Ancient Roman relief carving of birth


Ancient Roman relief carving of a midwife attending a woman giving birth
Wellcome Library, London (Image: M0003964EB)

I came across this beautiful image recently while reading a book review in The New England Journal of Medicine of Obstetrics and Gynecology: A History and Iconography (2005).  That discovery led me to London’s Wellcome Library, which contains other interesting images of birth.

In this image, we see a midwife aiding a woman in the delivery of her child. The image is helpful in the visualization of birth for many reasons.  First, it connects the viewers to a lineage of birth, normalizing birth and reminding us that women have been birthing babies throughout human history.  A reminder of this lineage is often a relief to pregnant women, particularly to those who are pregnant for the first time, helping them to feel less fear or isolation at the prospect of delivering their own babies. The woman in this relief also appears calm, comfortable, and strong, as does the midwife, who arches over serenely to catch the baby.  Finally, the image offers the viewer a look at how a woman’s body naturally opens up when birthing a baby, again normalizing the act of birth and the physiological capabilities of the vulva.

To view other powerful Visualizing Birth images from the ancient and medieval past, see these posts: Classical Greek, Ancient Egypt, Medieval Islamic, Timna ValleyEtruscan Fragment, Willendorf.