Archive for the ‘Childbirth’ Category

“in my arms a lifeless form I clasp’d”

As the daughter of a fairly well-to-do merchant family living in Gloucester, Massachusetts, JUDITH SARGENT STEVENS MURRAY received the typical education for a girl at the time while her brother had a tutor to prepare him for entrance to Harvard. To make up for her perceived educational deficiency she read widely on her own from books in her father’s library. At age eighteen she married John Stevens; it was considered a good match.
When her father became interested in the new theology of Universalism Judith met the English preacher John Murray who visited Gloucester in 1774. She struck up a correspondence with him that continued through the Revolutionary War. Eventually she and her family broke with the Congregational church and established a new religious society called the Independent Church of Christ choosing Murray as their pastor.
Finding himself so burdened by debt because of the war and trade embargoes John Stevens, Judith’s husband, was forced to leave the country for the West Indies in 1786. He died soon thereafter and John Murray asked Judith to marry him. At age thirty-nine she became pregnant; sadly, the child was stillborn and Judith herself nearly died. Here is the poem she composed expressing her sorrow. In 1791, at the age of forty-one, she became pregnant again and was delivered of a healthy girl, Julia Maria.

LINES, Occasioned by the Death of an Infant.

Soft—tread with care, my darling baby sleeps,
And innocence its spotless vigils keeps.
Around my cradled boy the loves attend,
And, clad in smiles, the dimpling graces bend:
While his fair Angel’s talk, so late assign’d,
Assumes the charge of the immortal mind.

Hail guardian spirit! Watch with tender care,
And for each opening scene my child prepare;
Shield him from vice—to virtue stimulate,
Around his every step assiduous wait:
Not one weak moment thou thy post resign,
Implant the gen’rous wish—the glow divine;
Warn if thou canst—or, ‘gainst the bursting storm,
His little frame with growing firmness arm;
Teach him to suffer—teach him to enjoy,
And all thy heavenly influence employ.
Attendant spirits, hear my ardent prayer,
In paths of rectitude my infant rear;
Trust me, his mother shall her efforts join,
To shield, and guide, her utmost powers combine.

‘Twas thus I plann’d my future hours to spend,
With my soft hopes maternal joys to blend;
But agonized nature trembling sighs!
And my young sufferer in the struggle dies:
As the green bud though hid from outward view,
On its own stem invigorated grew,
Yet ere its opening leaves could look abroad,
The howling blast its latent life destroy’d:
So shrieking terrour all destructive rose,
Each moment fruitful of increasing woes,
And ere my tongue could mark his natal day,
(With eager haste great nature’s dues to pay)
Its native skies the gentle spirit sought,
And clos’d a life with early evil fraught.
For me, the clay cold tenement I press’d,
And sorrow’s keenest shafts tranfix’d my breast;
Dear pledge of love—all tremulous I cry’d—
Fair hope, full many a week thou hast supply’d;
To give thee life, I would endure again—
And every pang without regret sustain!
But icy death thy pretty features moulds,
And to no mortal gaze thy worth unfolds.
Thy funeral knell with melancholy sound,
Borne on the heavy gale—diffusing round
A dirgeful gloom—proclaims I must obey,
And bears thy beauteous image far away;
To the absorbing grave I must resign,
All of my first born child that e’er was mine!
And though no solemn train of mourners bend,
Or on thy hearse with tearful woe attend,
Too insignificant thy being view’d,
To be but by thy father’s steps pursu’d;
Yet thy pale corse the hand of beauty grac’d,
When on thy urn the new pluck’d flow’rs she plac’d,
The purple blow when her soft hand enwreath’d,
And o’er my dead the sigh of pity breath’d.

