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. 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. 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.
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’s timely post is contributed by Sylvia Murphy Tighe and Prof Joan Lalor of Trinity College, Dublin.
Concealed Pregnancy & Newborn Abandonment: A Contemporary Problem
The recent case of Baby Maria who was found by a passer-by in Dublin on 8 May is a reminder of Ireland’s sad legacy of concealed pregnancies in traumatic and difficult circumstances. There are many views strongly held by those who have not been affected as to why women conceal a pregnancy. It is not uncommon for those perceptions to be negative. It is often assumed that concealed pregnancy is confined to history and is an artefact of a time when pregnancy outside of marriage was shunned. Although concealed pregnancy is not exclusive to Ireland, it has been associated with countries where Catholicism is the dominant religion. Ireland has a shameful history when it comes to women and their reproductive rights which continue to be legally controlled by the 8th Amendment which gives equal right to life to the mother and fetus. Ireland has a national biography that is characterised by the scars of mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries and forced adoption, each seen as a State sponsored solution to pregnancy outside of marriage.
Click for link to journal website
Daniel J.R. Grey, ‘“What woman is safe…?”: Coerced medical examinations, suspected infanticide, and the response of the women’s movement in Britain, 1871-1881’, Women’s History Review, Vol. 22, No. 3 (2013): 403-421.
Few scholars have investigated infanticide in modern Britain. Still less work has explored the connection between feminist analyses of this issue during the 1870s—a time when child homicide was perceived as endemic—and its relationship to other, more well-known campaigns by the women’s movement that also focused on the double standard of sexual morality as embodied by law. This article re-evaluates the response to judicial treatment of infanticide issued by the feminist-led Committee for Amending the Law in Points Wherein it is Injurious to Women (CALPIW) and the Vigilance Association for the Defence of Personal Rights (VADPR). It argues that until a VADPR-sponsored civil damages case was defeated at the Court of Appeal in 1881, the feminist critique held the possibility of radically reshaping women’s medico-legal treatment in England and Wales. Its ultimate failure, moreover, explains the surprising absence of infanticide as a specific campaign issue for the British women’s movement from the 1880s until shortly before the First World War.
Daniel J.R. Grey, ‘Creating the “Problem Hindu”: Sati, Thuggee and Female Infanticide in India, 1800-60,’ Gender & History, Vol. 25, No. 3 (2013): 498-510.
The practices of sati (‘ widow-burning’), thuggee (the supposed ‘strangler cult’) and female infanticide were frequently used by western commentators during the early and mid-nineteenth century as convenient shorthand for demonstrating the supposed ‘backwardness’ of Indian culture and society. Generating voluminous records and considerable anxiety among British people, both at home and abroad, these three subjects have generally been examined separately by scholars. This article suggests that, by considering these issues together as part of a continuum of ‘Hindu crimes’ in the British imagination, it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of both gender and religion in colonial India.
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Published July 2014
About the Chapter:
Daniel J.R. Grey, ‘”The Agony of Despair”: Pain and the Cultural Script of Infanticide in England and Wales, 1860-1960’, in Rob Boddice (ed.), Pain and Emotion in Modern History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 204-19.
This chapter explores how and why the closely entwined experiences of pain, shame and fear became — and remained — key elements of the construction of infanticide in England and Wales for at least a century.
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Published August 2013.
Elaine Farrell’s ‘A Most Diabolical Deed’: Infanticide and Irish Society, 1850-1900 examines the phenomenon of infanticide in Ireland from 1850 to 1900, examining a sample of 4,645 individual cases of infant murder, attempted infanticide and concealment of birth. Evidence for this study has been gleaned from a variety of sources, including court documents, coroners’ records, prison files, parliamentary papers, and newspapers.
What? Is Gender Still Relevant? (includes a paper on infanticide)
When? 16-17 September 2014
Where? University of Bradford, UK
Fee? Free, but pre-registration (available here) is essential