Monday, August 22, 2005

Notes from Reno

As promised, below are my notes from Elena Greene's most excellent workshop on the history of pregnancy and childbirth. As you will see, I take notes in point form - hopefully they'll prove at least somewhat useful. If I had time (ha, ha) I'd go through and write them up in a more coherent manner, but with my kitty still so sick, and other stuff to do...

Ms. Greene is aware I've posted these notes :-) Her next book will be out in September 05!

Elena Greene - Pregnancy and Childbirth Through the Ages

- wandering womb theory - cure, weigh it down with sperm or a baby

- early bias against mid-wives, Ancient Greece - women colluding to bring in bastards

- baby controlled labour, not the woman - she had it happen to her, didn't participate
- wore stones to keep baby and help with childbirth

- change in all these rituals depended on location - ruraly women were usually the last to change

- births assisted by midwives - Egyptians, Greeks, Romans

Medieval - no wandering womb
- menstruation very important, balance of bodily humours paramount
- gynecological issues dominated anything wrong with a woman
- birth was a natural event, worked if woman was healthy, trust in nature and God that all would be well
- men weren't permitted into the birthing chamber
- conflicts between ancient practises and the church - midwives might be witches because of use of herbs etc. they had to be of good character so that if they baptized a dying baby they weren't cursing it
- older superstitions being replaced by religions ones - intercession of saints, + belief that labour pain was a woman's lot, punishment for Eve's mistake

Midwives - the most experienced women among those in the community who helped with childbirth
- low caseload
- often an inherited position from mother to daughter
- often paid in kind instead of with money
- eventually became more of a job with regular fees
- recorded when baby was born and what gender - helped with inheritance
- bibliography on Elena's website with primary sources listed
- birthing stool came back into use during the middle ages
- difficult for the birth attendant
- male doctors wrote treatises to help the midwives and were fairly respectful
- treatises very frank about sexuality
- euphemism for penis - the yard!!!
- how to simulate virginity using leeches

Birthing Ritual
- husband midgeted - gathered the midwife and the gossips
- keyholes, winndows, doors, cracks everything closed off and kept warm - ward of evil spirits and contributed to bonding, would be soothing
- drank coddle, spiced wine
- birthing positions varied - against a fireplace, in an attendant's lap
- very few women gave birth in bed
- once baby was born, it was swaddled and protected from evil spirits until it was baptised
- some babies were fostered out completely, otherwise the wetnurse was brought in, though many also nursed themselves
- month long lying-in recovery period - men might sometimes move out
= then the woman was churched - some elements of purification, but it was mostly a giving of thanks
- in difficult cases, they had methods to speed things up - ergot of rye, a mold that can be deadly, but in proper doses would help
- would induce vomiting
- could deal with breech using manual version
- woman who were poor and had poor nutrition there would be horrible problems, call in a surgeon and have him help - decision made between woman and child, woman was saved
- if man was called it was last resort because it usually meant one or both might die
- husband might help, if it was an obstructed birth he might help pull, hold her in his lap or even help her if there was no-one else around
- midwives were usually married women who had had at least one baby - NO virgins

Eighteenth Century
- BIG change - men became involved
- rise of scientific method, observation, rational practise rather than just theory (though superstition didn't disappear altogether)
- forceps became publicized - 1733 - Chamberlin family - a major advance as it meant that the baby didn't HAVE to die - decreased the fear of a man's involvement
- as more men became involved, things changed so birth came to be seen as a dangerous process
- midwives looked down on by some
- men weren't well trained and didn't disinfect
- childbirth attendant usually blamed when things went wrong
- status symbol to have a doctor attend you
- theory of humours still prevalent
- fertility issues - change of diet, cold baths
- physically active peasant women had an easier time than the aristocratic women who ate too much and didn't do exercise
- put them on a "lowering regime" - cut out meat, cheese, eggs etc and had fruits and veggies - not the best thing as women needed protein, though veggies themselves weren't bad.
- childbirth fever - problem with birthing chamber - open it up, no coddle, ruined the bonding ritual
- birth chairs designed by men - semi-reclining, higher off the ground - helped the doctor rather than the patient
- position - on her side, knees curled up and facing away from the doctor - away from gravity
- husband might attend - if the doctor was there it seemed wrong to exclude the husband
- customs changing so husband and wife were in love rather than convenience partner
- less fostering out, women nursing themselves far more often - might also get character traits from the wetnurse
- concept of motherhood changing, caring for the baby was just as important as giving birth
- girl children more welcome than they had been
- month-long lying in (not so common in lower classes, though they'd have support)
- women of wealth had a month nurse
- still churched
- lower classes still might be using old ways or a combination of both
- still a form of social childbirth
- doctors complained that women were causing trouble - might have been true at least half the time

Late Georgian and Regency
- continued a lot of earlier developments
- end of 18th/early 19th - the men started to see that childbirth really did work well most of the time - back to nature, back off with use of forceps, more conservative in how they interfered - just support the woman and let nature take its course
- then Princess Charlotte died in childbirth after 50 hours of labour
- the accoucheur had used a natural approach, was demonized by society - he committed suiced a few months later
- opponents to men in birth got stronger - call for more midwives
- it seems Charlotte might have had underlying medical problems that complicated her birth - likely Sir Richard Croft couldn't have saved her
- medical community went back to being intrusive - use of forceps

Victorian Era
- pain relief became acceptable, though some still opposed it
- James Simpson used ether in 1847, Victoria used it in 1853 for birth of Prince Leopold
- used especially for upper classes - they wanted to be delicate and needed the relief
- those women became completely passive
- overused and abused, some would self-dose or have friends give it to them - no regulations
- upper class/middle class American women believed it was indelicate to appear in public while pregnant
- this didn't happen in Britain
- some women were corsetting at this period so they could still appear in public
- birth was in bed by this point - for all of labour - before that they used to walk around
- most people banished from room, almost complete breakdown of social ritual
- some breastfed, some used wetnurses
- wean or not breast feed if there was a girl baby so she could regain her fertility to produce the heir
- first C section successfully used in 1882


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