So as you can see I’ve had a long break from writing my blog. The biggest reason has been the two kids who seem to defy time by growing a full year in the space of a week or two. Wilf certainly has the attitude of a 14 year old and Cora is now 18 months so I’m starting to see the need for a Medieval toddler shepherd !!
The other reason for my absence has been a few other projects I’ve been working on. I’ve now been out of work for nearly 9 months and I’m battling with the concept of returning to work after rearing kids, as I’m sure many of you have in the past. I guess in the past I wouldn’t have had ‘maternity leave’ so I’m grateful to have had this time with them but sadly in 2020 I’m facing ideas such as career change, retraining and adult education. All a bit scary when all I’ve done for 9 months is change nappies and break up fights over toys !!
I’ve kept writing too including a screenplay set in Medieval Herefordshire and a business plan for a play café but I’ve now decided it’s time to get back to discovering past societies and exploring their historical parenting advice. Coming up, I’ve nearly completed a short piece about Madeleine Astor who boarded a certain passenger liner in April 1912 and then I’m going to delve into the ancient world to see what the Romans have to offer in the way of advice on child rearing.
At 9 months old, Cora has just got her first tooth which is very excited as she’s been complaining and suffering with it since she was about 8 weeks old !!
We’ve used all the usual remedies of course from teething powders, those toy keys filled with gel that cool in the fridge and chilly cucumber and carrot.
This then got me wondering how our ancestors dealt with the pains of teething. Clearly there were no cooling toys, let alone the means to chill them although I assumed some herbal remedy might have been used.
Google however led me to this amazing article which made me realise just how dangerous teething was back in the day with many Georgian physicians claiming that it was responsible for frequent deaths in infants !! Who had any idea it was this bad? Or that those plastic chilly keys we’re saving lives !!
So I’ve finished exploring the Georgian era and have made good progress writing Edith’s Medieval tale. It’s much easier to write these women’s experiences as stories and give them a voice through which to compare historic pregnancies than those of our modern day.
The question is … where to go next? Roman perhaps? The 1950s? Or perhaps Viking? Let me know what you think either by commenting or sending me a tweet. Glad to have any ideas and pointers towards research notes if you have them.
Today while researching Georgian childbirth for my next article I came across this amazing piece of history – the history of the forceps.
This common device found in today’s hospitals was once a complete secret, held by members of one family for over 100 years until the design was released in the early 18th century. The Chamberlen family, who entered the profession of male midwifery in the Stuart era, went to extreme measures to keep their invention hidden away including disguising the contraption in enormous boxes and blindfolding women in labour. One member of the family even had his tools stashed away under a secret trap door when he died only for them to be rediscovered in 1813.
They weren’t entirely selfish though. It seems that one generation of the family was prepared to sell the design to the French government at one point, for a price of course. Who knows what that price was but the fact that the French declined the offer suggests that Mr Chamberlen was aiming too high.
When they did finally release the design, it was down to a man named William Smellie to develop the instrument and they were finally used in the UK in 1730. They were eyed with skepticism and blamed for spreading infection but ultimately, they went on to save countless lives of labouring women and their infants … partially thanks to the Chamberlen family I think.
Today Cora and I have been conducting a bit of experimental archaeology (sort of). One thing I didn’t discuss in my article on Medieval mums was weaning which typically happened between the ages of one and three, far later than we might wean today. One method was for the mother, or wet nurse, to pre-chew food for the baby. In doing so however, any disease in the chewer was often spread to the infant.
Another option was to feed your baby a ‘pap’ or ‘panada’. From reading various articles, this appears to have been a mixture of flour, egg and milk, sometimes with a little meat broth thrown in too although ingredients were of questionable hygiene.
The idea of the ‘pap’ seems to have existed from ancient times up until around 1900 when formula milk was thankfully invented. There were various instruments used to feed pap to babies too depending on the time period. In earlier centuries, a cow’s horn with a leather teat attached was used while later on, specially designed pap feeders were created including the beautiful Wedgewood versions below.
So, after reading all about this deliciously bland food source for infants, I had the idea of offering some to poor Cora. As you can see above, I soaked a little bread in milk to create a modern(ish) equivalent and although this doesn’t do the true pap justice, she wolfed it down. Perhaps if I’d added a bit of mud or some stray fleas it would have been a little closer to the real deal but I’m not that cruel and so as it is, I think it went down very well. I’m so proud … wonder if it’ll help her sleep a bit better tonight !!
After posting my first article about Edith’s Medieval experience of childbirth, I came across this news article. As you can imagine, with no real knowledge of medicine and pregnancy related illnesses, the Middle Ages was a perilous time to be giving birth in.
The article describes the burial site of a pregnant woman who appears to have died from a wound to the head. This isn’t the result of some brutal attack but an attempt at medical intervention to resolve a common issue in 21st century pregnancies. Sadly, her baby was stillborn in her coffin, the tiny bones still visible within the mother’s pelvis.
A fascinating read and another interesting link to our ancestors. Have a look at …
So here it is … my first blog. It’s not been easy because my own two little angels/peasants/spartans (delete as applicable) have demanded much of my time.
I’ll be starting with a look at parenting in the Medieval period – not easy when you consider that ‘children’ didn’t exist back then. There were babies and there were miniature adults who were expected to work (those that survived that is). I’ve been quite surprised while researching this one, mostly by how many of their ideas are coming back into use today though not quite for the same reasons.
I’ve tried to imagine what life would be like for a young Medieval girl facing a future of life-threatening pregnancies and endless child-rearing. If I thought two children were enough, imagine having twelve !!