Childbirth in the 17th and 18th centuries

18th century French midwife diplomaHolly Tucker at Wonders and Marvels posted a great entry on early midwifery. I also call your attention to her other post, not for the faint of heart, on C-sections before anesthesia.

It is estimated that, in the 17th and 18th centuries, one woman out of two died in childbirth. Staggering. How could it not influence women’s outlook on marriage, sex and motherhood? Often, while perusing memoirs or police reports of the time for my research, I come across the mention “my mother died giving birth to me.”

So my thanks go to modern medicine! And to illustrate this post, I chose a copy (right) of a French midwife’s diploma, delivered in 1784 to one Marguerite Rochelle de Bellefosse.

And I was forgetting to mention that Holly knows her subject: she is an Associate Professor in the Center for Medicine, Health & Society and French & Italian at Vanderbilt University, and the author of Pregnant Fictions: Childbirth and the Fairy Tale in Early-Modern France.

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