Childbirth in History

Michelle wrote:”I’m a real history nerd, so “a scholarly dissertation” on childbirth in the 19th century actually sounds kind of fun.”

A subject near to my heart. Not just 19th century, but in history. A long time ago I taught childbirth classes — not “natural” but “mother centered” — and being a history buff did a lot of research on the past. It’s a complicated subject, but one thing is that through most of it women gave birth sitting, using birthing stools or chairs. If one wasn’t available someone, possibly the husband, would take the woman on his lap, thus becoming a sort of chair and leaving clear access to her vagina for the midwife.

Lying on the back is an inefficient way to push a baby out because the vagina is pointing upward. It might be true that the position was first devised so Louis XIV could get a thrill by watching one of his mistresses give birth, but I don’t know. It became more common when “man-midwives” and doctors became involved in childbirth, especially when they used forceps. The intruments would have saved some babies and mothers, but they probably were also used unnecessarily as well. That can apply to midwives, too. In childbirth there’s always been a balance between necessary intervention and interference with a natural procress. Most women have bodies able to gestate and birth a baby without a scrap of damage. That’s what they’re designed to do.

Death in childbirth was always a risk, but the risk wasn’t huge until the 19th century when the increasing involvement of doctors lead to the puerperal fever epidemic. Most midwives weren’t hygiene freakes because no one knew it was important, but most didn’t come straight from sick and infected patients to a birthing mother without washing their hands.

As an aside, I did read an article once that said that midwives often doubled as chimney sweeps. I don’t know why that would be, but the writer claimed that this a) was why they got a reputation in some places as dirty, and b) why the mothers did so well, because soot is an antibiotic.

But anyway, as in so many aspects, we tend to take our image of historical times from the Victorian age, when in fact in was the nadir for women in many ways. Women, especially the middle class, were more restricted both by clothing and convention, and their health was worse in many ways. This led to them often not being healthy in pregnancy anyway, and then puerperal fever killed many perinatally. So the idea of women frequently dying in childbirth throughout history was created and lingers still.

I just heard about another possible way that the Victorian age was a nadir, this time for men. Athletic achievement. It can be argued that before the mid 19th century athletic achievement was close to modern times in things like running. There were all those running footmen who ran for a living and engaged in highly competitive races. Plus, people regularly walked long distances as part of their jobs. But then, the thesis goes, the general unhealthiness of the Victorian times along with improved communications like trains, meaning people didn’t have to walk ten miles there and back, led to a general reduction in athletic ability from which we’ve slowly risen over about a century.

May be true, may not. But I have this thing about the Victorian Age. ::shudder.::

Cbirth2

Here’s a Duhrer picture from the 16th century. (Click on the picture to see it enlarged.) It’s a birth of the Virgin, so that’s St. Anne exhausted in the bed being offered nourishing food. Note that there’s lots of women there to offer support. It’s a social event, which is doubtless comforting and heartening for the hard-working mother.

On another point, note on the wall on the left the hand wash basin, with the pot above and the tap. It looks like the pot is filled by a pipe. Towel hanging nearby. Such things, also called a lavabo in the middle ages, were common, especially in places where people ate. They weren’t as dirty as people often assume.

That’s all for now!

Jo 🙂

51 thoughts on “Childbirth in History”

  1. At 11 p.m. central, the illustration would not show up in the enlargement box. FYI.
    And thank you for the really interesting post. A friend of mine is very involved in homeopathy, and had her third child at home with a midwife. He did better than his sisters, who were both born in hospitals, although all are fine now. I’ve read some about the history of medicine, and the horrors wrought by unclean hands are nauseatingly tragic and sad.
    Interesting too about the constraints on women in the Victorian era. I read (somewhere) about the ebb and flow of women’s rights and freedoms, and how they often track with wars – when men are fighting and dying, the women need to be able to have businesses and own property and run things. But when the men come back, there aren’t enough jobs so women are essentially re-pedestaled. I’m not one to think that women need to bring home a paycheck to be valuable members of society (mothering is the hardest and lowest-paid profession), but I am very grateful to live in a time when I can decide whether or not I want that.
    I hope you do more posts like this! And other things too – I’d like to know more about your life and what you find fascinating.

