"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On Childbirth and Bicycling; Updates

One of the books I received for my birthday was If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley.  The book is divided into sections such as the bedroom, living room, kitchen and bathroom. Within each part, there are a variety of topics. Anything from the description of the actual types of beds to closets to knickers to being born and being murdered. And that's just in the bedroom section!

In the chapter on "Being Born," she mentions the old days when people lived and died in their bedrooms (which, by the way, were much more communal than our private bedrooms are today).  Now, she states, both are often done in the hospital.  But during the time of births at home, she writes:

"The gathering of the women, the gossiping, the pleasure they took in their shared experience made giving birth a much more sociable event than it is today, when it's chiefly an individual drama. In fact, the bonding nature of childbirth explains why the users of the 'molly-houses' (male brothels) of early eighteenth-century London replicated its rituals: homosexual men pretended to give birth, and celebrated with the traditional party afterwards. The first known piece of printed gay porn was entitled A Lying-In Conversation with a Curious Adventure (1748), and it describes a man in drag infiltrating a lying-in chamber.  Fetishising childbirth is not common in modern male gay society, and that's probably because lying in bed alone in a hospital is not nearly so much fun." (pg. 20)

(Sidenote: I wonder why nature didn't make it possible for gay couples to procreate. Now we can do it artificially thanks to technology, but nature didn't deem this possible for same-sex couples. This came to mind one day when I was thinking of population control, but that's a topic for another time perhaps.)

Other interesting facts:

"The medieval death rate was one in every fifty pregnancies  Considering that it wasn't unusual for a woman to give birth a dozen times, the odds quickly mounted up for reproductive wives. Many pregnant Tudor ladies had their portraits painted for the poignant reason that they might well have been saying goodbye to their husbands for ever when they disappeared into confinement.  If so, their families would at least have had a final image of a lost loved one."  (pg. 18)

In the past women used more of a birthing chair since midwives understood the importance of gravity in delivering children. As male doctors took over the birthing process, women started lying on beds - probably because it was easier and more comfortable for the men attending those giving birth.  (pg. 24)

Men also introduced forceps to help with delivering babies.  Midwives continued to have misgivings and used them only in extreme circumstances - like when someone had labored four or five days!  (pg. 23)

The Victorians thought it tasteless to refer to "being with child" and suggested "the genteel lady should merely inform 'her friends that at a certain time she will be confined'.  The downside of all this tasteful gentility was that women began to think of pregnancy as an illness, and Victorian books about childbirth began to refer to it among 'the diseases of women'.  In the bedchamber, as in society at large, women began to be seen as fragile, vulnerable and incompetent at looking after themselves."  (pg. 26)


Not related to childbirth, but one tidbit I learned in this book is about bicycling's role in the emancipation of women. According to Susan B. Anthony:

"Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel...the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood."

Here is an interesting article explaining more about this.

I wonder if this is the real reason women riding bikes has been frowned upon in some cultures. Hmmm.

A couple of updates:

Soon after I posted the pictures of my birthday books, I received one more that was late in arriving. Andrew got me a book about Iran that had been on my Wishlist ever since Lat read and blogged about this country many months ago.

As of now, I am on track to finish From Plato to Nato - the book I called intimidating in my last post - well within the four month time frame I generously allowed myself.  Reading 5 pages per day, I should be on page 45. Instead I'm on 125. And it's actually pretty interesting stuff. So that's good.


sanil said...

I like the article! :) I was sort of wondering about the biking thing, and I learned a lot from it. I'd never even thought to wonder about why the first bikes had the giant front wheels and why they changed, but it makes sense now that I've seen it explained.

I also think the childbirth information is really interesting. I wonder why we stopped doing the more communal childbirth and turned it into this private thing that's almost more seen as an inconvenience.

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Susanne said...

Sanil, I'm glad you enjoyed the article! It's so interesting to see how things have changed and why! :)

I'm not sure why childbirth came to be such a private matter. We'll just blame the Victorians since they seemed to not like talking about "stuff like that." ;)