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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A Desire to Eat Strange Things

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, network director, Jennifer Evans looks at early modern understandings of cravings in pregnancy.

Everyone knows that pregnant women experience cravings for particular foods. This certainly isn’t just a modern phenomenon. Early modern medical writers were emphatic that this was a sign to watch out for in pregnant women. John Sadler, author of The Sicke Womans Private Looking-Glasse, believed that women would develop ‘a longing desire after strange meates’ once they were pregnant.[1] The satirical piece The Ten Pleasures of Marriage suggested that pregnant women at every dinner or celebration would be offered her fill of whatever she ‘long or have a desire’ for, even to the point that ‘no body else should so much as tast of it’.[2]

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A Roman Amulet for Protection in Childbirth

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, Adam Parker discusses a roman phylactery created by a mother for her pregnant daughter as protection during childbirth. 

 

Discovered by a metal detectorist in 2007 in South Oxfordshire, UK (PAS: BERK-0B6771) this small, inscribed gold sheet is a truly interesting insight into the material strategies of personal protection in Roman Britain. A translation of the text inscribed upon the sheet reveals that this is a phylactery (a protective, magical charm) created by a lady named Terentia to protect her daughter Fabia during childbirth (Tomlin 2008).

The rectangular sheet is tiny. It measures 63.1mm x 28.3mm and weighs 1.41g. The text is all written on one side and is organized in sixteen lines of Greek writing. Although this is the Roman period and we might expect it to be Latin, there are lots of Greek texts from Britain – it might suggest that Fabia had spent time elsewhere in the Roman Empire

 

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The issue of maternal and child mortality: the German sense of the tragic

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, Associate Director of the POP Network writes about the ways 18th century art reflects cultural attitudes toward pregnancy and medical intervention in birthing rooms.

Death during childbirth did not respect age or social class; it occurred more often than recently married women liked to think about. The same could be said of child mortality: if a child survived childbirth the perils of the diseases of early life awaited. In the German Territories of the Holy Roman Empire, the promotion of large families was central to the process of recovery after the Thirty Years’ War. Especially in rural communities this was seen as central to economic recovery even though it was a risk for the mother. This was a social belief supported by state policy, academic publications, and popular literature that would continue well into the 19th Century. .

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Review of Adam Kay, This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor (Picador, 2017)

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, Sara Read reviews a new memoir by Adam Kay. 

This book is record of life on the wards for a newly qualified doctor in the first decade of the twenty-first century. When it came time to specialise the author Adam Kay decided upon obstetrics and gynaecology, and so the memoir provides a doctor’s eye view of the path from junior doctor to senior registrar helping women deliver babies. It deals with many matter-of-fact details of delivery that are sometimes glossed over even in antenatal classes, such as that most women will open their bowels during delivery due to pressure and that it is to be expected.

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Motherhood as rite of passage

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, in the second of a two-part series, Margaret O’Connor explores women’s decision making processes. (part one available here)

Motherhood as rite of passage – What about the rest of us?

As discussed in a separate post, motherhood is a powerful concept which affects women throughout their lives, both by its presence and absence. It can now be a conscious choice, theoretically at least. There is increasing accessibility to reproductive technologies for people with fertility issues. Meanwhile, there is a growing proportion of women who actively choose not to become mothers. This choice is relatively new.

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