“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, CATEGORIES: Childbirth, Children, Health, Medicine


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