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Happy 100th Birthday, Elisabeth Bing – Lamaze Co-Founder and Visionary Leader

By Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  Sir Isaac Newton, Letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675

The co-founder of Lamaze International (known first as ASPO/Lamaze), Elisabeth Bing, turns 100 years old today.  Elisabeth was a leader and advocate for mothers, babies and families long before this type of advocacy had a name.  Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski, past president of Lamaze International and long time friend and colleague of Elisabeth’s, shares some thoughts on this forward thinking woman who cared enough to take action, become a leader and then create an organization that has helped millions of families over the years achieve a safe and healthy birth.  We salute you Ms. Bing and thank you deeply! – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager.

Ms. Bing and babyMs. Bing and babyMs. Bing and babyWhen Elisabeth Bing first encountered childbearing women in the London of her twenties, she was a physical therapist with an assignment that sounds alien in 2014. Postpartum women were confined to bed for 10 days, without the ability to even put their feet on the floor! Physical therapists provided exercise and massage. The creativity, drive and passion Elisabeth demonstrated in the 40s and 50s became the foundation for the Lamaze method of childbirth education that is internationally taught and respected today.

Elisabeth’s memoir, My Life In Birth, details her journey from Nazi Germany to America, and provides insight into her many years of service to pregnant women. Giving birth between the 1930s and 1960s meant a woman had few if any choices about the way her baby was born. Mentally disoriented by “twilight sleep” and strapped down for “delivery” lest the sterile field be disrupted, a childbearing woman then was more a vessel for the baby than an active participant. In time women demanded an active role in the birth of their babies. Elisabeth was on the cutting edge of change. With Marjorie Karmel, author of Thank You, Dr. Lamaze, she was a revolutionary with the vision to see a consumer movement poised to create a very real difference in the way women gave birth. Elisabeth was the catalyst for that movement.

1996

1996

When I first spent a weekend with Elisabeth in her New York apartment, she was entering her eighties but was still teaching childbirth education twice a week. Her studio was perfect. Baby pictures were prominently displayed, childbirth posters lined the walls, and the atmosphere was relaxed, comforting and empowering. When asked, Elisabeth explained that pregnant women’s concerns were unchanged. Yes, she told me, the climate in hospitals had changed. Now Lamaze classes were common but medical interventions like epidurals continued to disrupt normal, natural birth. The obstacles were altered but the need for informed choices was ongoing. Women, Elisabeth said, still needed the truth.

Teaching 1978

Teaching 1978

Elisabeth turns 100 today, July 8, 2014. Consider her amazing reach. I am one small piece of her heritage. I’ve been honored to personally learn from this amazing, dynamic mentor for nearly 25 years. Her book, Six Practical Lessons for an Easier Childbirth, was my bible as I approached my first birth in 1976. That baby, my daughter Amy Podgurski Gough, is also a certified Lamaze childbirth educator. Between the joy of my first birthing experience and the births of Amy’s three babies, I’ve been blessed to teach thousands of women and their partners. Like most childbirth educators, I am deeply in Elisabeth’s debt.

Much has been written about Elisabeth’s contribution to childbirth education. A facet of her personality seldom discussed, however, is her insight surrounding collaboration. Her initial work in co-founding ASPO/Lamaze (now Lamaze International) in 1960 created a not-for-profit organization composed of parents, childbirth educators, health care providers and other health professionals. From the start, she discovered the strength of working with a group of people as opposed to standing alone. During the last keynote presentation Elisabeth presented at a Lamaze International national conference, I listened, mesmerized, as she prophetically discussed the need to talk with “insurance companies” as a way to continue her dream of teaching as many women as possible. Her commitment to excellence, to advocacy, and to childbearing women and their partners remains fierce in spite of the passage of time.

1982 ASPO/Lamaze Conference

1982 ASPO/Lamaze Conference

Elisabeth has been called the “mother of childbirth education” and she deserves that title. Her legacy guides all childbirth educators. When I picture her, I envision a physically tiny women with a spirit so powerful one forgets her stature. I look into her clear, bright eyes and see her pure white hair, pulled back into a pony tail with a blue ribbon. I sit in her kitchen sipping tea and drinking in her intelligence. Her cat purrs at our feet. My daughter Lisa is across the table, equally transfixed. I lean in, anxious to remember every moment of this encounter. She smiles, and her eyes light with purpose. I share my personal plans for starting a teen outreach. Elisabeth listens deeply, then offers advice I still adhere to twenty years later.

Elisabeth is an icon, a woman of vision and our true mother. To me she is a dear, precious friend. On July 8th, I will travel to New York City and enter her kitchen again, cognizant of the immense gift Elisabeth’s life has been to all who care about women, birth, and the future. One cannot measure her full worth; I know her wisdom echoes in the mission of every childbirth educator who follows in her footsteps. Thank you, Elisabeth!

© ospreyobserver.com

© ospreyobserver.com

Science & Sensibility and Lamaze International would like to let Elisabeth Bing know what a great organization she created, and how it has impacted so many.  Please leave some wishes for a happy birthday in our comments section and if you wish, share what Lamaze means to you (as an educator, a birth professional, a mother, a father, or a health care provider).  Lamaze International will make sure that every wish is printed and sent on to Elisabeth for her to enjoy!  That will certainly touch her heart!  Please, leave your wishes, stories and memories below. – SM

About Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski

MARY JO PODGURSKIDr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the Director of The Washington Health System Teen Outreach and President and Founder of the Academy for Adolescent Health, Inc. Her undergraduate education is in nursing and education, her master’s work was in counseling, and her doctorate is in education. She began volunteering with pregnant teens in the 70s and has created numerous youth development and education programs using reality-based, interactive educational techniques that are evidence-based and empower youth.

