Victorian Maternity Essay

1010 words - 4 pages

Victorian Maternity

Working Class Maternity
According to author Helena Wojtczak, “the average working class wife was either pregnant or breast-feeding from wedding day to menopause,” bearing approximately eight pregnancies, and ultimately raising approximately five children. This overflow of offspring was most likely linked to the fact that birth control literature was illegal at the time (Wojtczak). Wohl’s research of the difficulties in Victorian childbirth shows that a combination of a nutrient deficient diet, and a substantial deficiency of both height and weight prevalent in urban working class Victorian women very likely contributed to an exceedingly high number of premature births, and consequently, a high infant mortality rate. Also, working class women were expected to continue working throughout their entire pregnancy. Examples of this prejudice can be found in Victorian articles such as “The Rearing and Management of Children: Mother and Baby” in Cassells Household Guide. The article states that, “He who placed one woman in a position where labour and exertion are parts of her existence, gives her a stronger state of body than her more luxurious sisters. To one inured to toil from childhood, ordinary work is merely exercise, and, as such, necessary to keep up her physical powers, though extra work should be, of course, avoided as much as possible.” In reference to pregnancy outside of marriage, Wojtczak notes that it was notably common for a working class woman to become pregnant out of wedlock, and due to the social stigma involved, and the possibility of unemployment, these women often chose to conceal their pregnancy.

Middle Class Maternity
By the mid nineteenth century, Abrams states that Victorian middle class women were giving birth to their children at home, and taking a more active role in the nursing of their infants, thereby reinforcing their prescribed roles as mothers. Though fairly rare in the middle class, unwed mothers-to-be were pressed into marrying the father, or sent away to give birth in secrecy, and give the child up for adoption (Wojtczak).

Upper Class Maternity
Being that birth control literature was illegal, it can be assumed that the upper class woman was not exempt from constant and continuous pregnancy. However, Wojtczak notes that upper class families had fewer children than their lower counterparts, which leads us to believe that the more educated had knowledge of how to avoid pregnancy. Also, pregnancy outside of marriage rarely occurred among this class because of close monitoring of its young ladies by chaperons (Wojtczak).

In advice columns of Victorian publications, it was advised to pregnant mothers “to eat regularly, but in moderate quantity…[avoiding] the vulgar notion of what is called ‘longing’ for unusual food…[that] is inconsistent and ridiculous” (“The Reading and Management” 10). Basically, Victorian society found “food cravings” that commonly plague pregnant women to be...

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