December 18, 2010

It's a Boy! Or Perhaps a Girl?

I missed last month, and in previous months, I neglected to say anything about the coming miracle and new addition to our family. We found out 2 weeks ago that we're having a little boy in April 2011. Added to our daughter who will be 2 years old when her little brother is born, and our family is complete.

That gets me to pondering about women and pregnancies in the 19th century. Even women pregnant just 20 years ago didn't have the modern advances we have today. Like the ultrasound or being able to find out if you're having a boy or a girl. Takes all the fun out of the surprise if you ask me. But of course, we couldn't resist finding out this time around. We were pleasantly surprised with our daughter...even though I had a feeling she was a girl. Same with this little boy inside me now. I had a feeling three months ago that it was a boy.

But what about women over 100 years ago? In some ways, things haven't changed, but in others, we've seen a major advancement or improvement. Here's some facts on the various stages.


In the nineteenth century, America and western Europe entered a new demographic age. These societies had never produced the maximum number of children biologically possible, but fertility rates were from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century relatively stable; suddenly in the mid-1800s a sustained decline in fertility began. By World War I, family size was cut in half. the extensive use of contraception was signaled not so much by the drop in number of large families -- which might have been explained by lengthy periods of continence and extended nursing -- as by the increasingly early age at which women stopped giving birth.

Contrast that to today, and we've got women having babies in their teens all the way up to their 40's. Family sizes haven't increased much though, overall. They've merely changed in their dynamics.


In the Victorian era, before starting a family, an underlying question of reason generally influences a couple toward a decision of having a child or not. In 19th century Britain, embarking into motherhood was more of an assumption than a decision. Producing heirs was at the top of the list of reasons to have children, and society believed that producing a son was a service a wife owed a husband and his family.

Later in the century, child-bearing grew into something more than a service a wife owed her husband. Although the ideal still lurked below the surface, giving birth also provided a way for women to rise above their previous label of "woman" and achieve a respected status of motherhood. Similarly, having a baby paved the road from childhood to adulthood for women, as well. This was unfortunate for women whom for one reason or another could not give birth, as they never truly entered into adulthood according to the eyes of society. Female bonding was also an important aspect of giving birth that was robbed from barren or infertile women.


Prenatal care will always be a significant topic within motherhood considering the direct relationship between the health of the mother and that of the newborn baby. The accoucheurs (similar to doctors)of the Victorian era preferred a holistic approach of prenatal care and relied primarily on nature to take care of their patients. The diet prescribed to pregnant women recommended "cooling foods" such as fresh fruits and vegetables and prohibited "heating foods" such as meat, eggs, spices, coffee, tea, and alcohol.

Exercise was also prescribed to pregnant women, and for the upper-class, leisurely travel was the exercise of choice. Travel was ideal because it entailed some walking and other light activity while avoiding the risks associated with strenuous exercise. It is ironic that while exercise and activity were recommend, a miscarriage would automatically be blamed on the woman for being overly active, even when this was not the case. Bathing in sea water and drinking mineral water were also advised to increase strength and overall vitality.


The actual process of labor and delivery were very important to aristocratic families of the Victorian era. mother and baby Many would travel to London weeks before to stay with friends throughout the final few weeks. The purpose of this journey, called "going to town," was socially motivated as it made public the birth of a new baby. The house had to be prepared very specifically to accommodate the pregnant woman and her husband, friends, family, the doctor and his team of medical attendants. Not all women actually made the trip to London or to an alternate location to deliver, and therefore many rearranged all of the rooms and furniture in their own house to prepare for weeks of "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.

The actual beds women gave birth on were lightweight and portable, and are 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. Delivering a baby on a separate bed than the one it was conceived on diminishes the sexual connotations associated with birth. This not only reinforces Victorian values of prudence, but gives childbirth a more spiritual meaning, as well.

Anesthesia 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 labor pains. Up to 50 oz. of blood could be drawn to ease pain and weaken the patient as a whole.

Even during labor, Victorian principles of purity and modesty are evident. The clothing women wore consisted of a shift tucked up under the arms with a short petticoat placed about the hips which is to be removed after labor and the dry shift drawn down. The position most commonly used during child birth 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 accouchuer (doctor) and patient from seeing each other, enabling the mother to save face in an embarrassing situation for Victorian women.

The recovery time for women after labor and delivery lasted between four and six weeks, and consisted of various stages of progress. The stages began with something as simple as walking from the bed to a nearby sofa, and was ritually ended by going to church. There, the new mother would be religiously cleansed and had the opportunity to thank God for a full recovery.

Finally, as humans continue to reproduce and society continues to evolve, the nature of motherhood will experience changes, as well. New technology and discoveries directly effect every aspect of human life including labor and delivery. Motherhood in the Victorian British aristocracy is different than the ideals and practices associated with modern day motherhood, and change will continue as it , like reproduction, is inevitable.

(research from:
Lewis, Judith S.In the Family Way: Childbearing in the British Aristocracy, 1760-1860. Rutgers University Press. New Brunswick, NJ, 1986.
Rapoport, R.N.& M.P. Fogarty, eds. Families in Britain. Routledge and Kegan Paul Publishing. London, 1982.)

Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood. Today, she is an author, speaker, online marketing specialist, and freelance web site designer who lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have 1 daughter and another baby on the way, plus an Australian Shepherd/retriever mix.

She has sold eleven books so far to Barbour Publishing, is a columnist for the ACFW e-zine, AFictionado, and writes other articles as well. Read more about her at her web site:

1 comment:

Tina Dee Books said...

Oh my goodness, you sweet lady! So much wonderful info here. I don't know how you do it with the family, the writing, the websites, but I'm glad you do!

Thank you for a great article!