Dr. Podgurski became interested in child abuse prevention as a way to lower teen pregnancy and authored the book Inside Out: Your Body is Amazing Inside and Out and Belongs Only to You, and runs a body-positive, child-centered, interactive, child abuse prevention program.

Dr. Podgurski has presented over 500 workshops locally, nationally and internationally.  She is proud to be an adjunct faculty member in the Education Department of Washington and Jefferson College where she created and teaches the course: Teaching and Dealing with Sexuality in Schools in 2010.

Dr. Podgurski’s certifications include LCCE and FACCE (Fellow in the College of Childbirth Educators) from Lamaze International as a certification as both a sexuality educator and a sexuality counselor from AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists), certification through Parents as Teachers, and certification as a trainer in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. She is a past president of the Lamaze International Board of Directors.

Dr. Podgurski has received numerous awards, including the UPMC Dignity and Respect Champion Award in 2011, the Three Rivers Community Foundation Social Justice Award and the Washington County Children and Youth Champion for Children Award in 2009. She was the 2008 Washington County NAACP Human Rights Award recipient and the 2004 Washington County recipient of the Athena Women of Wisdom Award. She was awarded the 2004 NOAPPP (National Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting, now Healthy Teen Network) Outstanding Professional Award. In May of 2014 she was inducted into the Washington County Historical Society’s Washington County Hall of Fame for her contributions to the community through education of family planning and adolescent health.

Mary Jo and her partner Richard are the parents of three adult children and are blessed with three grandchildren.

Babies, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Lamaze International, Lamaze Method, Lamaze News , , , ,

  1. avatar
    Peggy Sheehan RN LCCE, FACCE, IBCLC
    July 8th, 2014 at 14:48 | #1

    Your passionate wisdom changed childbirth and parent-child interactions for generations. Thank you for guiding me and so many of my colleagues and friends as we shared in the birth experiences of others. What a great privilege! And, I would still be giving birth every year if I could because you helped me enjoy every aspect of pregnancy and birth! (But, I am now enjoying my adult children and looking forward to the day I can assist them as they birth our family’s next generation.)
    Your legacy leaves me with no other words but “THANK YOU”!

  2. avatar
    deb harpster
    July 8th, 2014 at 16:13 | #2

    what a heroine you are and may you have many more happy years to share your goodness with the world! in 1972, i was pregnant with my first child. my husband and i lived in an isolated area of idaho where “natural childbirth/lamaze classes” were still a figment of the imagination. i bought your book and you became our teacher! my husband and i were able to fend off the hospital’s status quo – saddleblock and birthed our baby, our way, the way according to elizabeth bing! now, 42 years later, i have come full circle and am a DONA certified birth and postpartum doula. proud “gaga” of 2 and mother of 2 beautiful men-sons, i bow to your wisdom and give thanks for your vision. happy everyday wishes for you, the mother of mothers!

  3. avatar
    Jacqueline Levine, LCCE FACCE CD(DONA)BA CLC
    July 8th, 2014 at 16:43 | #3

    Oh dear Elisabeth..back in 1963 you taught me “la method” during my first pregnancy, and I went on to have two more Lamaze babies in the ’60s. You may even remember me! I have now spent 15 of my retirement years teaching mothers and supporting them during labor, birth and beyond because of your wisdom and passion and dedication. What an inspiration you are to so many many women and men, to mothers and fathers. I think of you so often in my work…how could I not? Long long may you wave! Happy Happy birthday!!!

  4. July 8th, 2014 at 20:58 | #4

    Happy birthday, Elisabeth. You have been a mentor to so many of us for so many years. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and vision with the world as you taught women to believe in their bodies and in the joy of birth. Just think of the lives your teaching has affected. You are an amazing woman I feel so privileged to know. We celebrate your 100 years!

  5. avatar
    mindy reiss
    August 5th, 2014 at 20:34 | #5

    Dear Elizabeth:
    My husband and I attended your class back in the year 2000 and our first born son, whom you helped us prepare for delivery, is now 14 years old and has been joined by five younger siblings. Thank you for teaching us how to be relaxed and calm up until the very last moment of pregnancy. We still remember when I called you after my water broke and we had to go to the hospital and you gave me guidance to make the experience as fun and carefree as possible. We remember you fondly and have a warm place for you in our hearts. We wish you good health and continued pride from all of your accomplishments. Thank G-d you escaped from Nazi Germany and have merited to help so many families.

  6. avatar
    Marianne M Karmel
    August 24th, 2014 at 12:38 | #6

    Happy birthday – from Marjorie Karmel’s daughter – Marianne (It’s a girl) –
    congratulations on your amazing career and life and thank you for continuing the work you and my mother began –
    Best -
    Marianne Karmel

  7. avatar
    Susan Roskos
    October 18th, 2014 at 10:37 | #7

    Dear Elisabeth,
    Where to begin. I read Thank you Dr. Lamaze before the birth of my first child in 1968. Without help, I was unable to completely carry our the ideas I learned. In 1970, I was one of the Founders of the Lehigh Valley Association for Childbirth Education. You spoke at one of our conferences.
    My next 3 birth children were all delivered by the Lamaze method. The last after I’d attended a refresher course with you in New York City. I am so grateful for all you’ve done to help women, their babies, and their husbands have a healthy and satisfying birth experience. God bless you. Susan

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