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 on identifying pregnancy in the early modern period is contributed by Leah Astbury.
In a period before physician-performed or home pregnancy tests, how did women know with any great certainty they were pregnant? This is a question that has garnered significant debate for the early modern period (c. 1500-1750).
Sixteenth and seventeenth-century printed medical texts abound with pregnancy tests, such as urinating on plants to observing their pattern of growth; a parturient woman’s urine would supposedly trigger unfettered growth in plants. It seems unlikely, however, that early modern lay people would have perceived such urine tests as infallible. Printed medical texts often simultaneously prescribed the urination test as a method of divining pregnancy as well as which partner in a marriage was infertile. Surely therefore a super fertile woman would always make plants grow!