    Reply
  2. At 11 p.m. central, the illustration would not show up in the enlargement box. FYI.
    And thank you for the really interesting post. A friend of mine is very involved in homeopathy, and had her third child at home with a midwife. He did better than his sisters, who were both born in hospitals, although all are fine now. I’ve read some about the history of medicine, and the horrors wrought by unclean hands are nauseatingly tragic and sad.
    Interesting too about the constraints on women in the Victorian era. I read (somewhere) about the ebb and flow of women’s rights and freedoms, and how they often track with wars – when men are fighting and dying, the women need to be able to have businesses and own property and run things. But when the men come back, there aren’t enough jobs so women are essentially re-pedestaled. I’m not one to think that women need to bring home a paycheck to be valuable members of society (mothering is the hardest and lowest-paid profession), but I am very grateful to live in a time when I can decide whether or not I want that.
    I hope you do more posts like this! And other things too – I’d like to know more about your life and what you find fascinating.

    Reply
  3. At 11 p.m. central, the illustration would not show up in the enlargement box. FYI.
    And thank you for the really interesting post. A friend of mine is very involved in homeopathy, and had her third child at home with a midwife. He did better than his sisters, who were both born in hospitals, although all are fine now. I’ve read some about the history of medicine, and the horrors wrought by unclean hands are nauseatingly tragic and sad.
    Interesting too about the constraints on women in the Victorian era. I read (somewhere) about the ebb and flow of women’s rights and freedoms, and how they often track with wars – when men are fighting and dying, the women need to be able to have businesses and own property and run things. But when the men come back, there aren’t enough jobs so women are essentially re-pedestaled. I’m not one to think that women need to bring home a paycheck to be valuable members of society (mothering is the hardest and lowest-paid profession), but I am very grateful to live in a time when I can decide whether or not I want that.
    I hope you do more posts like this! And other things too – I’d like to know more about your life and what you find fascinating.

    Reply
  4. What an interesting article on childbirth! I’ve been interested in birthing techniques and history since I was an assistant childbirth instructor many years ago.
    You put a lot of info in a short amount of space. I’ll definitely be sending this URL to my friends. Thanks!
    Jacquie

    Reply
  5. What an interesting article on childbirth! I’ve been interested in birthing techniques and history since I was an assistant childbirth instructor many years ago.
    You put a lot of info in a short amount of space. I’ll definitely be sending this URL to my friends. Thanks!
    Jacquie

    Reply
  6. What an interesting article on childbirth! I’ve been interested in birthing techniques and history since I was an assistant childbirth instructor many years ago.
    You put a lot of info in a short amount of space. I’ll definitely be sending this URL to my friends. Thanks!
    Jacquie

    Reply
  7. At least we get to sit up and push nowadays.
    Jo said “I have this thing about the Victorian Age. ::shudder.::”
    I, too, shudder at the Victorian era. Don’t like books set in that period unless they are early, early. But you and Mary Jo are two of the three authors that got me hooked on regencies. And, thanks to your Mallorens, I will read just about anything I can find that’s Georgian.

    Reply
  8. At least we get to sit up and push nowadays.
    Jo said “I have this thing about the Victorian Age. ::shudder.::”
    I, too, shudder at the Victorian era. Don’t like books set in that period unless they are early, early. But you and Mary Jo are two of the three authors that got me hooked on regencies. And, thanks to your Mallorens, I will read just about anything I can find that’s Georgian.

    Reply
  9. At least we get to sit up and push nowadays.
    Jo said “I have this thing about the Victorian Age. ::shudder.::”
    I, too, shudder at the Victorian era. Don’t like books set in that period unless they are early, early. But you and Mary Jo are two of the three authors that got me hooked on regencies. And, thanks to your Mallorens, I will read just about anything I can find that’s Georgian.

