‘Trouble and Expense’: The Pregnant Woman and the Asylum

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 week Morag Allan Campbell writes about pregnant women and the asylum in nineteenth-century Scotland.

In his annual report of June 1858, James Howden, Medical Superintendent of the Montrose Royal Lunatic Asylum, on the east coast of Scotland, chose to explore in some detail a case which he noted as ‘somewhat peculiar’.   A young woman had been admitted to the asylum ‘in a state of great excitement’.  Before long, the asylum doctors began to suspect she was pregnant, and she duly gave birth to a baby boy.  Immediately, she became ‘calm and collected’ and her conversation became rational.[1]  The following year, Howden noted a similar case.   A pregnant woman had been admitted in ‘an apparently demented condition’ and gave birth to her child in the asylum, after which she ‘slowly regained her mental powers’ and ‘ultimately recovered’.[2]

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Tragedies of Pregnancy: Representation of Pregnancy in the Plays of German Writer Friedrich Hebbel (1813-1863)

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 we have PoP Director Leanne Calvert talking about men and sexuality in the 18th Century.

Staging a play about illegitimate pregnancy was a huge scandal in the German society of the 1840s as the stories of Friedrich Hebbel’s play Judith and Maria Magdalena show. Before his debut text Judith could even be staged in July 1840, it had to be edited. The defloration scene, which can even be read as a rape, in the third act as well as Judith’s fear of being pregnant with Holoferne’s child at the end of the play were removed for the premiere. A similar situation happened to one of his other plays: Maria Magdalena – which I would like to focus on. Even though the play was finished in 1843, it was not shown on a public stage until March 1846. Again, the scandal of the pregnant heroine prevented the staging, as Auguste Crelinger, actress at the Königliches Hoftheater in Berlin wrote in a letter to Hebbel: “On Sunday I received a letter from Madame Crelinger about Maria Magdalena. There is once again nothing. I am a very talented person, have thoughts, language, what do I know what all else, but, but – – the heroine is pregnant, and this is an insurmountable source of offence.”[1]

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Who’s the daddy? Disputed cases of paternity in eighteenth-century Ulster

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 we have PoP Director Leanne Calvert talking about men and sexuality in the 18th Century.

DNA testing has become the standard method of determining paternity. Daytime television shows, such as ITV’s The Jeremy Kyle Show, regularly include segments that feature disputes and arguments over paternity, usually involving multiple potential fathers. A quick mouth swab, inevitable rows, and a dramatic pause later, the question of ‘Who’s the daddy’ is solved relatively quickly. But how did those in the eighteenth-century determine paternity? In the age before DNA testing (and before daytime television hosts), how did women and men figure out who exactly was the daddy? 

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“so a word to the wise’: reassessing the role of the upper-class Irish father in nineteenth-century childrearing’

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 week Judy Bolger writes about a father´s involvement, through written advice, in the upbringing of his children.

‘So a word to the wise – Your mother says asses’ milk – or Breast milk given on a spoon’ wrote John D’Alton to his wife Catherine in 1819.[1] Though spending much of his family’s early years away from home, John’s surviving letters demonstrate that he was still very much engaged with his children’s feeding habits and their daily lives in Summerville, Dublin during the early nineteenth century.[2] Through these various references about his children, an alternative representation of the father is reconstructed. Much scholarly attention toward the period has reinforced the severity of the public and private divide amongst women and men.[3] However, such a sweeping generalisation about the gender norms of the period may not be as clear-cut as we have understood. In a nuanced manner, these letters not only showcased John’s engagement with his children’s rearing, but also his advice and interest in tasks that have hitherto been deemed outside his gender’s concern. Therefore, the extracts from the letters blur the lines between the traditional roles within the nineteenth-century upper-class Irish family.

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Pregnancy Loss: A Note on Language

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 week, to coincide with Baby-loss awareness week, Karolina Kuberska writes about the importance of language in discussions about pregnancy loss. 

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There are many difficult aspects to the experience of pregnancy loss; even the most articulate people may struggle to capture the emotional chaos or to accurately describe what it is that they have lost. While distinctions are made by professionals working in medicine and English law between miscarriage (up to 23 weeks and 6 days), stillbirth (from the 24th week), and terminations, these categories may not readily translate into how some people perceive what has happened to them: that their baby has died or that they have lost future hopes and dreams.

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Open the womb to receive seed again

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 week Amy Kenny explores why superfetation was removed from The Comedy of Errors.

“Open the womb to receive seed again”: Removing superfetation from The Comedy of Errors

In the source material for The Comedy of Errors, Alcmena becomes pregnant with twins fathered by two different male suitors, a medical condition known as superfetation.[1]  Those familiar with The Comedy of Errors will recall no such plot twist in Shakespeare’s play.  So what accounts for the change in dramatizing gestation? What can this switch suggest to us about the play’s portrayal of pregnancy and twins?  Throughout the early modern period, multiple births were often considered suspicious because they played on the cultural anxiety surrounding gratuitous female sexuality.  If a woman could commit adultery even while pregnant, fathers feared the paternity of their heirs.

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Instruments or hands? ‘Nature’ and the practice of obstetric surgeons in early eighteenth-century Germany

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 week, Gabrielle Robilliard writes about 18th-century midwifery in Germany and the clash between male and female practitioners. 

If you wanted to edify yourself in 1790s Germany on the history of midwifery, you might have consulted J. G. Krünitz’s Oekonomische Encyklopädie (published 1773–1858), the most comprehensive German-language encyclopaedia of its time, which would have told you that:

For around 100 years in various countries in Europe, but largely in France, England and Holland, and now in many places in Germany, one has greatly improved the art of midwifery, and had few qualms about allowing several men well trained in that art to practise it rather than common midwives: indeed, in many large cities one has appointed several [men] skilled and experienced in this art … especially to provide advice and assistance to pregnant and parturient women and, in emergencies, to provide a helping hand.[1]

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