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Natalie Lennard

The Whitechapel Woman

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Edition of 15
Medium Collector Edition on Hahnemuhle Pearl Paper
Image size 60 cm x 80 cm 


“For the first time... I had been refused when offering chloroform... later I asked her why. Shyly she turned from the window that burst the first light of dawn and said: ‘It didn’t hurt. It wasn’t meant to, was it, doctor?’"

A chance phrase by a woman in a hovel in Whitechapel in 1911, that childbirth 'wasn’t meant to be painful', led the young Dr Grantly Dick-Read to explore that in the absence of fear, the body's natural endorphins can replace the stress hormones that cause pain in childbirth. He went on to write the most influential book on childbirth of the last century, 'Childbirth Without Fear' in 1942, with the passage describing the encounter becoming famously enshrined in birth philosophy. 

Dick-Read was scorned by his peers, his ideas rejected. But he was also onto a monumental breakthrough in  science: the discovery of hormones, the crucial role that oxytocin, adrenalin, relaxin, and prostaglandins play in childbirth. He went on to shape Natural Childbirth Trust (that later became the National Childbirth Trust, as it is known today in the UK), and his legacy also contributed to the rise of 'Hypnobirthing', a technique to mentally reduce or eliminate the pain of labour, which women all over the world use today.

“The window was broken, rain pouring in, the bed had no proper covering… the room was lit by one candle stuck in the top of a beer bottle on the mantelshelf, my patient covered in sacks… a neighbour had brought in a jug of water and a basin”. Dick-Read’s cinematic account, visualised in an unprecedented artwork,   the Whitechapel woman is brought back to life - she whose humble influence unknowingly catalysed a doctor’s insistence of listening to women at their bedside.


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