    Reply
  10. Thanks so much for this! I had no clue that the idea that lots of women died in childbirth stems from the Victorian age.
    I’ve never given birth, so I have to ask – do most women today sit when giving birth? It always seems like they’re reclining on a hospital bed when birth is shown on tv.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  11. Thanks so much for this! I had no clue that the idea that lots of women died in childbirth stems from the Victorian age.
    I’ve never given birth, so I have to ask – do most women today sit when giving birth? It always seems like they’re reclining on a hospital bed when birth is shown on tv.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  12. Thanks so much for this! I had no clue that the idea that lots of women died in childbirth stems from the Victorian age.
    I’ve never given birth, so I have to ask – do most women today sit when giving birth? It always seems like they’re reclining on a hospital bed when birth is shown on tv.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  13. I don’t know the stats, Michelle, but birthing beds have become more common, and they come up at the top so the woman is sitting up and go down at the bottom below the knees and the bit between her legs can be slid out so the doctor or midwive can sit there.
    Not that long ago, many women gave birth flat on their backs on a hard examining table with their feet up in stirrups. You know that familiar position. The vagina is sloping upward and she can’t push.
    I’m not talking history. I’m talking 20 years ago or so. For all I know, it’s still going on somewhere.
    I remember reading a historical romance a while back where the hero carefully arranged the woman in this position as if it was the optimal one in which to give birth.
    Which could lead me to all those heroes (not doctors or experienced in any way) who somehow take charge in a birth while the woman is cluelessly panicking. Now that, IMO, is not a “strong woman” view of life at all.
    Jo 🙂
    http://www.jobev.com

    Reply
  14. I don’t know the stats, Michelle, but birthing beds have become more common, and they come up at the top so the woman is sitting up and go down at the bottom below the knees and the bit between her legs can be slid out so the doctor or midwive can sit there.
    Not that long ago, many women gave birth flat on their backs on a hard examining table with their feet up in stirrups. You know that familiar position. The vagina is sloping upward and she can’t push.
    I’m not talking history. I’m talking 20 years ago or so. For all I know, it’s still going on somewhere.
    I remember reading a historical romance a while back where the hero carefully arranged the woman in this position as if it was the optimal one in which to give birth.
    Which could lead me to all those heroes (not doctors or experienced in any way) who somehow take charge in a birth while the woman is cluelessly panicking. Now that, IMO, is not a “strong woman” view of life at all.
    Jo 🙂
    http://www.jobev.com

    Reply
  15. I don’t know the stats, Michelle, but birthing beds have become more common, and they come up at the top so the woman is sitting up and go down at the bottom below the knees and the bit between her legs can be slid out so the doctor or midwive can sit there.
    Not that long ago, many women gave birth flat on their backs on a hard examining table with their feet up in stirrups. You know that familiar position. The vagina is sloping upward and she can’t push.
    I’m not talking history. I’m talking 20 years ago or so. For all I know, it’s still going on somewhere.
    I remember reading a historical romance a while back where the hero carefully arranged the woman in this position as if it was the optimal one in which to give birth.
    Which could lead me to all those heroes (not doctors or experienced in any way) who somehow take charge in a birth while the woman is cluelessly panicking. Now that, IMO, is not a “strong woman” view of life at all.
    Jo 🙂
    http://www.jobev.com