And still to shade and deck thy early tomb,
Fancy’s rich foliage shall forever bloom,
Embowering trees in stately order rise,
While fragrant sweets the damask rose supplies;
The drooping lily too shall lowly bend,
And none but genial showers shall e’er descend,
Say white rob’d Cherub—whither dost thou stray,
Mid what celestial walk pursue thy way;
To some sequester’d bower hast thou repair’d,
Where thy young hopes may be to knowledge rear’d;
Where the untutor’d, the infantile mind,
With sacred joy the path of truth may find;
Where guardian Angels wait the glad employ,
The latent seeds of evil to destroy;
Where wisdom blending, innocence entwines.
With infant sweetness; where improvement shines;
Where all thy little powers thou mayst expand;
Where unassuming, thou mayst understand[.]
Those laws, by which the Great First Cause directs,
And from eventual ruin man protects.
Go on my Son—thy radiant path pursue,
In paradise I trust thy face to view,
To mark thy progress my Celestial makes,
That virtue, which my soul to transport wakes;
And, my sweet boy, prepare the flowery wreath,
For yet a little, and thy air I breathe;
Misfortunes frequent, will reduce this clay,
Will bear the animating spark away:
And sure thy gentle spirit will descend,
With some blest choir my parting soul attend,
My dying requiem studious to compose,
To lead me where each sacred pleasure flows.
While here—alas—thou mock’d my ardent grasp,
For in my arms a lifeless form I clasp’d:
But there, I shall enjoy the dear embrace,
Amid the infant host my cherub trace.

Nor smile ye censurers that I thus lament,
A being scarce into existence sent;
What said the rock of ages—while he wore
This mortal coil—and all our sorrows bore:
“Regard those innocents—their worth reverse,
“Their Angels in the court of God appear;
“Immortal denizens of Heav’n they are,
“And in that kingdom radiant honours share.”
August decisions—and my heart believes,
With humble joy this truth receives;
Nor fears to err, when in the Just One’s path,
Howe’er mysterious may be its faith,
For God himself descends, with light divine,
And an eternal day shall yet be mine.


The poem can be found HERE. For more information about Judith Murray’s life check this SITE.

posted June 14th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Childbirth,Education,Murray, John,Murray, Judith Sargent Stevens,Religion

“the loss I have sustained in my little circle”

It is truly amazing how women during the 18th century managed to deal with their frequent pregnancies as well as the frequent deaths of their children. Multiple pregnancies were to be expected in marriage. And the deaths of infants and children, so commonplace, were supposed to be accepted as the will of God, or so religion dictated. More easily said than done. (Studies have found that between 10 and 30 percent of newborns died in the first year of life. Now only seven out of 1,000 die before age one.)
Joseph and Esther De Berdt Reed lost a child, a little girl nearly two, to smallpox in May 1778. Esther gave birth to another son the day before the girl’s death. Earlier that year she had written to her friend Mrs. Cox (whose husband had been appointed Deputy Quarter-master general to General Nathaniel Greene) about the low-spirited state she was in because of her pregnancy and the dread of delivering another child in strange surroundings. “The fears of my approaching hour, sometimes so depress me, that my whole fortitude avails me nothing. You will not wonder so much at this, when I tell you that I must be entirely in the hands of strangers, nor know I what assistance to procure.”
In June, after the death of her daughter and the birth of her son, she again wrote to Mrs. Cox of what she considered neglect on her part over the death of her little girl. This excerpt is painful to read.

I was intending to sit down and write to you the very time I received your kind, acceptable letter, truly welcome in the sympathizing words of my dear friend, much do I stand in need of them; the loss I have sustained in my little circle I find sits very heavy upon me, and I find, by experience, how hard a task it is to be resigned. Therefore I must make yet larger demands on you, and beg you will continue to apply every argument which will tend to make me more perfectly acquiesce in the Divine pleasure, concerning me and mine. Surely my affliction had its aggravation, and I cannot help reflecting on my neglect of my dear lost child. Too thoughtful and attentive to my own situation, I did not take the necessary precaution to prevent that fatal disorder when it was in my power [a reference, I assume, to the smallpox inoculation]. Surely, my dear friend, I ought to take blame to myself. I would not do it to aggravate my sorrow, but to learn a lesson of humility, and more caution and prudence in future. Would to God I could learn every lesson intended by the stroke. I think sometimes of my loss with composure, acknowledging the wisdom, right, even the kindness of the dispensation. Again I find it overcome me, and strike to the very bottom of my heart, and tell me the work is not yet finished, I’ve much yet to do; assist me, therefore, my dear friend, with your counsels, and teach me to say, that God does all things well. . . . for God has given, as well as taken away, and the loss of one should not make me unmindful of the blessings I have left, and those newly given.
I am pretty well recovered, but my strength is not so much recruited as usual in the same time. My dear little boy grows very fast; his name is Dennis De Berdt; he has as few complaints as any child of his age I ever saw; my fresh duty to him greatly tends to relieve my thoughts, and divert my too melancholy reflections.

