A Cultural History of Pregnancy: Pregnancy, Medicine and by Clare Hanson

By Clare Hanson

Hanson explores the various ways that being pregnant has been built and interpreted in Britain over the past 250 years. Drawing on a variety of resources, together with obstetric texts, being pregnant suggestion books, literary texts, well known fiction and visible photographs, she analyzes altering attitudes to key concerns equivalent to the relative rights of mom and fetus and the measure to which clinical intervention is suitable in being pregnant. Hanson additionally considers the consequences of scientific and social alterations at the subjective adventure of pregnancy.

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Additional resources for A Cultural History of Pregnancy: Pregnancy, Medicine and Culture, 1750-2000

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57) The effect of Mears’ stance is ambiguous, however. On the one hand, in endorsing maternal authority, she helps to sustain the mother as the proper subject, or agent, of pregnancy. 16 The notion of maternal impressions was closely related to ideas of irritability (or sensibility) and of consent between mother and foetus. The idea that a pregnant woman’s imagination could affect her unborn child, creating marks and deformities, was a longstanding folk belief which, as Philip Wilson has shown, was taken up into medical discourse in the eighteenth century.

117–18) Particularly notable in this passage is a preoccupation with facial expression. Laura’s distress is evident from the ‘changes of her countenance’; her tormentor’s effects are gained through ‘the wild contortions of his countenance’; finally, before she swoons, Laura’s face is covered by ‘a cold dew’. It could be argued that the face is the primary site or surface on which the somatic effects of emotion are visible – hence Smith’s emphasis. For it is at this point that Smith closes the loop of ‘maternal impressions’.

However, in the nineteenth century hysteria rapidly became identified with specifically female ‘nervousness’. I would argue that the notions of maternal impressions and irritability/sensibility tied in with and helped to support this gendering of mental instability. For if it was accepted that the pregnant woman was rendered ‘irritable’ by uterine stimulation and hence susceptible to emotion, the corollary would be that all women of reproductive age would be similarly affected by uterine changes.

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