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Twilight sleep (English translation of the German word Dämmerschlaf) is an amnesic condition characterized by insensibility to pain without loss of consciousness, induced by an injection of morphine and scopolamine, especially to relieve the pain of childbirth. This combination induces a semi-narcotic state which produces the experience of childbirth without pain, or without the memory of pain. The term 'Twilight Sleep' is also sometimes used to refer to modern intravenous sedation.
|“||The primal curse, "I will greatly multiply the sorrow of your conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children," was to be finally abrogated. The bearing of a child was henceforth to be merely a time of twilight and of sleep.||”|
—Twilight Sleep: the Dämmerschlaf of the Germans, The Canadian Medical Association Journal
Developed in Freiburg, Germany, twilight sleep replaced chloroform, the previous treatment for childbirth pains popular during the 1800s. Developed by Carl Gauss, who began research on the treatment in 1903, it was also sometimes known as the "Freiburg method". However, Gauss was not the first to suggest the use of the combination of morphine and scopolamine as a surgical anesthesia; in 1899, a Dr. Schneiderlin "recommended the use of scopolamine, combined with morphia, for the production of surgical anaesthesia".
Though introduced to the rest of the medical community in 1907, as of 1915, The Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that "the method [was] really still in a state of development", noting of many substitutions that different doctors had used in the place of morphine or scopolamine.
In 1915, the New York Times published an article on twilight sleep and the work of Hanna Rion, or Mrs. Frank Ver Beck, who had recently written a book entitled The Truth About Twilight Sleep. In that article, Rion said that the consensus of 69 medical reports she had looked at said that "scopolamin-morphin is without danger to the child."
This consensus would eventually change as the negative side effects of twilight sleep came to light.
Initially heralded as the dawning of "a new era for woman and through her for the whole human race," the Freiburg method was eventually abandoned due to negative side effects.
Some of these complications were emotional, i.e. that it removed the mother from the experience of childbirth, leaving her with no memory of the labor or delivery of the child. As one Nebraskan woman stated of the experience of twilight sleep,
|“||The next thing I knew I was awake [...] and then I thought to myself "I wonder how long before I shall begin to have the baby," and while I was still wondering a nurse came in with a pillow, and on the pillow was a baby, and they said I had had it—perhaps I had—but I certainly can never prove it in a courtroom.||”|