    Reply
  16. When I gave birth in 2004, the last thing I expected to have to do was push on my back. This is the 21st century, I live in Seattle, I was being attended by midwives in a state-of-the-art teaching hospital, which seemed like the best of both worlds, etc.
    Suffice it to say, I ended up with a nightmare 4-day labor & delivery experience (induced labor because of gestational hypertension). Once I was finally cleared to push, I wanted to sit up, but they made me stay on my back, though I did have one of those birthing beds Jo mentions and so wasn’t *flat* on my back. I’m a bit fuzzy on the whys and wherefores, since by that point we were into day 4 of the ordeal, but it was something about how the baby was positioned or her heartrate or something.
    We ended up with a forceps delivery of what turned out to be a sunny-side-up baby (facing the ceiling instead of the floor, which makes it harder for them to negotiate the birth canal), and what decided me on trying forceps rather than a C-section was knowing that a C-section meant four more days in the hospital!
    I’m still a bit bitter about the pushing on my back thing–not so much that it happened, but that no one warned me it was a possibility. But I don’t have much choice about whether I go back to the same hospital for my next child, because I’m now considered high-risk for repeat hypertension/preeclampsia problems, and they’re the ones with the pregnancy hypertension clinic!
    Anyway, to sort of bring this onto the topic of writing and/or the Regency era, in the aftermath of all this, I ended up writing a manuscript with not one but two childbirth scenes–only they were tough to write because my L&D ended up so medicalized I have little concept of what a natural birth would feel like, physically or emotionally!

    Reply
  17. When I gave birth in 2004, the last thing I expected to have to do was push on my back. This is the 21st century, I live in Seattle, I was being attended by midwives in a state-of-the-art teaching hospital, which seemed like the best of both worlds, etc.
    Suffice it to say, I ended up with a nightmare 4-day labor & delivery experience (induced labor because of gestational hypertension). Once I was finally cleared to push, I wanted to sit up, but they made me stay on my back, though I did have one of those birthing beds Jo mentions and so wasn’t *flat* on my back. I’m a bit fuzzy on the whys and wherefores, since by that point we were into day 4 of the ordeal, but it was something about how the baby was positioned or her heartrate or something.
    We ended up with a forceps delivery of what turned out to be a sunny-side-up baby (facing the ceiling instead of the floor, which makes it harder for them to negotiate the birth canal), and what decided me on trying forceps rather than a C-section was knowing that a C-section meant four more days in the hospital!
    I’m still a bit bitter about the pushing on my back thing–not so much that it happened, but that no one warned me it was a possibility. But I don’t have much choice about whether I go back to the same hospital for my next child, because I’m now considered high-risk for repeat hypertension/preeclampsia problems, and they’re the ones with the pregnancy hypertension clinic!
    Anyway, to sort of bring this onto the topic of writing and/or the Regency era, in the aftermath of all this, I ended up writing a manuscript with not one but two childbirth scenes–only they were tough to write because my L&D ended up so medicalized I have little concept of what a natural birth would feel like, physically or emotionally!

    Reply
  18. When I gave birth in 2004, the last thing I expected to have to do was push on my back. This is the 21st century, I live in Seattle, I was being attended by midwives in a state-of-the-art teaching hospital, which seemed like the best of both worlds, etc.
    Suffice it to say, I ended up with a nightmare 4-day labor & delivery experience (induced labor because of gestational hypertension). Once I was finally cleared to push, I wanted to sit up, but they made me stay on my back, though I did have one of those birthing beds Jo mentions and so wasn’t *flat* on my back. I’m a bit fuzzy on the whys and wherefores, since by that point we were into day 4 of the ordeal, but it was something about how the baby was positioned or her heartrate or something.
    We ended up with a forceps delivery of what turned out to be a sunny-side-up baby (facing the ceiling instead of the floor, which makes it harder for them to negotiate the birth canal), and what decided me on trying forceps rather than a C-section was knowing that a C-section meant four more days in the hospital!
    I’m still a bit bitter about the pushing on my back thing–not so much that it happened, but that no one warned me it was a possibility. But I don’t have much choice about whether I go back to the same hospital for my next child, because I’m now considered high-risk for repeat hypertension/preeclampsia problems, and they’re the ones with the pregnancy hypertension clinic!
    Anyway, to sort of bring this onto the topic of writing and/or the Regency era, in the aftermath of all this, I ended up writing a manuscript with not one but two childbirth scenes–only they were tough to write because my L&D ended up so medicalized I have little concept of what a natural birth would feel like, physically or emotionally!

