Elisabeth Bing, Mother of Lamaze, Remembered for Humanizing Childbirth

"I hope I have made women aware that they have choices, they can get to know their body and trust their body."

Elisabeth Bing, 1914-2015, Co-Founder of Lamaze International

elisabethbingElisabeth Bing, known as the "mother of Lamaze" passed away on Friday, May 15th, 2015 in her home in New York City, NY a few weeks shy of her 101st  birthday.  Elisabeth, along with Marjorie Karmel, founded Lamaze International (then known as The American Society for Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics/Lamaze, or ASPO/Lamaze) 55 years ago.  Her legacy lives on, not only in the numerous books she authored, (Six Practical Lessons for an Easier Childbirth, her most well known book, first published in 1967) but in each one of us, especially Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educators, who have been helping women and families for decades to be "aware that they have choices, they can get to know their body and trust their body.

There are many resources (see links below) written that document Elisabeth's life, her journey from Germany, to England and then finally the USA, where she established a groundbreaking childbirth education program at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.  I didn't want to rewrite what has already been documented.  I encourage you to read them as they are both fascinating and factual, documenting the magnificent achievements of a life committed to improving birth for women and babies.

Teaching in Studio, 1978 © Lamaze

Teaching in Studio, 1978 © Lamaze

I wanted to share information about Elisabeth that has not already been shared. I never had the honor of meeting Elisabeth Bing, nor hearing her speak, so I wanted to ask some of the women and leaders of Lamaze International to share what Elisabeth was like from their own personal experiences with this icon of childbirth education. I wanted to know how she influenced their lives and their careers, and to learn more about who she was and what she was like.  I also wanted to share this information with you.  Please join me in, as these women share their thoughts and memories.

Judith Lothian, PhD, RN, LCCE, FACCE, Chairperson of the Lamaze Certification Council Governing Body, Associate Editor of the Journal of Perinatal Education and co-author of The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence

Mary Jo Podgurski, RNC, EdD, LCCE, FACCE, Past President of Lamaze International

Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH, LCCE, FACCE, author and current Lamaze International President 

Linda Harmon, MPH, Executive Director of Lamaze International

Sharon Muza: Do you remember the first time you met Elisabeth? Can you share the details of that meeting and your first impressions?

 Linda Harmon: I met Elisabeth for the first time at the annual conference over twenty years ago. I was meeting the "mother of Lamaze". She was gracious and warm, and took the time and interest to get to know me personally. It was always special to have a few moments with Elisabeth at the conference for many years after our first meeting all those years ago.

© Librado Romero/The New York Times

© Librado Romero/The New York Times

Robin Elise Weiss: The first time I actually saw Elisabeth in person was at a conference in Chicago. I was coming down the escalator and I looked over at the fountain and she caught my eye. She was sitting there with Sheila Kitzinger, and all I could think was "Wow what an amazing woman. And two great legends sitting together just as simple as could be, not even understanding the impact that they've had on my life.Mary

Jo Podgurski: I'd always admired Elisabeth from afar, hanging onto her every word during her talks and taking an occasional picture with her at a conference. I clearly recall when we first spent time together. I was elected to the Lamaze board in 1994. Elisabeth asked me to meet with her. She engaged me in conversation about so many things - my passion for working with teens, my personal belief system, my family, my values, my experiences with birthing women, my own births - I realized I was being vetted. She was wise, she listened to hear, and she was visionary. She became my mentor. In time we became close personal friends.Judith Lothian: I met Elisabeth in 1973. She interviewed me in her apartment...where she died...for the NYC Lamaze teacher training program. I was nervous. She was gracious and kind. I took the seminar later that year. In that same apartment. A group of about 8. It was wonderful. Take aways? They were the foundation for my career and life as a childbirth educator. "The breathing works because women make it their own in labor"There was nothing rigid about the way she taught the principles of the then "psychoprophylaxis". And then began a 20 year journey where Elisabeth mentored me...she had me take over the teacher training program in NYC and then said "It's time you went on to DC to the national organization". I never would have done either without her literally telling me to do it. A wonderful mentor.

