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Taking a break from the pleasure of viewing athletic male bodies in tight bodysuits (isn’t men’s speed skating grand?) to do the final bit of myth-busting on the history of pregnancy and childbirth.

#4: Husbands were always excluded from the birthing chamber.

Well, yes and no. Much as my husband bemoaned the loss of the “good old days” and offered to take up smoking and pacing rather than attend me through my two labors, having the husband in the delivery room isn’t really a modern invention.

It’s true that the centuries-old childbirth traditions usually excluded males. There was a female bonding ritual associated with childbirth: closing up windows and doors, lighting candles, the drinking of caudle (a hot spiced wine or ale) by the laboring woman’s female friends and relatives. Usually the man was not welcome, but that was when births were attended by midwives.

When male practitioners were starting to get in on the act, it became inappropriate to exclude husbands. Believe it or not, some opponents of man-midwifery wrote, with great zeal, about the risks of the man-midwife becoming inflamed with passion by the sight of the laboring woman. I can just picture that, remembering what a femme fatale I must have looked during my two labors!

So husbands were not as a rule excluded from the birthing chamber. Old-fashioned female friends and relatives of the woman might complain or try to enforce the earlier ritual, but during the 18th century and into the 19th, the old rituals of childbirth were eroding, especially among the monied classes.

During Victorian times, when “chloroform-and-forceps” births became more common, the moral support provided by friends and family was increasingly replaced with medication. Doctors began to exclude any “unnecessary” persons from the birthing chamber, claiming they only distressed the patient anyway. By the time hospital births became more common (in the 1920’s and 30’s) everyone was excluded until the return to natural childbirth of our own time. And now there are some women who believe we should return to the old patterns of childbirth, with women helping women.

Anyway, during “our period” husbands sometimes did attend their wives. Prince Leopold was quite devoted to Princess Charlotte and attended during her 50-hour fatal ordeal. So on a happier note, it is perfectly acceptable for a proper Regency hero to attend the heroine during the birth of their child. It is equally possible that a scummy husband would go off hunting.

So who do you think about men in the delivery room? If you lived in the Regency, what might you prefer? Would you like a return to the old ritual? How would you feel about having your mother, mother-in-law, sisters, cousins, girlfriends and neighbors all there egging you on? Would it feel supportive or overwhelming? Who would you not want to have there?

And oh yes, I was modern enough to want my husband there. He does a wicked neck massage that really helped. Bucking other trends, though, I refused to do that “hee-hee-hoo-hoo” breathing. And promised my husband that anyone bringing a camera or any recording device near me before the baby and I were cleaned up would die a quick but painful death. 🙂

LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee

Elena, Regency Research Nerd, back for more myth-busting on the history of pregnancy and childbirth.

#3: Babies were born in the same ancestral bed where previous generations were born, consummated their marriages and died.

No! I’ve seen this concept many times, and I can’t decide if it gives a sweeping sense of history or is just gross.

Several facts here:

Fabric was expensive and childbirth is messy. I won’t go into details for fear of offending the squeamish and scaring male visitors from the blog. So let me just add three words–“No rubber sheets”.

From the earliest times until well into the 19th century, most women usually gave birth in upright or semi-upright positions: squatting, standing, kneeling, sitting on the lap of a midwife or husband or in a birthing chair or stool.

However, from the 17th century or so toward “our” period, male obstetricians (called accoucheurs) who attended ladies, were beginning to move away from the birthing chair and/or redesigning it. Ladies (as opposed to working class women) were regarded as more delicate, and recumbent positions were increasingly recommended for them.

During the Regency, ladies usually gave birth in a specially designed birthing bed or cot, which was often portable and could be shared between friends.

The recommended position was the “Sims” position: woman on her side, knees drawn up, doctor BEHIND her. The lack of eye contact was supposed to preserve modesty and prevent embarrassment.

By Victorian times the “lithotomy” (on the back, legs up) position was more common, making for easier access for the doctor though not the best biological position for the woman. Conversely to Regency doctors, Victorian doctors worked under sheets by feel alone and maintained eye contact with their patients to prove they were not, um, peeking. Seems creepy to me.

Thanks for indulging me, everyone! Next week: husbands in the delivery room.

LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee

Belatedly taking up Cara’s challenge to read a traditional Regency, I picked one up a few weeks ago. It was classic traditional romp, a nice “bon-bon” of a book. I really did enjoy it. Only one thing niggled.

Several times in the book it’s stated that it was extremely improper, maybe even scandalous, for pregnant women to be seen in public. Not true!

I know, because I’ve researched this subject for articles and workshops as well as my works-in-progress. Being a Regency Research Nerd is a problem sometimes!

Of course, I’m not the sort to toss a book over things like this. In fact, it scares me to think there are people out there who would, because who knows what mistakes I’ve made unknowingly, just assuming that something I’d read myself in many other authors’ work was correct? OTOH it also scares me (yes, I admit I’m a bit neurotic) that readers are going to complain that I’ve gotten things wrong.

This is what authors notes–and blogs–are for.

Here are a couples of the most common errors I’ve seen in historical romances that deal with childbearing (more next week):

#1: Respectable women did not appear in public while pregnant.

During the Regency and even into early Victorian times, women sometimes stayed in due to health reasons. Or even used ill-health as an excuse to avoid activities they didn’t want to do anyway! But there was no shame about being in public at this time. There’s lots of evidence that many ladies continued an active social life, going to parties, the opera, and even travelling while pregnant.

    • In 1805, Frances, Lady Churchill attended parties in her last trimester of pregnancy. She went to the opera on June 11, and gave birth on June 28.


  • During the last trimester of her first pregnancy in 1810, Harriet, Lady Granville, and her husband visited the country seats of his family members in Staffordshire, Gloucestershire and Cheshire.



  • Queen Victoria (pictured above) welcomed Lady Charlotte Guest, who was 6 months pregnant, to a ball at the palace in 1840. Queen Victoria was pregnant herself.



Later in history, especially in America, ladies did hide away once they were visibly pregnant. In fact some ladies tightly laced their corsets in an attempt to disguise pregnancy so they could continue normal lives as long as possible. Ugh!

#2: Babies were always delivered by doctors. – OR – Babies were always delivered by midwives.

During the Regency both midwives and male doctors (those specializing in obstetrics were called man-midwives or accoucheurs) delivered babies. Man-midwives rose in popularity during the 18th century.

The picture here depicts the conflict between the new and old ways of doing things. Many thought it was unmanly, immoral and improper for men to deliver babies, but it was the new “scientific” thing. And male practitioners were trained (more or less!) in the use of forceps, while most female midwives were not, so they were theoretically better prepared to deal with problematic deliveries.

Looking at an obstetric kit c. 1820, though, I can’t help but shudder.

By the Regency, most women of the upper classes used an accoucheur while midwives continued to deliver babies for the working class and the poor. So either could work in a story, depending on the setup and the characters.

Next week, I’ll deal with a couple more common misconceptions about childbearing in the past.

For anyone who is not too squeamish, and who finds this subject even half as interesting as I do, there’s a fascinating (if sometimes gruesome) collect of artifacts to view at Accoucheur’s Antique. There’s also some information and a bibliography on my website.

Elena, Regency Research Nerd 🙂
LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, RT Reviewers’ Choice Award Nominee

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