    Reply
  19. Bev,
    I’m not sure how much history of medicine you’ve read, but I’ve seen some interesting arguments that the “professionalization” of medicine also led to making it much more male – and took away a lot of jobs from women “healers” who may have used more “traditional” methods of healing. You see this a lot in the history of childbirth and midwife vs. doctor arguments, but it was also really big in other areas of medicine.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  20. Bev,
    I’m not sure how much history of medicine you’ve read, but I’ve seen some interesting arguments that the “professionalization” of medicine also led to making it much more male – and took away a lot of jobs from women “healers” who may have used more “traditional” methods of healing. You see this a lot in the history of childbirth and midwife vs. doctor arguments, but it was also really big in other areas of medicine.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  21. Bev,
    I’m not sure how much history of medicine you’ve read, but I’ve seen some interesting arguments that the “professionalization” of medicine also led to making it much more male – and took away a lot of jobs from women “healers” who may have used more “traditional” methods of healing. You see this a lot in the history of childbirth and midwife vs. doctor arguments, but it was also really big in other areas of medicine.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  22. This is a fascinating subject. Do we have any real statistics of the mortality rates pre Victoriana?
    The Gentleman’s Daughter gives a very graphic description of a birth gone wrong in the late 18th Century. They had to dismember the baby in the womb. The mother was heroic as she suffered terribly and all without anaesthetic but she survived.
    I’ve had 4 children in hospital in England in the 80’s. I was sitting up banked by plenty of pillows and delivered them all without pain relief despite the fact that they were all hefty birth weights. My first weighed in at 9.11oz. None of my labours lasted more than 4 1/2 hours from start to finish. I considered my self blessed each and every time and still cannot get my head around poor mothers who suffer for hours and hours.
    I often thought that I would have been OK if I had been born in an earlier age but at the same time looked at some of my friends and knew without a doubt that they wouldn’t have been so lucky. It’s a sobering thought.
    Brenda

    Reply
  23. This is a fascinating subject. Do we have any real statistics of the mortality rates pre Victoriana?
    The Gentleman’s Daughter gives a very graphic description of a birth gone wrong in the late 18th Century. They had to dismember the baby in the womb. The mother was heroic as she suffered terribly and all without anaesthetic but she survived.
    I’ve had 4 children in hospital in England in the 80’s. I was sitting up banked by plenty of pillows and delivered them all without pain relief despite the fact that they were all hefty birth weights. My first weighed in at 9.11oz. None of my labours lasted more than 4 1/2 hours from start to finish. I considered my self blessed each and every time and still cannot get my head around poor mothers who suffer for hours and hours.
    I often thought that I would have been OK if I had been born in an earlier age but at the same time looked at some of my friends and knew without a doubt that they wouldn’t have been so lucky. It’s a sobering thought.
    Brenda

    Reply
  24. This is a fascinating subject. Do we have any real statistics of the mortality rates pre Victoriana?
    The Gentleman’s Daughter gives a very graphic description of a birth gone wrong in the late 18th Century. They had to dismember the baby in the womb. The mother was heroic as she suffered terribly and all without anaesthetic but she survived.
    I’ve had 4 children in hospital in England in the 80’s. I was sitting up banked by plenty of pillows and delivered them all without pain relief despite the fact that they were all hefty birth weights. My first weighed in at 9.11oz. None of my labours lasted more than 4 1/2 hours from start to finish. I considered my self blessed each and every time and still cannot get my head around poor mothers who suffer for hours and hours.
    I often thought that I would have been OK if I had been born in an earlier age but at the same time looked at some of my friends and knew without a doubt that they wouldn’t have been so lucky. It’s a sobering thought.
    Brenda

    Reply
  25. The information about childbirth is fascinating. I remember reading a book called “witches, midwives and nurses” years ago that dealt with some of the issues of the male medicalization of childbirth, but I can’t find it in my basement at the moment. Is Ian Kinlock’s use of mouldy bread in “the Bargain” based on research also?

