Bourgeois, Louyse

Louyse Bourgeois (1563-1636) was the most famous midwife (a person, historically female, who helps other women give birth) of her time. As one of the first educated and medically trained midwives, she raised her profession to a new level of competence and promoted the spread of that competence through her widely read books recounting her observations and experiences.

Bourgeois, a woman of the middle class, acquired some of her medical knowledge from her husband, an army surgeon. She was also fortunate to be one of the first graduates of the new school for midwives at the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Paris, France. At the school, she may have studied under pioneering surgeon Ambroise Paré (1510-1590; famous for researching and improving amputation procedures). Bourgeois developed a very large and successful practice, especially among the French aristocracy. She attended the birth of the future King Louis XIII (ruled France from 1610-1643)—reportedly saving the newborn from suffocating—as well as the five other deliveries of Marie de Medici, wife of Henry IV (ruled France from 1553-1610).

Since Bourgeois' popularity rested mostly on successful deliveries, her reputation suffered a bit when she was held responsibile in the death of the queen's daughter-in-law, the Duchesse d'Orleans. The Duchesse died from peritonitis (a bacterial infection) following a delivery in 1627. Despite this setback, Bourgeois remained fairly influential and successful (although she never received the pension King Henry had promised her).

Bourgeois advanced obstetrical (childbirthing) knowledge with her observations about the importance of detachment of the placenta (the bag of fluids that the baby lives in while inside the mother's uterus that is expelled by the mother after birth). If the placenta is not expelled, the mother may hemorrhage (die of uncontrolled bleeding). Bourgeois may have been the first midwife to write books about her specialty, the most important of which was Observations diverses sur la sterilite ("Observations on Infertility"), published in 1626.

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