Childbirth has never been without its complications. Even now, in third world (and even in first world) countries, the act of birthing a child comes with risks to both mother and baby.
Thankfully we’ve seen the invention and introduction of a number of tools and techniques that have reduced the danger. One crucial, now almost given, piece of equipment are the forceps.
They had a “profound” influence on obstetrics when they were first widely used in the 18th century in England and Scotland as they allowed for the speedy delivery of the baby during difficult or obstructed labours.
But they could have been around a lot earlier, if it wasn't for the Chamberlen family who first invented the instrument before keeping it a family secret for almost two centuries.
As for why, we're not sure, although generations of doctors the family produced were physicians to English royalty, remaining in favour regardless of changing rulers that some believe was partially afforded to them thanks to their access to the early forceps.
Historians believe obstetric forceps, which enabled doctors to extract a living child during birth, were invented by Pierre/Peter Chamberlen, the son of William Chamberlen, a French surgeon who migrated in England in 1596 to escape religious violence that reigned in France.
The eldest of two surgeon brothers, both called Pierre, became obstetrician-surgeon to Queen Henriette, the wife of King Charles the I. This position was succeeded by his nephew, also called Peter, who marked the start of a dynasty of royal obstetricians from the family.
The Chamberlens took many precautions to keep the secret in the family. In the 1950 book Eternal Eve: The History of Gynecology and Obstetrics, author Harvey Graham details that they were delivered at the house of the woman giving birth in a special carriage, accompanied by "a huge wooden box adorned with gilded carvings" which took two men to carry.
This tricked people into thinking it contained a highly complex and enormous machine. The woman in labour was also blindfolded so she couldn't see the secret, only Chamberlens were allowed in the locked room but from outside relatives could hear "peculiar noises, ringing bells" and other "sinister" sounds as the secret was used.