    Reply
  26. The information about childbirth is fascinating. I remember reading a book called “witches, midwives and nurses” years ago that dealt with some of the issues of the male medicalization of childbirth, but I can’t find it in my basement at the moment. Is Ian Kinlock’s use of mouldy bread in “the Bargain” based on research also?

    Reply
  27. The information about childbirth is fascinating. I remember reading a book called “witches, midwives and nurses” years ago that dealt with some of the issues of the male medicalization of childbirth, but I can’t find it in my basement at the moment. Is Ian Kinlock’s use of mouldy bread in “the Bargain” based on research also?

    Reply
  28. “I often thought that I would have been OK if I had been born in an earlier age but at the same time looked at some of my friends and knew without a doubt that they wouldn’t have been so lucky. It’s a sobering thought.”
    This is true, Brenda. I have no desire to time travel to the past. Well, to visit, perhaps, but not to live.
    One factor we need to remember is that women with structural problems such as a narrow or awkward birth channel used not to be able to deliver live children so didn’t pass it on.
    That’s an interesting subject however. Ability to deliver babies well doesn’t entirely depend on the width of our hips or even that internal dimension, because in late pregnancy birth hormones loosen our ligaments to let everything stretch. This can be one reason that births induced early can be difficult.It’s also why women in late pregnancy waddle.
    They say that Masai women are technically incapable of given birth, their hips are so narrow, but with the loosening, they do just fine.
    Jo

    Reply
  29. “I often thought that I would have been OK if I had been born in an earlier age but at the same time looked at some of my friends and knew without a doubt that they wouldn’t have been so lucky. It’s a sobering thought.”
    This is true, Brenda. I have no desire to time travel to the past. Well, to visit, perhaps, but not to live.
    One factor we need to remember is that women with structural problems such as a narrow or awkward birth channel used not to be able to deliver live children so didn’t pass it on.
    That’s an interesting subject however. Ability to deliver babies well doesn’t entirely depend on the width of our hips or even that internal dimension, because in late pregnancy birth hormones loosen our ligaments to let everything stretch. This can be one reason that births induced early can be difficult.It’s also why women in late pregnancy waddle.
    They say that Masai women are technically incapable of given birth, their hips are so narrow, but with the loosening, they do just fine.
    Jo

    Reply
  30. “I often thought that I would have been OK if I had been born in an earlier age but at the same time looked at some of my friends and knew without a doubt that they wouldn’t have been so lucky. It’s a sobering thought.”
    This is true, Brenda. I have no desire to time travel to the past. Well, to visit, perhaps, but not to live.
    One factor we need to remember is that women with structural problems such as a narrow or awkward birth channel used not to be able to deliver live children so didn’t pass it on.
    That’s an interesting subject however. Ability to deliver babies well doesn’t entirely depend on the width of our hips or even that internal dimension, because in late pregnancy birth hormones loosen our ligaments to let everything stretch. This can be one reason that births induced early can be difficult.It’s also why women in late pregnancy waddle.
    They say that Masai women are technically incapable of given birth, their hips are so narrow, but with the loosening, they do just fine.
    Jo

    Reply
  31. Jo,
    I’m sorry for getting your name wrong and calling you Bev.
    It would be interesting to compare death rates of women in childbirth through the years. I’m going to ask around to see if I know anyone who has seen that information before.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  32. Jo,
    I’m sorry for getting your name wrong and calling you Bev.
    It would be interesting to compare death rates of women in childbirth through the years. I’m going to ask around to see if I know anyone who has seen that information before.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  33. Jo,
    I’m sorry for getting your name wrong and calling you Bev.
    It would be interesting to compare death rates of women in childbirth through the years. I’m going to ask around to see if I know anyone who has seen that information before.
    -Michelle

    Reply
  34. Jo, this is such an interesting blog–and yet more evidence of the devaluing of female knowledge and experience.
    I do want to say a word in defense of the shudder-inducing Victorian period. Yes, there were horrors, but it is also a fascinating period in women’s history. BBC has a good site with a game that demonstates the changes in women’s status. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/society_culture/women/launch_gms_victorian_women.shtml
    And there were some wonderfully subversive works of literature written by Victorian women writers.

