Prof Joanne Bailey’s Keynote Address: ‘Breeding a Little Stranger’

Conference organisers Ciara Meehan (left) and Jennifer Evans (right) with keynote speaker Joanne Bailey (centre)

Conference organisers Ciara Meehan (left) and Jennifer Evans (right) with keynote speaker Joanne Bailey (centre)


Professor Joanne Bailey of Oxford Brookes University delivered the keynote address at the conference on Wednesday, 16 July. Her paper, entitled ‘Breeding a Little Stranger’, considered managing uncertainty in pregnancy between 1600 and 1830. You can access Prof Bailey’s presentation here.


Column: ‘I began to perceive I was with Child’: Pregnancy and Prostitution


The Early Modern Medicine blog — run by Perceptions of Pregnancy co-organiser Jennifer Evans — features a post today that will be of interest to those attending our conference. Sara Read writes on pregnancy and prostitution:

Professor David Lodge famously wrote that ‘Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children. Life is the other way round’. This seems to be especially true of the erotic literature produced in Restoration England in which prostitute narratives are filled with sexual encounters but very few pregnancies. In the anonymous novel The London Jilt (1683), exotically subtitled, The Politick Whore Shewing the Artifices and Stratagems which the Ladies of Pleasure make use of for the Intreaguing and Decoying of Men, interwoven with Several Pleasant Stories of the Misses Ingenious Performances. The protagonist Cordelia has two pregnancies: one real and one feigned during the course of part one. This book was published at the height of what Roger Thompson has termed ‘the 1680s festival of filth’. Prostitute Cordelia, who narrates her own tale, tell us that she is most surprised to discover that she has fallen pregnant.

To read the post in full, visit the Early Modern Medicine blog.

Dr Read will be presenting on perceptions of miscarriages at our conference next month.  Join the conversation between 16 and 18 July by using the twitter hashtag #pregconf

Column: For a Woman in Labour

A birth-scene. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

A birth-scene.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

The latest column exploring one of the conference themes — that of childbirth — is written by conference co-organiser, Dr Jennifer Evans.

The Perceptions of Pregnancy conference is aiming to cover all aspects of fertility, pregnancy and childbirth. My usual area of research is fertility and infertility, however, I often make notes on anything in the sources that has to do with the process of having children and so I’m going to make a brief diversion from my usual discussions and talk about labour.

Today we feel very lucky that during childbirth we have access to a range of pain relief that can help alleviate the intensity of contractions. Indeed, I am hooked on watching One Born Every Minute and it seems that some midwives feel women are too ready and eager to undergo an epidural that could lengthen the duration of their labour. Women in early modern England did not have access to epidurals, pethidine and entonox (gas and air), but they were not simply left to endure labour without any form of medication.

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Column: Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act comes into effect in Ireland

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, 2013 — permitting abortion where the mother’s life is at risk — comes into effect in Ireland today, 1 January 2014.  The proposed legislation was debated in the Irish parliament in July 2013. On the morning after an all-night sitting of the parliament, conference co-organiser Ciara Meehan discussed the historical context of the abortion debate on state broadcaster RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme. Listen back to the interview below.


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Column: Maternity Leave for Women Parliamentarians – Issues and Proposals

One of the aims of our conference is to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to hold an international conversation on perceptions of pregnancy.  With this is mind, we invited Claire McGing to contribute a column that first appeared on her own blog and which looks at the issue of maternity leave for female parliamentarians.

Maternity Leave for Women Parliamentarians: Issues and Proposals

Parliaments, of which the Dáil and Seanad (lower and upper house in Ireland) are no exception, are highly gendered institutions. Since the rules were written by men at a time in which women were not expected to participate in politics, the very norms, rules and culture of parliament conform to a male lifestyle. This is why the idea of maternity leave in politics is a problematic, at times controversial, one – lengthy periods away from office for child-bearing don’t ‘fit’ with institutional notions of representative democracy as politicians weren’t ever really meant to get pregnant in the first place. But, if the will is there, parliaments can be reconceptualised and reformed to catch up with the gendered realities of modern society.

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Column: Babies in the Bathwater

Conference co-organiser Jennifer Evans wrote this post about conception and pregnancy on the blog


Babies in the BathwaterL0038228 Diagram of a fetus, lying on its side, in an opened womb

In his 1615 medical treatise Mikrokosmographia Helkiah Crooke wrote about the alarming possibility that women might be able to conceive without engaging in sexual activity. He explained that some other authors claimed that the ejaculation of the male seed into the womb wasn’t always required for conception to occur. This was supported by the ‘Tale of a woman who conceiued the seede of a man floating in the water of a bath, so strong sayeth hee was the attractiue faculty of the wombe in drawing of seede.’1 Without having sex this woman’s greedy womb sucked up and retained any male semen it came across resulting in pregnancy.

Crooke was clearly not impressed by this argument or scholars who believed in such scurrilous things. He lamented that ‘it is great wonder that a Philosopher would be so credulous to beleeve the excuse of a light-skirts, who to save her honesty devised this excuse’. He was impressed by the woman’s wit but not by her honesty. He clearly believed that such stories were invented in order to cover up the indiscretions of women who had acted as they shouldn’t.2

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Column: Past Concerns Over Ireland’s Abortion Laws Foreshadowed Today’s Reality (via

On Saturday 2 November, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Britain’s largest provider of abortion services) placed advertisements in Irish newspapers.  Conference Co-Organiser Ciara Meehan contributed a column to on-line news source,, setting the issue of Irish abortion in its historical context:


IN AN ADVERTISEMENT placed in Irish weekend newspapers, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service promised: ‘We’ll care for your women until your government does’.

Historically, Irishwomen have travelled in their thousands to Britain for abortions, although there was also a culture of backstreet abortion in Ireland in the early part of the twentieth century. This ‘hidden industry’ made sensational headlines in 1956. Qualified midwife Mamie Cadden was sentenced to death by hanging for the death of Helen O’Reilly for whom she had performed an illegal abortion.

Cadden had not been the only person offering such services. There had been a thriving backstreet abortion industry from the 1930s, although it was virtually wiped out by the 1940s as a result of a major clampdown. Cadden’s high-profile trial served as an uncomfortable reminder that, in a State where all forms of artificial contraception and abortion were illegal, Irish women who did not have the money to travel to England had few options.

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