Forget Leaving Room for Jesus: Fornication and Community Control in Transitional New England

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. This month, Frances Norman, a final year undergraduate student at the University of Hertfordshire, shares some insights into pre-marital sexual behaviour and pregnancy in the Atlantic world.

In July 1791 Sally Peirce ‘Swore a Child’ on Jonathon Ballard, the son of Martha Ballard, an eighteenth-century New England midwife who recorded her life across almost 10,000 diary entries. [1] Sally’s child was born in October of the same year and she and Jonathon married in January 1792. The eighteenth-century was a transitional period for sexual control across America and within New England, which was more sexually restrictive than urban areas of the country. [2] Sally’s pregnancy offers insight into premarital sexual relationships, as well as the role of community and familial control in courtship, pre-marital relationships, and the wider policing of sexuality.

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Maternal Impressions

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. This month, PoP network member Sarah Fox shares her insights on the debates (both historical and contemporary) on maternal impressions.

On the 14th September 2020, the Daily Mail reported upon a pilot study being undertaken at the University of Heidelberg.  The headline read: ‘Anxious mums can pass on their stress to their babies – leaving them with an ‘emotional imprint’ that can scar them for life, scientists warn.’  The article reported that children of mothers suffering from anxiety or depression experienced raised heart rates during a stress test called ‘still face test’. “We found that if a mother was anxious or depressed, their baby had a more sensitive physiological response to stress during the test than did the babies of healthy mothers” researcher Fabio Blanco-Dormond is reported to have said.  An article on sciencetimes.com raised the stakes still further reporting that the infant’s significantly (8 bpm) increased heart rate “could develop into emotional stress in later years.” The findings are reported as being at the cutting edge of scientific research. “To our knowledge this is one of the first times this physical effect has been seen in three-months old infants” according to the Daily Mail’s report.  Yet the idea that a mother’s thoughts and feelings can impact both physically and emotionally on their unborn child has very long and complex roots.

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Drumming wombs & fanny farts: Listening to the widow’s belly in seventeenth-century Ireland.

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. This month Clodagh Tait shares a quirky story about mistaken pregnancy and fanny farts (queefs!) in c17th Ireland.

Mary Gage, an Englishwoman who arrived in Ireland with her brother at around the time of the Ulster Plantation, had several misfortunes in the years prior to 1620. Her husband, John Rowley of Castleroe, near Coleraine, Co Derry, died in 1618, and she had lost one of her four children in infancy.[1] In early 1620 she remarried, to Sir George Trevelyan, a former soldier from a Somerset gentry family who had been in Ireland about twenty years. George became ill that July, and on 13 September he died at Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim. Five days later George’s uncle and patron, Sir Arthur Chichester, Lord Deputy of Ireland, wrote to John Trevelyan about his brother’s edifying death. ‘He died a good Christian and in perfect memory to his last gasp, for which God be praised!’ This, Chichester continued, with ‘his lady’s being with child…is all the comfort he hath left behind him’.

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