Postpartum Madness

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. Today’s post from Marystella Ramirez Guerra looks at an incident of ‘postpartum madness’ from the Jena Court of Law in the 1790s.

A 28-year-old woman was brought before the Jena Court of Law in the 1790s for murdering her only child.[1] Three years prior she had been a patient of Johann Christian Stark, sub-director of the new Jena birthing house. While a patient there she had given birth naturally and had lost very little blood in what was then considered the body’s naturally cleansing of impure blood during the postpartum period.[2] Failure to lose large amounts of blood was seen as problematic as it indicated that the body was unable to clean itself of the excess fluid accumulated during pregnancy. Excess accumulation of fluids in the body was thought to bring on illness and, in the case of fluids in the female body, it was believed the nerves were particularly affected.

Continue reading

Pregnancy in Prison – Past and Present

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. Today’s post from Rachel Bennett explores maternity care in the early days of female-only prisons.

Following one of her early visits to Newgate prison, Elizabeth Fry noted that “nearly three hundred women with their numerous children, were crowded [in the cells of the prison]; tried and untried, without classification, without employment, and with no other superintendence than that given by a man and his son, who had charge of them day and night.”[1] Mrs Fry would go on to help establish the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate and, later, the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners. She also gave evidence to the 1818 House of Commons Committee on prison conditions. Among other things, during her work she advocated for the more tailored treatment of female prisoners based upon tenderness and religious instruction and argued that this more feminine approach needed to be delivered by female prison attendants.

Continue reading

Obstetric Violence in Ireland’s Past and Present

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the medieval to the modern. Today’s post from Cara Delay and Beth Sundstrom employs the term ‘obstetric violence’ to understand Ireland’s reproductive history.

In October 2012, 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar, 17 weeks pregnant, sought treatment at a Galway hospital when she began to miscarry. Although there was no hope for a successful pregnancy, staff at the hospital allegedly told Halappanavar that they could not legally assist her with a medical abortion. When Halappanavar died of septicemia several days later, her tragic personal story spurred an unprecedented dialogue on women’s reproductive and health care rights in Ireland.

Continue reading

Risky hormones, birth defects and the business of pregnancy testing, Part II

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the medieval to the modern. Today’s post from Jesse Olszynko-Gryn continues to explore the relationship between pregnancy testing and birth defects in the 20th century. To read Part One of Jesse’s work, click here

In 1982, a special report in The American Journal of Nursing warned that information on the safety of ‘drugs for two in pregnancy’ was ‘scanty, hard to find and often not up to date.’ The Physicians’ Desk Reference was ‘stuffed full of the unhelpful disclaimer “the safety of drug X in human pregnancy has not been established.”’ The placenta was not a ‘barrier’, but a ‘sieve’, so only ‘medically indicated’ and ‘relatively safe’ drugs ought to be given to pregnant women. ‘No sex hormone’, it seemed, was considered ‘safe during pregnancy’; all should be avoided.[1]

Then, as now, concerns around sex hormones and birth defects focused primarily on the systemic use of synthetic estrogens and progestogens in oral contraception and the prevention of miscarriage. The previously widespread use of oral pregnancy tests, a third major source of concern, had, in 1982, recently ceased in most ‘developed’ countries.

Continue reading

Concealed Fertility Charms

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the medieval to the modern. Today’s post from Ceri Houlbrook explores concealed fertility charms.

In October 2015 I was contacted by a man named Roy Carter who’d been renovating a Tudor cottage in Burwash, East Sussex. During renovations he’d found a small wooden figurine, about an inch and a half long, which he believes had been deliberately concealed within the cottage, either placed above a roof beam or within one of the walls. This certainly isn’t the first obscure object to have been found secreted away within a domestic space. All manner of items have been discovered – from shoes and bottles to animal remains – in unusual locations: within walls; under floorboards, hearthstones, and thresholds; above doors and ceilings; up chimney breasts; in thatching; and buried in gardens. The majority of these items date to the 18th and 19th centuries, and appear to have been deliberately concealed rather than accidentally lost. But why?

Continue reading

The (Stuffed) Elephant in the Room: Negotiating Identities from Pregnancy to Parenthood within the Academy

Co-edited by Dr. Rachel Berger (Associate Professor, History, Concordia) and Dr. Jessica Riddell (Associate Professor, English, Bishop’s University).

Description:
This edited collection takes a multi-disciplinary approach to conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood within the academy. Contributors from diverse disciplines will contribute essays on their process of negotiating parenthood and professorship within the Canadian landscape of higher education.

Continue reading

CFP: Histories of Magic and Sex (Notches)

How have perceptions of magic shaped sexuality, love, and reproduction in the past?

“Bewitched,” “enchanted,” “spellbound,” “possessed” — the language of seduction and love is replete with allusions to magic. In the early modern period, magic and sexuality were deeply intertwined and there was a widespread consensus that humans were vulnerable to mysterious powers, especially when it came to their sex lives. For instance, accusations of love magic appear regularly in the records of the Mexican, Spanish, and Roman Inquisitions. Additionally, Renaissance scholars argued that imagination affected unborn children, forming an infant according to what its mother looked upon at the moment of conception. Amid deadly witch-hunts, anxieties about magic’s effects on fertility emerged in courts and churches. Magic haunted sexuality in innumerable ways.

Continue reading

CFP: Early Modern Works by and about Women: Genre and Method

When: 4-6 November 2016
Where: McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Deadline: 31 March 2016

This interdisciplinary workshop aims to bring together scholars working on one or both of the following:

  • Questions concerned with the methods of women writing in the Renaissance and Early Modern period, and of men writing pro-woman works at the same time: the use of argument, evidence, literary, theological and philosophical authority, exempla, rhetorical devices, intellectual exchange, and methodological approaches (e.g. skeptical, on the basis of natural philosophy, fantastical).
  • Questions concerned with the genre that women chose for their work and that men chose for articulating pro-woman positions, whether poetry, polemical treatise, dialogue, or epistolary forms.

Continue reading