painful experiences were occurring. He also found that the early experiences in the womb and in the time surrounding birth often had profound, and sometimes traumatic, effects on the person, with lifelong implications. He said that the “experts” are ignorant about the baby, which can cause “layers of trauma.”
Chamberlain has explained that babies in the womb are capable of memory long before there are brain cells enough to account for the memories on a strictly physiological basis. They have a “psyche” or a soul, from the very beginning. Decades of research by Chamberlain and others have backed this up.
Because of the things that Dr. Chamberlain learned about the capabilities of the newborn, he became a vocal advocate for change in the way that newborns are treated. He wrote and and spoke extensively about how newborns and babies in the womb are sentient, conscious people. Many of the practices in the typical American way of birth ignore the strong communication of babies’ protests about what is happening to them. In 1989, he published a paper “Babies Remember Pain,” he explained that babies’ cries are a message that they don’t like being man-handled. Following is the abstract:
“Babies have been crying at birth for centuries but we have been reluctant to accept their cries as valid expressions of pain which will register in memory. Despite mounting evidence, the characteristic reaction of psychologists and medical practitioners to infant pain has been one of denial. Key myths about the brain have provided the rationale for painful procedures. Against this background, studies of the infant cry prove that crying is meaningful communication. Examples of prenatal and perinatal cries are examined. Evidence for the pain of circumcision is found in personal memories and research findings. A final section focuses on pain in the NICU, the delivery room, and the nursery and concludes with an appeal that all painful procedures imposed on newborns be reconsidered.”
Like Marsden Wagner, David Chamberlain was often sought out for commentary in childbirth-related documentaries. He too advocated for midwifery care in childbirth, because of the treatment of the babies. He made an appearance in What Babies Want, narrated by Noah Wylie, in The Other Side of the Glass, and in The Psychology of Birth, among others.
Both Marsden Wagner and David Chamberlain were revolutionaries in their own way. The importance of the legacy they leave behind cannot be overestimated. They have each influenced countless lives.
Remember that the family of Dr. David Chamberlain has requested privacy for the next five days – no calls or emails, please.
If either of these incredible men have touched your life, I invite you to write of the impact of Marsden Grigg Wagner, M.D., and/or David Chamberlain, PhD, in the comments below. Show the world how special they were, and how the beauty of their lives will continue to ripple throughout time. RIP, dear gentlemen. I will never forget you.