William B. Reed, Esther De Berdt, afterwards Esther Reed, of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: C. Sherman Printer, 1853), pages 284, 290-92.

posted October 26th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Childbirth,Children,Death,Reed, Esther De Berdt,Smallpox

“What shall we do with such a tribe of Girls?”

Continuing the correspondence between the Maryland cousins: Molly Tilghman sent a newsy letter to Polly Pearce at the end of January 1789.

Tho’ I got your Letter, my dear Polly, at eleven o’Clock this morning, and have been earnestly wishing to answer it ever since, yet this midnight hour is the first I have had to myself; from which you may judge whether my silence has proceeded from idleness, or constant employment. . . . I should not mind being fully employ’d all day if I cou’d sit up late at night, but from that I am cut off by Sister Nancy’s unconquerable aversion to any body’s coming into her room after she is asleep. This very Letter will cost me a Lecture, but I will incur it for the sake of justifying myself, and I hope this vindication, will make future ones unnecessary.
Sister N. has been a good deal at farly [Fairlee], and so often complaining when at home, that she has not divided the care of the family with me. T’is true Harriet has been very well, but you must know that the most favorable lying in brings a good deal of trouble with it, particularly at this season. For the first three Weeks I was not once out of the House. Indeed I was of such amazing consequence in the nursery, that nothing cou’d be done without me. You need not laugh Miss Polly, and accuse me of vanity. I can bring honorable testimony of my goods works, aye and of the necessity for them too. All this you will say is very true, but very dull also. I grant it, but you drag’d me into the detail by your uncharitable constructions of my silence.
Our little Caroline is a sweet Child*, tho’ the veryest fairy you ever saw. I have really seen a Doll as large, but she grows finely, and is extremely healthy. She is the picture of her Mother, from which you may judge of her pretensions to beauty. Her name is a whim of her fathers, who is hardly yet reconcil’d to his second Daughter. He was in as terrible a friz on the occasion, as if a title and vast estate had depended on the birth of a son. Poor Harriet has been so unlucky within the last fortnight, as to have a sore Breast, which made us very uneasy. It gather’d and broke in three days, and was as light as a thing of the kind cou’d be but in my life I never saw a Creature so terrified as she was. The idea of Lancets, Probes, and crooked scissors haunted her continually but happily none of them were necessary, and her Breast is now almost entirely well.

I am writing on without saying a word of Henny [Henrietta], though I am able to give such satisfactory accounts of her. The 15th of this Month she produc’d a Daughter**, (yes, another Daughter) with as little trouble as might be. What shall we do with such a tribe of Girls? She is call’d after my Ladyship. Not Molly, nor Polly, but Mary, and I have the additional honor of being her God Mother.

* the second child of Philemon Tilghman and his wife Harriet Milbanke
** Mary Tilghman,” the third child of Lloyd and Henrietta Maria Tilghman

Note the emphasis on having a male child. After this recounting of new births, Molly goes on (in the next post) to describe the hat of one of the women at the ball she attended the previous night.

The letter can be found in the Maryland Historical Magazine Vol. 21, No. 3, 231-233.

posted September 3rd, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Childbirth,Illness,Maryland,Pearce, Polly,Tilghman, Molly

“the Jaune pettet”

In 1794, Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker (see posts on Drinker here and here) and her husband Henry had to deal with a problem concerning a young black servant whose mother had arranged an indenture with the Drinkers.

[August 8, 1794] . . . I have been for a week past under great anxiety of mind on account of our poor little and I fear miserable S[ally] B[rant]—’tis possible I may be mistaken, ‘tho I great fear the reverse.
11. . . . it was late when I retir’d to my chamber, and later when I went to sleep—the thought of the unhappy Child that lay on the mattress at the foot of my bed, who does not appear to feel half so much for herself, as I do for her, keep’t me wakeing. . . . H[enry]. and E[lizabeth] D[rinker]. had a trying conversation, if a conversation it cold be call’d. with SB—poor poor Girl, who could have thought it? . . .

