Lying In Hospital

Reproduction and the management of reproduction process is not just biological but cultural.  It is in fact a terrain where class and gender intersect. In earlier times discussion of childbirth was considered a taboo, a business of women, confined to a dark room in the house where men were kept away.  Deliveries were kept at home overseen by elder women members of the family or a midwife . Child birth and post natal care in India remained out of the orbit of medicalization till about late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. The medicalization of child birth or biomedical childbirth as against non medicalized childbirth is a process whereby medical establishments with professional doctors follow standardized guidelines of medical care and treatment. Biomedical childbirth reduced risks of infant and maternal mortality.

Madras played a prominent role in the history of obstetrics  in British India.  The first ‘lying in’ allopathic maternity hospital in British India and in Asia as a whole was built on the banks of River Cooum in Egmore in 1844 and moved to the present site in 1882. Called the Women and General Hospital or just Maternity Hospital (MH) or Prasava Aaspathiri,  it served as  the premier training center for obstetrics and gynaeocology. Initially the hospital provided services to British women residents and the Anglo Indian community, later it opened doors to women of all communities and races. Today it handles 22,000 deliveries annually.

The building has a character of its own, a simple and functional colonial structure: tiled, arches that run the length o f the building, balustraded parapet and an Indo saracenic tower. The building has always fascinated me because of the wear and tear it has been able to take, it is not a museum but  a place where thousands of people throng everyday. There is life in the building and will stand for a few hundred years more despite the overuse and poor maintenance.

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