    Reply
  35. Jo, this is such an interesting blog–and yet more evidence of the devaluing of female knowledge and experience.
    I do want to say a word in defense of the shudder-inducing Victorian period. Yes, there were horrors, but it is also a fascinating period in women’s history. BBC has a good site with a game that demonstates the changes in women’s status. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/society_culture/women/launch_gms_victorian_women.shtml
    And there were some wonderfully subversive works of literature written by Victorian women writers.

    Reply
  36. Jo, this is such an interesting blog–and yet more evidence of the devaluing of female knowledge and experience.
    I do want to say a word in defense of the shudder-inducing Victorian period. Yes, there were horrors, but it is also a fascinating period in women’s history. BBC has a good site with a game that demonstates the changes in women’s status. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/society_culture/women/launch_gms_victorian_women.shtml
    And there were some wonderfully subversive works of literature written by Victorian women writers.

    Reply
  37. Wylene, you’re right. There was a lot of good stuff going on in Victorian times, especially the later 19th century, but I still think it was a low point for women, especially earlier on.
    That could have inspired women to fight harder.
    But basically I have a gut-level antipathy. I probably had a particularly nasty past life then.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  38. Wylene, you’re right. There was a lot of good stuff going on in Victorian times, especially the later 19th century, but I still think it was a low point for women, especially earlier on.
    That could have inspired women to fight harder.
    But basically I have a gut-level antipathy. I probably had a particularly nasty past life then.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  39. Wylene, you’re right. There was a lot of good stuff going on in Victorian times, especially the later 19th century, but I still think it was a low point for women, especially earlier on.
    That could have inspired women to fight harder.
    But basically I have a gut-level antipathy. I probably had a particularly nasty past life then.
    Jo 🙂

    Reply
  40. “I often thought that I would have been OK if I had been born in an earlier age but at the same time looked at some of my friends and knew without a doubt that they wouldn’t have been so lucky.”
    I’ve always been a very healthy person, so it was a bit sobering to realize I probably would’ve died if I’d had the same pregnancy 200 years ago–unless I’d been bled frequently enough to keep my blood pressure from becoming an issue!

    Reply
  41. “I often thought that I would have been OK if I had been born in an earlier age but at the same time looked at some of my friends and knew without a doubt that they wouldn’t have been so lucky.”
    I’ve always been a very healthy person, so it was a bit sobering to realize I probably would’ve died if I’d had the same pregnancy 200 years ago–unless I’d been bled frequently enough to keep my blood pressure from becoming an issue!

    Reply
  42. “I often thought that I would have been OK if I had been born in an earlier age but at the same time looked at some of my friends and knew without a doubt that they wouldn’t have been so lucky.”
    I’ve always been a very healthy person, so it was a bit sobering to realize I probably would’ve died if I’d had the same pregnancy 200 years ago–unless I’d been bled frequently enough to keep my blood pressure from becoming an issue!

    Reply
  43. Jo, this was utterly fascinating information. Since the heroine in my current WIP is pregnant, I printed out your commentary for my research file. Thanks so much for sharing such a wealth of truly interesting information. ~Sherrie

    Reply
  44. Jo, this was utterly fascinating information. Since the heroine in my current WIP is pregnant, I printed out your commentary for my research file. Thanks so much for sharing such a wealth of truly interesting information. ~Sherrie

    Reply
  45. Jo, this was utterly fascinating information. Since the heroine in my current WIP is pregnant, I printed out your commentary for my research file. Thanks so much for sharing such a wealth of truly interesting information. ~Sherrie

    Reply
  46. PARALLEL LIVES: FIVE VICTORIAN MARRIAGES by Phyllis Rose has a lot of interesting stuff on the subject. Two items that fascinated me:
    Forceps were originally invented by a man-midwife; he and his family kept them a trade secret for years, depriving all women not their patients of the advantages of a forceps delivery. (Though from what you say, that may have been lucky for a lot of them!)
    After the discovery of ether, many physicians would not administer it to women in childbirth, not for medical reasons but because of the injunction in Genesis that women should suffer during childbirth as punishment for Eve’s sin! So women died unnecessarily in long, painful, difficult deliveries when they might have survived. It was not until Queen Victoria was administered ether (during the birth of her fifth child, I believe) that it became commonly accepted practice.
    Don’t you just love the Victorian male mind?