[October 31, 1794] . . . Sally Johnson and her daughter Franks came here before dinner, on a visit to her daughter SB. they stay’d an hour or two, eat dinner . . . she left herbs to make tea for SB. said it was good to procure an easy [labor]. . . .

[Nov.] 7 . . . I settled matters with Mary [Courtney at ‘Clearfield’, the Drinker farm 5 or 6 miles outside Philadelphia], concerning our poor Sall, who I intend leaving with her, ’till her grevious business is settld, I look on Mary as a well minded and well disposed woman, and who, with our help, will take the proper care of her. . . .

Decr. 2 . . . S.B. was this morning about 6 o’clock deliver’d of a daughter, the mother and Child both well. . . .

6 . . . Sister [Mary Sandwith] and William went this fore noon . . . found S.B. and her bantling well, Sally weep’d when she saw MS—and cover’d her head with the bed-cloaths—The Child is very Yallow for one so young. . . .

23 Decr. . . . S.B. is very well, and in rather too good spirits, everything considered, she had nam’d the Jaune pettet, [the little yellow one] Hannah G—bs [Gibbs], I disaprovd it, and chang’d it to Catharine Clearfield, with which she appear’d displeas’d. . . .

To be continued.

Diary entries are In the Words of Women, pages 211-212. The photograph is of a silhouette of Drinker at the Pennsylvania Historical Society.

posted August 25th, 2014 by Janet, Comments Off on “the Jaune pettet”, CATEGORIES: Brant, Sally,Childbirth,Drinker, Elizabeth Sandwith,Indentured Servants,Quakers

“this indelicate and disagreeable branch of medicine”

Dr. William Buchan, writing in his book Domestic Medicine (see previous posts here and here), has all sorts of practical advice for women who are pregnant. This is the remark I liked best.

Every women with child ought to be kept cheerful and easy in her mind. Her appetites, even though depraved, ought to be indulged as far as prudence will permit.

Buchan doesn’t think much of midwives. In a footnote this is what he has to say.

Though the management of women in child-bed has been practiced as an employment since the earliest accounts of time; yet it is still in most countries on a very bad footing. Few women think of following this employment till they are reduced to the necessity of doing it for bread. Hence not one in a hundred of them have any education, or proper knowledge of their business. It is true, that Nature, if left to herself, will generally expel the foetus; but it is equally true, that most women in child-bed require to be managed with skill and attention, and that they are often hurt by the superstitious prejudices of ignorant and officious midwives. The mischief done in this way is much greater than is generally imagined most of which might be prevented by allowing no women to practice midwifery but such as are properly qualified. Were due attention paid to this, it would not only be the means of saving many lives, but would prevent the necessity of employing men in this indelicate and disagreeable branch of medicine, which is, on many accounts, more proper for the other sex.

And in another footnote he deplores the practice of women—friends, relatives, neighbors—gathering to assist in and psychologically support a woman about to give birth.

We cannot help taking notice of that ridiculous custom which still prevails . . . of collecting a number of women together upon such occasions. These, instead of being useful, serve only to crowd the house, and obstruct the necessary attendants. Besides, they hurt the patient with their noise; and often, by their untimely and impertinent advice, do much mischief.

Buchan’s most vehement criticism is reserved for women who seek abortions and those who provide them.

Every mother who procures an abortion does it at the hazard of her life; yet there are not a few who run this risk merely to prevent the trouble of bearing and bringing up children. It is surely a most unnatural crime, and cannot, even in the most abandoned, be viewed without horror; but in the decent matron, it is still more unpardonable.—Those wretches who daily advertise their assistance to women in this business, deserve, in my opinion, the most severe of all human punishments.

Domestic Medicine can be read ONLINE. The excerpts in this post are taken from pages 531-32 and 534-35.

posted May 19th, 2014 by Janet, Comments Off on “this indelicate and disagreeable branch of medicine”, CATEGORIES: Childbirth,Children,Health,Medicine

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