Sunday, February 20, 2011

Confinement throughout History

According to my new B.F.F., the internet, the practice of confinement before (and even after) pregnancy is not such a radical concept.  It seems as though throughout history, various practices of pregnancy hibernation were widely utilized throughout Europe and even in other areas of the world, as a way for historical preggers to gear up for the big delivery day.

At the beginning of Medieval times, confinement was the terminology which pertained to the last month(s) of pregnancy in which a woman spent the final duration of her pregnancy in bed.  Popular among the upper-class and royal families, the practice of confinement was a measure taken to reduce the risk of premature delivery.  Today, confinement is synonymous with bed-rest (AKA pregnancy incarceration).

If you have ever read any Phillipa Gregory novels (holler if you're as obsessed with The Other Boleyn Girl as I am), you have probably wondered why all of the wives of Henry Tudor were sanctioned to bed rest the final weeks of their pregnancy. While this could have been an ideal opportunity for Henry the Eighth to man-whore the castle behind his wives' backs, it was practiced to ensure that King Player received a healthy heir to the throne.  However, as most of you history-buffs know, he failed to produce a male successor, even after royally exhausting five wives.

Nonetheless, wealthy women throughout this time period and leading up to the Seventeenth century were literally severed from the outside world, including their families, husbands, and older children, and attended to by a myriad of other women, including mid-wives (Doctors during that time period didn't believe in dirtying their hands with unhygienic womanly issues), ladies-in-waiting, and female family members.  Curtains were drawn, permitting women no view of the outside world (I thank God for my hospital room window with a view of palm trees and the blue Florida sky); candles were lit; wine and ale was served to ease nerves (can I please place an order for a nice, Argentinean Malbec?); and women were succumbed to a dark, warm room (my pregnant hormones cannot even handle the thermostat being above 70 degrees) to protect from evil spirits. 

During the Victorian Era, women disappeared from the social scene when pregnant.  Adorable baby-bump displays of the pregnant belly were a forbidden no-no and were tantamount to committing social suicide.  Or, maybe it was considered faux pas if your water suddenly broke in the middle of an elegant, fifteen course dinner party.  In my opinion, this practice was unnecessary, even stuck-up (but what can you expect from an era in which it was trendy, yet asphyxiating to wear corsets and powdered wigs), depriving women the final opportunity to gossip, shop, and hang with her gal-pals before childbirth. 

In modern times, different cultures still practice confinement, but this is usually after the baby is born (post-baby-lock-down).  Supposedly, Chinese, Malay, and Indian communities have their own, unique rituals which aim to help the woman's body recover after childbirth (if I could have chosen, this sounds like a much preferable option than serving pre-baby jail time).  In the Chinese community, grand-mothers, or even "confinement nannies", will cook the new mother's food (mom--can I please place an order for eggplant parmesan--and don't tell me to hire a confinement nanny!), help with the laundry, and feed the newborn.  

So, for the next three months of my life, I will be secluded from the outside world (both pre and post baby).  I am protecting me and baby J from evil spirits (in present-day Florida, evil spirits consist of the crazy Miami drivers, strangers in public who become overwhelmed with the urge to touch my belly, and my favorite clothing shops which haunt me with images of cute clothes that no longer fit my expanding body).  Gratefully, I can still enjoy this time with my girlfriends, who loyally sit next to my bed and teach me to knit (thank you Heather!!), divulge the latest gossip, and decorate my room with beautiful bouquets of flowers (thank you Shelley, Betsey, Jessica, Sandra, Barbara and Sandy!!!).  

10 comments:

  1. Stumbled upon your blog while researching the practice of confinement in history, and even though I'm over a year late on this, I thought I'd just correct you on this statement:

    "However, as most of you history-buffs know, he failed to produce a male successor, even after royally exhausting five wives."


    That's incorrect. Wife number 3, Jane Seymour, produced a male heir for Henry who would later rule England as Edward VI, if even just for a short time.

    I know I'm late but sorry, as a history buff I just couldn't let that one slide! :p

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    1. Not only were you incorrect about Henry the 8th failing to produce a male heir you were incorrect about the number of wives which was 6 not 5.Furthermore powder wigs were worn in the 18th century not during 19th century Victorian era..sn otherwise interesting article was ruined by inaccuracy.America,by the way,also practiced confinement

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  2. Not only are you incorrect about Henry having no male heir you are incorrect about the number of wives which was 6 not 5.furthermore powder wigs were worn in the 18th century not the 19th century Victorian era.on a final note America also practiced confinement

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  3. Even worse, Henry only exhausted one or two wives with pregnancy, and physicians didn't think themselves too good for the birthing room: they were excluded by law from entering it. Only if death was imminent could surgeons attend: physicians weren't allowed in the room for any reason.

    This also ridiculously, foolishly simplifies hundreds of years of history in dozens of realms and republics. The world wasn't England just like nowadays it isn't the US.

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  4. Sheesh people... light hearted blog post. Take a pill. If you were reading it for the historical accuracy, try a peer reviewed academic journal instead. I thought it was entertaining.

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    1. And that's great if you're looking for entertainment. But there's no entertainment disclaimer on this, by the title and first few sentences one could get the impression this is a factual article. Also, it's never good to spread misinformation, even if you're trying to be entertaining about it.

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    2. But it is a very lighthearted article, so yeah, ya'll need to chill

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    3. Just because it's light heated, doesn't mean it shouldn't use correct facts. There is nothing lighthearted in accepting misinformation... The culture of "its ok to provide false information because its entertaining" encourages stupidity and grooms imbeciles.

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  5. Not that this matters, but having also been a little taken aback by that particular quote, I'd like to offer another interpretation: the term "exhausted" here means that all wives through Katherine Howard were divorced, executed, or died as a result of their marriage to Henry, not that they were exhausted by childbearing or that he "went through" five before a male child was born. While he did technically leave Edward as a male heir, he was sickly and eventually died young, leaving no heirs, after which the line of succession defaulted back to his siblings. Since his sisters Mary and Elizabeth went on to make a much greater impression on English history and continued their father's legacy, one might say leaving Edward as heir was almost the same as leaving no male heir.

    Just a thought. Also, maybe chill out and try a little kindness next time :)

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  6. Not that this matters, but having also been a little taken aback by that particular quote, I'd like to offer another interpretation: the term "exhausted" here means that all wives through Katherine Howard were divorced, executed, or died as a result of their marriage to Henry, not that they were exhausted by childbearing or that he "went through" five before a male child was born. While he did technically leave Edward as a male heir, he was sickly and eventually died young, leaving no heirs, after which the line of succession defaulted back to his siblings. Since his sisters Mary and Elizabeth went on to make a much greater impression on English history and continued their father's legacy, one might say leaving Edward as heir was almost the same as leaving no male heir.

    Just a thought. Also, maybe chill out and try a little kindness next time :)

    ReplyDelete