Margaret J. Gamper, a pioneer of modern natural childbirth, died March 18 of heart failure at a hospice in Skokie, Ill. She was 94.
The native of Janesville, Wis., ran away from home at 19 to attend nursing school in Chicago. After earning her degree, Gamper worked as a maternity surgical assistant in Chicago hospitals and had witnessed dozens of births when one case in particular caught her attention.
Gamper was attending a woman who was undergoing a caesarean section when she noticed another woman in the throes of labor in an adjacent delivery room. In the 1930s, most women were given anesthesia before delivering a baby, but this woman had not been anesthetized. Nonetheless, she "turned and grinned at me," Gamper recalled in an interview. "She was relaxed and without pain. And she had the joy of seeing her baby immediately at birth."
Intrigued, Gamper began to study and teach the childbirth methods of Grantley Dick-Read, a British doctor considered the founder of modern natural childbirth. He believed that women who had someone with them to explain the process of childbirth experienced less pain.
Gamper gradually developed her own techniques, which became known in the 1930s as the Gamper method. She focused on helping women use the natural forces of childbirth to their advantage, teaching them a normal, natural rate of deep abdominal breathing to get through a contraction.
The Gamper method differed from Lamaze, which was developed in the 1940s and put the expectant mother's breathing focus outside the body.
One of Gamper's students was Dr. Robert Bradley, who built on her ideas and developed a wide following starting in the 1960s with his concept of having expectant fathers in the delivery room.
In 1950, Gamper founded a child-care agency serving the Chicago area that is now run by her daughter, Mary Jane Sellers.