The Flora Hommel Story
Meet Flora Hommel, a native Detroiter and founder of the Childbirth Without Pain Education Association (CWPEA). CWPEA was a Detroit-based non-profit that supported and taught the Lamaze method of natural childbirth, a practice Flora brought to the United States from France.
Born Flora Nadine Suhd in 1928 to Morris and Rae Albaum Suhd, she and her older brother, Melvin, grew up in Detroit. At fifteen, Flora met her brother's friend, Bernard Hommel. The two developed a bond that deepened through their correspondence during Bernard’s World War II enlistment. In August 1946, eighteen-year-old Flora married Hommel. They sailed to Paris where Bernard studied music and Flora taught English and worked as a French translator.
When Flora became pregnant she was frightened by the thought of a painful labor and was surprised and delighted at her own easy delivery. Determined to dedicate her life to helping other women experience pain-free childbirth, she heard of Dr. Ferdinand Lamaze's work to ease labor. Through a magnificent set of circumstances, Flora began training at the Metal Workers' Hospital in Paris where Dr. Lamaze and his assistant, Dr. Pierre Vellay, used a method called psychoprophylaxis, which translates to mind (psycho) and prevention (prophylaxis) of pain.
Flora's determination to provide women with choices in childbirth strengthened when she and Bernard returned to Detroit in 1953. In 1958, she graduated from Wayne State University’s nursing program and began teaching Lamaze techniques from her home on Pierson Street in Detroit. Over the objections of hospital administrators, Flora persisted in assisting mothers as a monitrice (coach) during birth, fought for husbands to stay in the delivery room and empowered women from all socio-economic backgrounds to experience childbirth on their own terms.
In 1960, Hommel and a group of supporters founded the Childbirth Without Pain Association, which, in 1964, became the non-profit Childbirth Without Pain Education Association. Flora served as executive director of the organization, supervising and coordinating activities such as training teachers and monitrices and providing programs and workshops for families. Women and their partners learned about labor and delivery, relaxation exercises and proper breathing techniques. Expectant parents were encouraged to eliminate unnecessary medical treatments and procedures, bring fathers into the delivery room, and do their best to create home-like settings within the birthing area. Working with similar organizations around the country and internationally, Hommel’s efforts to prepare women emotionally and physically for pain-free labor became an accepted practice. CWPEA dissolved in the mid-1990s as hospitals who first rejected Hommel’s ideas began to see their validity and started hosting their own Lamaze-type classes.
Hommel’s passion to change the world extended beyond championing painless childbirth. She actively promoted women's rights, served as a city public health commissioner working to improve health care for families, served on the national board of the Gray Panthers and promoted peaceful conflict resolutions through involvement in city politics. As a civil-rights and peace activist, she worked alongside Dr. Charles Wright(OB/GYN and founder of the Museum of African American History), translated for Paul Robeson in France and demonstrated against the Vietnam War on both sides of the Atlantic.
Flora Hommel was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1994; her papers and the history of CWPEA are housed at the Walter P. Reuther Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University.
Hommel is survived by her daughter Claudia Hommel, son-in-law Cappy Kidd, and thousands of families whose babies entered the world joyfully and painlessly.
– Susan Brohman
A full profile of Flora Hommel can be found in MJH, Vol. 51, 2011