31.10.2014

Pregnancy tips during the 19th century

When you’re pregnant, your body is in one very literal sense no longer completely your own. Manufacturers even marketed “maternity corsets,” a bit like the maternity girdles of today (Spanx even makes one). Take this with a bit of a grain of salt: Many people were born during the Victorian era (too many, if you ask Malthus), and certainly not all of them were ill-shapen monsters because their mothers wore corsets.
Though widespread corset use died out by the end of the Edwardian era, some women were fans of the corset in pregnancy even on into the 20th century, as the self-published manifesto of one Pat Carter, writing in the 1950s, attests. According to medieval lore, what the expecting mother ate would influence her child’s appearance. Watching sports might be too exciting for a pregnant woman, according to a pregnancy advice manual from the 1940s. It wasn’t until the 1960s that their findings on smoking and the impact on the fetus were made available to the wider public. There is a marvelous old superstition that persists to this day—ask any Russian baboushka or Southern grandma—that cutting your hair during pregnancy is a no-no. When women are pregnant, oftentimes their hair becomes shinier, grows faster, and is generally shampoo-commercial gorgeous (before it all falls out when the baby is about three to four months old).
There is, however, one good non-medical reason not to cut your hair: Decisions made under the influence of pregnancy hormones may not be very good decisions. This advice is probably a bit barn door and escaped horse, but medieval women believed that if the baby was conceived while the man had “dirty and smelly feet,” according to The Distaff Gospels, then the child would be born with some inherited stink. Even now, some women are advised by their grandmothers and other well-meaning older folk not to raise their arms over their heads, especially in the later months of pregnancy, or risk getting the baby’s umbilical cord wrapped around its neck. The advice books written around the turn of the 20th century to teach women to make men happy are plentiful. A year before the good Reverend Hudson published this book, he was hosting a revival in Maine. She may seem slow to accord to you the privileges of married life, but defer to her will; do nothing rashly.
Divorce is almost always a trauma; in the 19th century, it was a public ordeal of shame and misery. Command your affections steadfastly to their lawful object; you can if you will, no matter how unfortunate your married life may prove. Beside being the universal aggressor, he (man) is obliged, in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases in every thousand, to break her into the harness of passion, by dint of both stratagem and perseverance. In fairness, between these lines of baffling advice, Reverend Hudson included many more lines that were sound.
And despite explicit medical advice not to and concern that tight lacing could harm the developing fetus, not to mention all those soft lady organs in there, they often wore corsets into their pregnancies.


Moreover, women who could went into “confinement” sometimes many weeks before the birth, shutting themselves away from the public eye; they probably didn’t wear corsets in those last months. Carter was also a proponent of the starvation diet during pregnancy as a way to “prevent the pooch,” by which we assumed she means the growing fetus.
So, according to The Distaff Gospels of the 15th century, eating hares’ heads would result in a child with a split or harelip.
Another one from The Distaff Gospels, this claimed that “cherries, strawberries or red wine” thrown in the face of a pregnant woman would cause marks on the baby’s body. But the medical community tended to keep quiet about the links between adverse birth outcomes and smoking. And even then, it wasn’t until the 1980s that a nationwide campaign kicked off to get mothers to put out their cigarettes. Exactly why isn’t entirely clear; some say that it’s because cutting your hair can make it drier or visiting the salon can harm your child somehow. This is down to the hormones the pregnant body produces, which also slow your hair’s falling out; it also tallies with the notion that hair equals life force, so cutting it could harm the child. This is absolutely untrue, but if it does get you out of having to do things like hang clothes on a line, then by all means.
There was a pervasive belief from antiquity on that what a pregnant woman looked at would be somehow manifest in her child. To help women along before the advent of the C-section, the epidural, and the Ventouse, or even forceps, chloroform, and doctors who washed their hands, midwives had a number of tricks. I've found people cannot resist telling cat-owning pregnant ladies that their feline companion is a toxoplasmosis-carrying assassin. At some point during this session, the story goes, the Reverend returned to his cabin to find his brother-in-law, John A. All of which was no doubt very exciting for the hundreds who had turned out to hear the famous moral leader speak. It will be quite a shock to feminine modesty when she, a pure-minded maiden, shall be called upon to lie down in the same bed with a man. Better that you do so, and live in a perfect purgatory, than that you incur the awful disgrace and ruin resulting from the desertion of your wife.
If the diseased must marry, let them intermarry, and thus shut up those fearful maladies, now preying upon our race, within the narrowest possible limits. Every time you met the girl you like, until about a month after your wedding, you would see only her Sunday-best self.
In her manifesto on homebirthing, Come Gently, Sweet Lucinda, she recommended women wear boned corsets during pregnancy.
She wasn’t alone, however, in recommending that pregnant women eat even less than they did when they were not pregnant: Randi Hutter Epstein found an article from the March 1956 McCall’s magazine advocating a strict diet for expecting mothers—to keep them thin.


In the 1940s and 1950s, tobacco companies ran ad campaigns where doctors endorsed their products. Others, however, who are closer to the original purpose of the myth claim that you’re cutting your life-force. Obviously, there is no real link between the two, but it’s an old wives’ tale that’s really hung in there. According to the Trotula, a manual of women’s health of the 11th century, a woman in a difficult or not-progressing labor should be given an herbal bath, her “sides, belly, hips, and vagina be anointed with oil of violets or rose oil,” and rubbed vigorously; she should be encouraged to sneeze, usually with the judicious application of pepper, or taken on a slow walk through the house (that one is actually helpful). In the mid-19th century, phrenology was a respectable pseudo-science practiced by many physicians. This account was found in newspapers of the day, but is not directly mentioned in Hudson’s book. You might get so far away from them that the people about you would not know anything of the family into which you had married. And your wife will likely refuse to be sensible about tossing the blaggart into the gutter.
It will seem repulsive at first, because she will feel that that lying down robs her of her feminine prerogative, and puts her person in the power of another. Of course, the 1950s weren’t exactly a time of sensible maternal advice; after all, some women were prescribed thalidomide for morning sickness, with disastrous results for the infant. Notably, eating soft and unpasteurized cheese is actually on the naughty list according to modern doctors, but less because of the penis-cheese link and more because of the listeria-cheese link. In fact, some advice implied that smoking was actually good for you and for the expecting mother because it was so relaxing. If that didn’t help, then there was always the good old tying a snakeskin around your hips or eating some butter with special, baby-producing words carved into it. Or maybe because traditional publishers couldn’t handle all the hard-core truth the Reverend was going to throw down.
Some shady land deals in Minnesota had gone sour, and Gardener had fled to the most respectable family member he had. So the next best thing (since sexually pleasing her was a myth propagated by whores and charlatans) was to patiently understand her revulsion. I mean, I get pretty mad when the printer keeps mindlessly pumping out copies even though it’s mostly out of ink.
Think of that fearful period of learning, during which your stomach must be made the receptacle for all sorts of messes, and your home remain in a chaotic state!



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Comments to «Pregnancy tips during the 19th century»

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