In years gone by childbirth was women’s service to their husbands and many wealthy families wanted children for heirs. These well to do couples would most likely keep reproducing until they had a male child to give his land and money to. Many poor families wanted children for workers as these children could help work on the farm, family stores, or in the domestic service.
A pregnancy was very dangerous and it was very common for women to pass away during childbearing. Another frightening asset was having a premature baby. The risk of death was more concerning to the lower class women and that is why through Lanark county you see the names of the poor children one after one on the gravestones.
These women had poor diets that didn’t have enough nutrition and the other hand, for the wealthy, it was a different situation. They had a more balanced diet, and this produced more healthy babies. Although rich women could afford more wine/beer, which they drank like water, it was very dangerous for their infants.
Women had to go through many lonely weeks, even months; in case of premature births, which was often, women had to go into confinement. Confinement was the term used to describe the last few weeks of pregnancy that were spent in the bed of a specially prepared house. Also having children gave women their rights and when a girl gave birth to their child they finally became a woman.
Did you know the actual beds women gave birth on were lightweight and portable, and were significant for several reasons. One reason the delivery beds were so highly regarded among women in aristocratic Victorian families was because they increased the important female bonding aspect of childbirth. Because of this, the beds were passed down from generation to generation.
Anaesthesia was first administered in 1847 to obstetric patients by the Scottish physician James Simpson. Before this pain-relieving medicine became popularized, doctors relied on blood-letting to alleviate labour pains and up to 50 oz. of blood could be drawn to ease pain and weaken the patient as a whole.
Even during labour, Victorian principles of purity and modesty are evident and the clothing women wore consisted of a shift tucked up under the arms with a short petticoat placed about the hips which used to be removed after labour and the dry shift drawn down.
The position most commonly used during childbirth was the Sims position which entailed lying on the left side of the body with knees bent and drawn up into the abdomen. This position prevented the doctor and patient from seeing each other, enabling the mother to save face in an embarrassing situation for women.
The recovery time for women after labour and delivery lasted between four and six weeks and consisted of various stages of progress unless you loved on a farm. The stages began with something as simple as walking from the bed to a nearby sofa and then was ritually ended by going to the church. There, the new mother would be religiously cleansed and had the opportunity to thank God for a full recovery after the pregnancy and childbirth.
Amen to all that– no epidurals for them….