Risky hormones, birth defects and the business of pregnancy testing, Part II

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 from Jesse Olszynko-Gryn continues to explore the relationship between pregnancy testing and birth defects in the 20th century. To read Part One of Jesse’s work, click here

In 1982, a special report in The American Journal of Nursing warned that information on the safety of ‘drugs for two in pregnancy’ was ‘scanty, hard to find and often not up to date.’ The Physicians’ Desk Reference was ‘stuffed full of the unhelpful disclaimer “the safety of drug X in human pregnancy has not been established.”’ The placenta was not a ‘barrier’, but a ‘sieve’, so only ‘medically indicated’ and ‘relatively safe’ drugs ought to be given to pregnant women. ‘No sex hormone’, it seemed, was considered ‘safe during pregnancy’; all should be avoided.[1]

Then, as now, concerns around sex hormones and birth defects focused primarily on the systemic use of synthetic estrogens and progestogens in oral contraception and the prevention of miscarriage. The previously widespread use of oral pregnancy tests, a third major source of concern, had, in 1982, recently ceased in most ‘developed’ countries.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Risky hormones, birth defects and the business of pregnancy testing pt I

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 from Jesse Olszynko-Gryn explores the relationship between pregnancy testing and birth defects in the 20th century.

 

Atkins v. Squibb

In August 1981, People magazine reported that Wyoming attorney Gerry Spence, undefeated since 1969, had won a confidential settlement from the pharmaceutical company Squibb for parents who claimed on behalf of their young, limbless son, ‘that Gestest, the company’s now banned drug to test pregnancies, had caused grotesque birth defects.’[1]

 

Continue reading

It’s all in the breasts: pregnancy aphorisms in the Hippocratic Corpus

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 Laurence Totelin who writes on breast milk and the Hippocratic aphorisms.

The first Hippocratic aphorism – “the art if long, life is short” – is perhaps the most famous passage of the entire Hippocratic Corpus, that heteroclite collection of texts written in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE and attributed to the physician of Cos. There were, however, many other aphorisms beside that most noted one. They are organized into seven books and cover numerous aspects of medical wisdom. Book five concerns us most as it contains pregnancy-related aphorisms. Today, I wish to examine pregnancy aphorisms that mention the breasts and milk, as they show us how the ancients understood the female body and its ability to carry a child to term.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

‘Hopes of being with Child’: An Early Modern Guide to Knowing You Are Pregnant

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!

Continue reading