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Women and babies that is where it all started for new members of the adult club. 18th century women of all casts (this refers to stations-poor, merchant class, rich, filthy rich, street dweller) had children. It was in the contract, they had to expand the family and it was a rite of passage. In fact, having more than seven children was something that the upper classes were encouraged to do. Now, if the lower classes bred in that manner, well it was attributed to other things. In order to survive marriage you had to be able to cope with loss, and in order to survive childbirth you had to not only survive the birth, and pass the threshold of safety ensuring you did not have a fever of some sort-you also had to make sure that you were churched.
Marriage then comes baby
One of those disgusting transactions which were frequently mentioned in the newspapers, and which by a vulgar error, were imagined to be lawful. It was by many persons supposed that if a man became tired of his wife, he might take her to a public market with a halter round her neck, or (as in the present instance) a handkerchief round her waist, and there publicly sell her. Such proceedings were both illegal and immoral, whether the parties were or were not all agreed. Sometime the wife was sold against her will; but in this case, there was an agreement by all parties before they left the cottage at Speldhurst, in which they all lived.
Upper class women averaged 5-10 children in their lifetimes. At that time, they also tried to space them apart by extending breastfeeding, to stop frequent pregnancies. Women frequently died of complications, most commonly puerperal fever, leftover festering placenta lodged post-delivery in the womb. A mother who doesn't have milk was given a wet nurse, typically a woman from the local area set to nurse the baby. Then after the baby was born women were only allowed to be presented back into society after they were churched. Churching was a service to give thanks for a safe childbirth, sometimes with pomp, and official ceremony for the village or community.
Childbirth was the end for many women. Overcome with exhaustion and complications they passed away, leaving behind motherless children. Husbands frequently took on other wives, not necessarily because they wanted another woman, but because they needed a woman to educate their children, take care of the house and help wrangle the seven plus children under the roof....
What made a woman in the 18th century? Well, she certainly had a tougher skin.
men versus midwives
Most doctors in the 18th century were self educated and male. Midwives were still prefered by many women, and while Britain saw a rise in what they called "lying-in" hospitals, it was still up to the midwife to make the birth happen smoothly.
Dr.William Smellie published a book in 1752 that gave an account of deliveries, female repercussions, and anatomy. He details everything from cesarean sections to misshapen heads. I have to say the overview and his take on the procedures is interesting, and horrifying. Certainly one would not think to not tie off the umbilical cord on an infant post delivery for fear that their mishapen head would not go back to normal shape if not done.
"If the head is kept long in the Pelvis, and the child not destroyed by the compression of the brain, either before or soon after delivery, it commonly retains more or less the shape acquired in that situation, according to the strength or weakness of the child. When the bones begin to ride over one another in this manner, the hairy scalp is felt lax and wrinkled; but, by the long pressure and obstructions of the circulating fluids, it gradually swells and forms a large tumour [probably a cerebral haematoma]. In these cases, when the child is delivered, we ought to allow the navel string, at cutting, to bleed from one to two or three spoonfuls, especially if the infant be vigorous and full grown; and to provoke it by whipping and stimulating: for the more it cries, the sooner and better are the bones of the Cranium forced outwards into their natural situation…"
Please have a read of Smellie's work, for free here.
In many cases there were far many midwives that were forced into the job just because they needed a job. Some mostly figured that they would spend their time talking with others, comforting-sort of what a Doula does in the 21st century. But, when the time to came to deliver and a complication arouse, sources that I've read even stated that the midwives would beg for another to come and help, or blindly stick their hands into the womb to turn a child not sure even if they were doing it right. In 1793 some were calling for a school of midwifery to help to ensure that all were properly trained.
Then there was the scandal of having a male doctor attend to you!
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