Another “monstrous birth” in New England

Allow me one more post on this last day of Women's History Month about Anne Hutchinson, the midwife in the Massachusetts Bay Colony who was banished to Rhode Island for heresy.

The pregnancy Hutchinson had been carrying during her civil and ecclesiastical trials turned out to have been probably the first hydatidiform mole, or molar pregnancy, in New England, according to a 1959 article in the New England Journal of Medicine.Anne Hutchinson

This freakish obstetrical event, which occurs in about 1 in 2,000 pregnancies in the United States today (it is 10 times more common in Asia), happens when a pregnancy goes awry and turns into a mass of tissue in the uterus. The mass might grow for several months, and lumps of tissue might eventually be "delivered." Such a "birth" event would likely be upsetting to anyone, but given the beliefs of the time, it carried a dark judgment on Hutchinson's state of grace.

She was safe in Rhode Island, but the event was sensational news. Imagine the response of her nemesis, Gov. John Winthop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, when he heard that not only had Hutchinson attended Mary Dyer's "monstrous birth," but now had also delivered one of her own.

I can't stop wondering how Hutchinson felt about this. Although the austere religion practiced in the Massachusetts Bay Colony never allowed anyone to take salvation for granted, according to Calvinism, God's favorite people should be easy to spot: They prospered in this life as well as the next.

Hutchinson herself had had a comfortable life in England, and even in Massachusetts she was a member of the church, the wife of a prosperous textile manufacturer and the mistress of an elegant home right across the road from Gov. Winthrop's, according to Selma R. Williams in Divine Rebel: The Life of Anne Marbury Hutchinson.

Yet her life in America was one catastrophe after another. Hutchinson was a deeply religious woman. Did she feel God's presence so strongly that she was able to dismiss the evidence others saw of His disfavor? Or was she constitutionally unable to listen to people she judged unlikely conduits of the word of God? In any event, she spoke her mind, she stood for what she believed in, and she moved us all forward.

C-sections at all-time high in new CDC report

The rate of births that ended in Caesarean-sections climbed by 53% in the years between 1996 to 2007, when they stood at 32%, the highest rate ever reported in the United States, the National Center for Health Statistics reported on Tuesday.

The rate is higher than those most other industrialized countries are experiencing, according to the report from the NCHS , which is an arm of the Centers for Disease Control, based in Atlanta, Ga. The cost of a C-section is almost double that of a vaginal delivery, the report notes.

C-sections were up for all groups across the board in the 11 years that were the major focus of the study, in terms of age, race, location, and how far along women were in their pregnancies.

About 1.4 million women gave birth by Ceasarean in 2007. In 2006, Caesarean delivery was the surgical procedure most often performed in American hospitals.

Here are the major findings of the report:

The U.S. C-section rate, 21 percent in 1996, was 32 percent in 2007, an increase of 53 percent. The steepest rise occurred between 2000 and 2007.

C-section rates went up by 50 percent or more in 34 states. In six states -- Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Washington -- the rate increased by more than 70 percent.

The rate rose for women of all age groups, with women under 25 having greatest rate of increase, 57 percent.

All racial and ethnic groups experienced increases. Black women had the highest C-section rate in 2007, 34 percent. Native American women had the lowest rate, 28 percent.

Caesarean rates increased for deliveries of infants of all gestational ages. C-sections for pre-term babies (less than 34 weeks gestational age) increased 36 percent; the rates for late pre-term babies (34 to 36 weeks) and term and post-term babies (37+ weeks) went up nearly 50 percent.

Early and late pre-term babies were more likely to be delivered by Caesarean section than were babies born at 37+ weeks.

The report cited possible reasons for the increases in Caesarean sections, in addition to medical indications for the surgery, as "maternal demographic characteristics," like advanced maternal age, fears of malpractice suits among physicians, doctors' preferences, and maternal preferences.

Anne Hutchinson, Colonial midwife

Anne Hutchinson, an early Boston, Mass., midwife, was a brilliant and original thinker and an ardent defender of the right of the individual to make up her own mind.

Anne Hutchinson

Anne Hutchinson depicted at her trial

Hutchinson and her family followed their minister, John Cotton, from Boston, England, in 1634. She was a prominent member of her Puritan community in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and a highly regarded midwife, who reportedly attended women in birth free of charge.

Religion was a major focus of her life, but Hutchinson claimed the right to forge her own relationship with God. She soon ran afoul of the Bay Colony's authoritarian leaders, and was charged with heresy.

Hutchinson's major claim to fame lies in the brilliance with which she defended herself in civil and ecclesiastical trials. At the time of her civil trial, presided over by Governor John Winthrop, she was 46 years old, the mother of 14, and pregnant. During the trial, the governor called her an "American Jezebel."

In 1638, Hutchinson was found guilty and sentenced to banishment to Rhode Island just four years after her arrival in the New World.

The leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were so shaken by the quality of both her theological and legal arguments that they determined to educate their religious and civil leaders to withstand future assaults on their authority. That determination became part of the mission of Harvard College, which had been founded in 1636.

After Anne's husband, William Hutchinson, died in 1642, she left Portsmouth, taking her youngest children to the area now known as the Bronx, N.Y., then held by the Dutch. The Hutchinsons unwittingly walked into a bloody altercation between the Dutch and Native Americans that became known as Kieft's War. In 1643 Hutchinson and several of her children were murdered by Indians.

When word of Hutchinson's death reached Boston, the church bells reportedly pealed for a full 24 hours with joy that God had finally taken retribution on this troublesome woman.

Illustration by Edwin Austin Abbey