The way we treat pregnant women and their babies, according to Dr. Michael Klein, is important in many ways, not least of which is that the way society regards childbirth is a marker for its values.
Dr. Klein joined the Green College virtual Coach House on February 11 to give a talk entitled ‘Childbirth for Grandparents: Childbirth as a Metaphor’ as part of the Senior Scholars series which displays the life stories of the community’s accomplished and diverse scholars as they reflect on the twists and turns they’ve taken.
During his career as a researcher, doctor, pediatrician, obstetrician and advocate, Dr. Klein has often defined himself as a nonconformist to the mainstream medical community. In fact, Dissident Doctor: Catching Babies and Challenging the Medical Status Quo is the title of his recently published memoir.
“When Dr Klein became eligible for the military draft, he ultimately emigrated from the United States to Canada, immersing himself in an entirely new health care model to avoid entering a war he opposed,” write Jennifer Salminen Bauer and Kirsten Winnie in their review of Klein’s book. “These experiences illustrate his early identification as an outsider, both politically and medically.”
His memoir outlines a life trajectory from working in Addis Ababa to the South Bronx to Montreal and onwards. His pioneering research has led to the virtual end of the use of episiotomies, a surgical procedure that used to be commonly used to prevent tearing during childbirth. Through his research, Dr. Klein was able to show that the procedure was in fact resulting in the very trauma it attempted to prevent.
While his research on the usage of episiotomies is an oft-referenced tribute to his life’s contribution to the field of medicine, Dr. Klein has also played an integral role in advancing many aspects of family practice in Canada. As a CBC article introduces him: “You may not know Dr. Michael Klein's name, but if you've had a child in the past 30 years, he may have played a key role in how that baby came into the world.”
Listening to Dr. Klein talk about his life story at once inspires both confidence in the warmth of his attitudes towards his life’s work — evident when he speaks with care and thoughtfulness of the importance to take care of mothers and babies — and an understanding of the value of a healthy skepticism about traditionally accepted practices. If we are past the days of doulas being forcibly ejected from birthing rooms, as Dr. Klein suggested at one point in his talk, there is still progress to be made to equalize access to maternal care, as evidenced by the gross disparity in infant and maternal mortality rates across different areas of the world.
All of which brings back home Dr. Klein’s explanation for the title of his talk ‘Childbirth for Grandparents: Childbirth as a Metaphor’, that the way we conduct childbirth has meaning beyond the birth itself; how we treat young families as they take the very first step into becoming families is determinant of many measures for future success.
Green College’s Senior Scholars series brings accomplished and legendary scholars with long and fruitful careers together to reminisce on their life stories and what brought them to where they are today. Today, Dr. Klein is still an emeritus professor of family practice at the University of British Columbia, adjunct professor of family medicine at McGill University and senior scientist emeritus at the Child and Family Research Institute in Vancouver.
If you missed Dr. Klein's talk, you can watch it on Green College's YouTube channel. The next Senior Scholars lecture will take place on March 18 at 5pm with Carl Waters, a professor emeritus in the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at UBC, giving a talk entitled ‘Adaptive Management: Learning to Manage Complex Systems through Experience and Active Experimentation’. In the meantime, you can find a schedule of many exciting talks coming up at Green College on the website here.
by: Jane Willsie, Department of English Language and Literature, UBC; Green College Work Learn Content Writer, 2020-21