Dr. Marshall Klauss, Elisabeth Bing, Linda Harmon (L-R) 1996 © Lamaze

Dr. Marshall Klauss, Elisabeth Bing, Linda Harmon (L-R) 1996 © Lamaze

SM: When did you last meet/see/communicate with Elisabeth? Can you share those details?

JL: We did a video for the 50th anniversary of Lamaze. I spent a day with Elisabeth in her apartment. We shared memories and had tea together and she watched the taping and participated. It was an incredible day.REW: One of the last times that I saw Elizabeth she was actually swimming in the ocean at the Fort Lauderdale Lamaze conference. All I could think was I hope I have that much spunk when I'm 90 years old.LH: I remember visiting Elisabeth in her New York apartment when Lamaze had the opportunity to do a quick Lamaze lesson on the Regis and Kelly show. I got the grand tour which included her ground floor studio where she taught Lamaze classes for many years.MJP: The last time we saw one another was her 100th birthday celebration in her apartment in NYC - July 8th, 2014. We last spoke at Christmas, 2014, when I sent her my usual present, a dozen red roses. She never failed to call and thank me, and then she always sent a thank you note. I treasure her notes. When I was in New York I always went to see her. I remember walking into her apartment about two years ago. When I entered, she looked up and said, "It's my friend Mary Jo!"

Elisabeth with son Peter © Lamaze

Elisabeth with son Peter © Lamaze

SM: How would you describe Elisabeth's personality and character?

MJP: Independent. Wise. Fiercely loyal. Kind. Intellectual. Curious. Gentle. Visionary. Strong-willed.REW: I saw her as an amazing combination of feisty and sweet. She wouldn't take no for an answer but you always left with a positive impression. She always made me feel like I was the only person she was talking to or cared about in the moment.JL: Strong. Wise. Generous and kind.

SM: How do you think Elisabeth would want to be remembered?

LH: For starting what was at the time a radical consumer movement to improve birth for women and their partners, a legacy that has stood the test of time and continues to be relevant and important 55 years later.

MJP: As an advocate for birth and for women. As a musician and writer. As a mother. As a friend

JL: As someone who helped women give birth easily and simply.

SM: Of all the contributions Elisabeth has made to childbirth, both here in the USA, and abroad, what do you think is her greatest legacy?

MJP: Elisabeth modeled independence, strength and true advocacy. She empowered women. We (CBEs) are her legacy.

JL: Beginning, really, the movement to change birth in the US. She was at the forefront and gave women with her "Six Practical Lessons" a way to do it. Simply and easily. It may seem rigid and simplistic today but it worked then.REW: Her greatest legacy will be the fact that women now have choices that were once not even considered possible. Many women do not know her name, but have her to thank for the options that they now have in childbirth.

SM: What advice would Elisabeth give to today's pregnant person about their upcoming labor and birth?

MJP: One of the last things I remember her saying at a conference presentation was 'Now, let's take on the insurance companies'. I think Elisabeth would empower a pregnant person by sharing knowledge, speaking truth to power, and modeling courage. I think she'd say that the woman's body knew how to give birth.REW: Know your options. Fight for what works for you and your family.

SM: Do you have a favorite quote or story that Elisabeth said or shared with you and others? What might that be?

JL: Elisabeth in the 1970s was on a radio show with Dr. Bradley. She refused to talk about which "method" of childbirth was better. She said "Anything that helps women have good births is what is important". I was impressed that she was not pushing Lamaze... but acknowledging women. She was gracious and kind always.MJP: Once when we were discussing her youth in Germany and her time in England during the Blitz, she told me how she reacted to the bombings. She said that, at first, she went to the shelters with other people when the air raid sirens wailed. In time, she decided not to go. She said she wouldn't die huddled below ground, but would continue doing whatever she was doing when the raid began. Those words resonated with me then, and echo for me now.  I visited her about six weeks after 9/11. She was calm and unafraid. I spoke with her as soon after the attacks as I could; she expressed no anxiety. Elisabeth showed me how to live with courage and well.

SM: Any other comments that you would like to share?

MJP: I loved Elisabeth Bing as a mentor, a true educator, a strong woman of integrity, but most of all, as my dear friend. I will always love and remember her.

