Infertility and Infidelity in Early Modern 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 week’s post is contributed by Daphna Oren-Magidor and explores one of particular stigmas that was attached to fertility in the early modern period.

Infertility was associated with various stigmas in early modern England. Infertile women were described as manly, domineering, and overly sexual, while infertile men were effeminate and unable to control their wives. One recurring trope suggested that when a “barren” woman was suddenly cured of her infertility, it was the result of a dalliance with a man other than her husband. While it wasn’t the only view of infertile women, nor the most prominent one, it appeared in numerous poems, plays, ballads and other works, most of them satirical or comedic, but some also more serious.[i] While this trope was certainly used because it was entertaining, it also had more important implications. First, if a woman conceived after having sex with another man, then it was implied that her husband was “at fault” for the couple’s childlessness. Almost invariably, however, the women in these texts were described as “barren” themselves, and this was seen as an essential quality, one that might even be hereditary. By presenting infertility in this way, the authors who used this trope promoted the idea that infertile women were sexual and uncontrollable (hence their adultery), while at the same time suggesting that infertile men were unable to control their wives. But beyond the implications for early modern gender identities, the trope of the adulterous barren woman was used by authors of political and religious satire, in order to promote specific ideologies. It went beyond the discourse of reproduction, sexuality and gender, and into broader realms.

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History of Women’s Health Conference, USA, April 2015

What: History of Women’s Health conference
Where: The PennsylvaniaHospital, Philadelphia
When: 29 April 2015
Deadline for Submissions: 5 December 2014

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The ‘Eggs’ Affair’: Egg Donation in 21st Century Israel

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 is contributed by Angela Davis. Her post is the first on this site to explore Israel.

In this blog entry I look at the relationship between the state, medical profession and society in the provision and practice of assisted reproduction in Israel, focusing on the ‘eggs’ affair, a scandal that took place in 2000 about egg donation. Prior to the enactment of Israel’s Eggs Donation Law, 2010, the IVF Regulations allowed egg cell donations only by women who were undergoing IVF as infertility treatment. The rationale was that the health risks could not be justified unless the intervention was undergone primarily for the donor’s own benefit. In order to encourage infertility patients to donate eggs private clinics started offering economic inducements, by waiving certain costs of treatment if they would agree to ‘share’ their eggs with others.[1]

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The Midwife of St. Giles Cripplegate

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 medieval to the modern. Today’s post is contributed by Sarah Fox an AHRC funded student in her third year of postgraduate study at the University of Manchester.

“The Tryal of a Midwife of St. Giles Cripplegate”: the fate of infertile midwives in eighteenth-century London

Many of you will have read Dr Jennifer Evans’ excellent blog post on the ‘Mistaken Midwife’ last month. Her post focused on a ballad of the same title dated 1674 in which a midwife pretended to be pregnant in order to both please her husband and preserve her business. As Jennifer discussed, experience was considered a vital part of midwifery training and, throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries female midwives were expected to have children of their own. Under the circumstances, one would be forgiven for thinking that the midwife of the ballad was an allegorical figure except, that is, for an almost identical case heard at the Old Bailey on the 1st June 1677[1].

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Just Because I Am Not a Mum: Living with Infertility

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 medieval to the modern. Today’s opinion piece on infertility is contributed by medical journalist, June Shannon.

So how are the cats June, have you decided to add to your litter?

It was this seemingly innocuous question by a lovely mother of twins, at a recent birthday party for a friend’s little girl that stopped me in my tracks. I suddenly realized that not being a mother immediately made me a crazy cat lady in her mind.

Did all other women see me like this?

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