A Woman's World - Pregnancy and Childbirth - 1760 to 1820

Lives of the women at home and following the army during the war years.
Post Reply
User avatar
Official historian
Posts: 370
Joined: Fri Sep 01, 2006 11:48 pm
Location: Upper Canada

A Woman's World - Pregnancy and Childbirth - 1760 to 1820

Post by pud » Thu Dec 07, 2006 10:04 pm

"I don't know how soon I may be confined; don't you pity me, is it not dreadful; what but the highest love for your husband can make it tolerable, nor nothing in my opinion but the return of love from him, can compensate for what we suffer; I know the generality of them only laugh at this, but that is miserable comfort to us, who experience the hardship of having children - Good God how I pity some women, who I know heartily hate their husbands, and I'm certain are as sincerely despised by them, and yet breed as fast as rabbits, what lives of misery must they have." (Metropolitan Toronto Public Library, D.W. Smith Papers, S126, Folder A10-4, Elizabeth Mathews to Mrs. D.W. Smith, 24 September, 1764.)

"Multiple births occurred in Upper Canada, with twins being referred to often. The same month, in 1792, that Hannah Jarvis was confined she reported that another woman was delivered at Newark of twins weighing a total of 26 pounds; if accurate this was indeed remarkable." (Public Archives of Canada MG23H13, v.2, pp. 26-29, Hannah Jarvis to Rev. Samuel Peters, 5 December, 1792.)

"And in York, in 1811, twins were common in one family at least:
The women in this country are in general very prolific. I'm intimately acquainted with a lady who lives in this place that has had five pairs of twins four pairs of which are now living also two more children that she had as single births, and has buried several besides. I think it is sixteen she has had in all and she is now only about seven and thirty years of age. Her husband is about twenty years older than her. They marry very young here many girls not more than 13 and 14 years old." (Metropolitan Toronto Public Library, Elizabeth Russell Papers, L21, E. Russell to E. Kiernan, 30 May, 1811.)

"Predictably, pregnancy did not always end with happy results. The risks of various disorders was high and although records are scanty, our knowledge of disaster often comes from cemeteries where tombstones can be mutely eloquent. Puerperal fever occurred (a deadly disease which is now known to be the result of streptococcal invasion of the uterus) though the incidence seems to have been low in Canada. But when William Dummer Powell was in Detroit in 1792, his sister, died "without a struggle" of what seems certainly to have been puerperal fever, three days after giving birth." (Public Archives Canada MG23H14, William Dummer Powell Correspondence,v.1, pp. 51-53, Isaac Clarke to W.D. Powell, 8 January, 1792.)

"The cause of maternal death would have included not only puerperal fever but also arrested labour (which may have a number of causes), and disproportion, where the child's head was too large relative to the mother's pelvis. This was seen in women who, as children, had rickets, a vitamin-deficiency disease which caused deformity of bones, including those of the pelvis. The general state of nutrition was poorer then. Vitamins were not discovered until the twentieth century. Major rickets was common enough and even minor rickets that could produce distortion of the pelvis probably occurred much more often than it was diagnosed.

But it would be wrong to assume that all childbirth was difficult even though danger may have hovered very close at all times. Most deliveries would have been routine and thus have escaped comment. We know of one such happy event largely because of the contrast it offered to previous confinements. Hannah Jarvis wrote to her father, three weeks after she was delivered, saying that she had never been so well, not having had a single pain after delivery. (Public Archives Canada MG23H13, v.2, Jarvis-Peters Correspondence, Hannah Jarvis to the Rev. Samuel Peters, 5 December, 1792.)

Post Reply