    Reply
  47. PARALLEL LIVES: FIVE VICTORIAN MARRIAGES by Phyllis Rose has a lot of interesting stuff on the subject. Two items that fascinated me:
    Forceps were originally invented by a man-midwife; he and his family kept them a trade secret for years, depriving all women not their patients of the advantages of a forceps delivery. (Though from what you say, that may have been lucky for a lot of them!)
    After the discovery of ether, many physicians would not administer it to women in childbirth, not for medical reasons but because of the injunction in Genesis that women should suffer during childbirth as punishment for Eve’s sin! So women died unnecessarily in long, painful, difficult deliveries when they might have survived. It was not until Queen Victoria was administered ether (during the birth of her fifth child, I believe) that it became commonly accepted practice.
    Don’t you just love the Victorian male mind?

    Reply
  48. PARALLEL LIVES: FIVE VICTORIAN MARRIAGES by Phyllis Rose has a lot of interesting stuff on the subject. Two items that fascinated me:
    Forceps were originally invented by a man-midwife; he and his family kept them a trade secret for years, depriving all women not their patients of the advantages of a forceps delivery. (Though from what you say, that may have been lucky for a lot of them!)
    After the discovery of ether, many physicians would not administer it to women in childbirth, not for medical reasons but because of the injunction in Genesis that women should suffer during childbirth as punishment for Eve’s sin! So women died unnecessarily in long, painful, difficult deliveries when they might have survived. It was not until Queen Victoria was administered ether (during the birth of her fifth child, I believe) that it became commonly accepted practice.
    Don’t you just love the Victorian male mind?

    Reply
  49. Great post! I did presentations on the subject for last summer’s RWA conference, and the research was fascinating though depressing at times.
    One thing I found interesting was that during the late Georgian/Regency era there was a brief “back to nature” movement when unnecessary use of forceps was discouraged. Sadly, that changed with the death of Princess Charlotte in childbed. Her accoucheur was severely criticized for not using forceps, and the tragedy helped to pave the way for the Victorian “chloroform and forceps” births.
    For other Research Nerds, an interesting reference on birth positions is BIRTH CHAIRS, MIDWIVES AND MEDICINE by Amanda Carson Banks.
    And welcome to the blogosphere, Wenches!

    Reply
  50. Great post! I did presentations on the subject for last summer’s RWA conference, and the research was fascinating though depressing at times.
    One thing I found interesting was that during the late Georgian/Regency era there was a brief “back to nature” movement when unnecessary use of forceps was discouraged. Sadly, that changed with the death of Princess Charlotte in childbed. Her accoucheur was severely criticized for not using forceps, and the tragedy helped to pave the way for the Victorian “chloroform and forceps” births.
    For other Research Nerds, an interesting reference on birth positions is BIRTH CHAIRS, MIDWIVES AND MEDICINE by Amanda Carson Banks.
    And welcome to the blogosphere, Wenches!

    Reply
  51. Great post! I did presentations on the subject for last summer’s RWA conference, and the research was fascinating though depressing at times.
    One thing I found interesting was that during the late Georgian/Regency era there was a brief “back to nature” movement when unnecessary use of forceps was discouraged. Sadly, that changed with the death of Princess Charlotte in childbed. Her accoucheur was severely criticized for not using forceps, and the tragedy helped to pave the way for the Victorian “chloroform and forceps” births.
    For other Research Nerds, an interesting reference on birth positions is BIRTH CHAIRS, MIDWIVES AND MEDICINE by Amanda Carson Banks.
    And welcome to the blogosphere, Wenches!

    Reply

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