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski and Elisabeth Bing 2014 © Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski and Elisabeth Bing 2014 © Podgurski

JL: I found Lamaze (ASPO) because I wanted a natural birth. But then I found Elisabeth when I wanted to teach classes and help women have the wonderful birth experience that I had. I had the privilege of being trained by her...and, contrary to all that is said about early Lamaze, there was nothing rigid about the what she taught or the way she taught. What I learned from Elisabeth was the foundation for all that I have done as a childbirth educator and nursing educator, and as an advocate for safe, health birth.. I am eternally grateful.

Elisabeth Bing had a vision that there was a better way to give birth and she made that vision a reality through her books, the organization she founded (Lamaze International), the thousands upon thousands of families she taught, the relationships she forged with medical professionals, and the men and women she mentored, guided, supported and taught who have gone on to become childbirth educators themselves, carrying on the mission and vision. Elisabeth once said, "I hope I have made women aware that they have choices, they can get to know their body and trust their body." I think, upon reflection, that we can all agree that Elisabeth Bing was beyond successful in this goal, and millions of families are grateful for her work and her effort.  I join Lamaze International and the Lamaze leaders, past and present, Lamaze Board of Directors and Staff, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educators, readers of this blog and families everywhere in sending our deepest sympathies to Elisabeth's family on the loss of their mother and family member.  We will forever be deeply indebted to her legacy.

Do you have memories of meeting Elisabeth Bing? Hearing her speak? Reading her books?  Please take a moment to share your thoughts and what her work meant to you in our comments section.  

Thank you.

Books authored by Elisabeth Bing (incomplete list)

4 Comments

Thank you for a wonderful insi

May 18, 2015 07:00 AM by Diane C Smith, RN, LCCE, FACCE
Thank you for a wonderful insight to a special woman who has been my hero for many years and influenced my births, my life and my career as a LCCE. I became an LCCE in 1976 while in nursing school and am still teaching. I met Elisabeth in the 1990s at several conferences as I was struggling with the decision to leave a hospital program that I had created ten years before using Lamaze principles. The hospital was going through a merger and we were told that we could no longer teach true informed consent and empower moms to know all of their options for birth. Elisabeth listened as if she was my best friend and told me to trust my instincts and follow my heart. She even wrote me a letter of support once I returned home. I still have that typewritten and signed letter in a special place. I took her advice and never regretted my decision. She was truly a woman who stood up for what she believed. I am currently going through mentor ship to begin a Lamaze Childbirth Training Program because I believe that our generation must pass on Elizabeth's legacy to the next generation of Lamaze educators. Let's keep Elizabeth's passion alive!

What an amazing woman who live

May 19, 2015 07:00 AM by Allison J. Walsh, IBCLC, LCCE, FACCE
What an amazing woman who lived an amazing life! I had the pleasure knowing her here in NYC through the Lamaze chapter. She graciously opened her studio for our meetings. It always felt to me like sacred space where history was made! Every conversation I had with Elisabeth left me feeling blessed and so lucky. When I was elected president of Lamaze's Board of Directors, she called me and told me she was thrilled and proud that I was a woman of childbearing age, and that the organization needed younger women to move it forward. I felt both such a heavy responsiblity, and her true support. She then told me that I looked tired the last time we were together and that I should try to get in some naps! Elisabeth recommended I do what her mother did when her children were young: after lunch simply announce that I was having a nap and that the children must play quietly. I wish I had asked her to elaborate how her mother succeeded with this plan! I am sad she has passed, but am so thankful for her long life that was very well-lived!

Elisabeth Bing did quite a

May 20, 2015 07:00 AM by Wednesday Wrap Up May 20 | Andrea Lythgoe Doula Salt Lake City Utah
Elisabeth Bing did quite a bit for childbearing women in her 100 years of life! You can read some lovely personal recollections of Elisabeth over on Science and [?]

than any other individual

June 23, 2015 07:00 AM by Elisabeth Bing and maternity care in America | OUPblog
than any other individual to humanize childbirth practices in the United States. Obituaries and tributes to her rightly celebrate her role as a founding mother of the Lamaze movement in America and a [?]

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