HISTORY, ROMANCE AND...CATS!
Grace Elliot leads a double life as a vet by day and author of intelligent historical fiction by night. Grace is an avid reader and believes that smart people need to read romance - as an antidote to the modern world!
Grace is also obsessed by all things feline.
delighted to welcome Kim Rendfeld to "Fall in Love with History". Kim
writes historical fiction and is celebrating a new release "The Ashes of
Heaven's Pillar", which I have added to my TBR pile! Today, Kim posts on
"The Medieval Midwife’s Unique Place in Society", so without further
ado I'll hand over to Kim
The Medieval Midwife’s Unique Place in Society
medieval midwife faced a lot of pressure. Not only was she to do her best to
help mother and baby survive the birth. As the only layperson with the
authority to baptize, she was responsible for the newborn’s soul.
Middle Ages, childbirth must have been greeted with a mix of emotions. A family
might look forward to the arrival of an heir, but the process was so risky that
women were urged to confess their sins before they went into labor.
the delivery was in a low-ceilinged lying-in chamber of a noble house or a
one-room peasant’s hut, the last person an expectant mother wanted was her
husband or a doctor. Medieval folk considered childbirth part of life, not
medicine. Better for the men to be praying at church and let the midwife take
charge of the situation.
A midwife learned
her craft from her own mother. Her tools might include a birthing stool, a
sharp knife, ointments, herbs, the right foot of a crane, a piece of jasper,
spells in case the labor was particularly difficult, a basin to bathe the baby,
honey, and salt. The Church did not condemn the midwife for touching another
woman in an intimate area, since her duties required it.
the clergy frowned on spells and charms, but as they did with most other white
magic, they ignored it for the most part. Medieval folk in general saw magic as
a tool, one that could be used for good or evil. After all, the laity often wore amulets
alongside their crosses. Clerics were much more concerned if the midwife said
the wrong words while baptizing a child in danger of dying before a priest
could perform the rite.
birthing chamber, the midwife had her own assistants, and a few of the mother’s
friends and relatives attended to offer encouragement. Doors and cupboard
drawers were open; knots were untied. Even the mother’s hair might be loosened
and free of pins.
midwife would do what she could to hasten labor, such as rubbing an ointment on
the mother’s belly or giving her a potion with ergot. When the time came, the
mother would sit on the birthing stool to deliver the child. Midwives knew to
wash and oil their hands before they brought the child into the world. The only
time a midwife would perform a Caesarean, without anesthesia, was when the
mother was dying or already dead.
midwife was the one to cut the umbilical cord four finger lengths, wash the
baby, and use honey on the child’s gums and palette to stimulate appetite. After
the infant was wrapped in swaddling, the midwife would present the child to the
houses, the mother would remain confined to the lying-in chamber for a month,
and only the midwife, servants, and the mother’s close friends were allowed to visit
during her recovery.
to research medieval childbirth for two scenes in my latest release, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar. One goes
reasonably well; the other goes very, very wrong. In this scene, Sunwynn, the
daughter of my heroine, Leova, is the maid to the expectant mother. Both
Sunwynn’s and Leova’s well-being depend on the well-being of Countess Gerhilda.
Click for a link
Gerhilda screamed and doubled over, the midwife rushed to her. The old woman
lifted Gerhilda’s skirts and felt her belly. “The child is coming,” she called.
“Get her to the birthing stool.”
midwife washed and oiled her hands and sat on a stool in front of Gerhilda,
whose skirts were hiked to her waist.
my lady. Behind you,” Sunwynn whispered.
Sunwynn’s elbow, one of the midwife’s assistants held a cup smelling of strong
the midwife asked her assistant. “Good. My lady, drink the potion. It will
hasten the birth and might stop the bleeding.”
Gerhilda downed the wine, Sunwynn prayed, Mother
of God, let this work.
midwife reached for Gerhilda. The grim lines in her face deepened.
was silent except for Gerhilda’s grunts. Sunwynn’s limbs grew rigid. She felt
her mother’s hand on her shoulder.
the child,” the midwife said. When she leaned back, blood covered her arms and
chest. She cradled a listless newborn and the afterbirth.
son,” the midwife said in a monotone.
The babe is not crying! Sunwynn stared at the infant. He was
quiet when the midwife wiped his nose and mouth. A slap to the bottom was met
with barely a whimper. Sunwynn winced. A few other women groaned.
hold the jasper amulet to the countess’s belly until it’s warm,” the midwife
told an assistant.
midwife cut the cord and placed the child in the basin she used to wash her
hands. Three times, she used her cupped hand to pour water on the child’s head
and muttered a Latin prayer. Sunwynn shuddered. There was only one reason a
midwife would baptize a newborn.
beheld her lady’s face. It was paler than anything she had ever seen.
me; pray for my son,” Gerhilda mumbled. Her eyes rolled, and she swooned,
Sunwynn shrieked, shaking her lady’s shoulders. “Gerhilda! No! Come back! Come
back and live!” Sunwynn, her tears unchecked, looked at the midwife.
Daily Life in Medieval Times by Frances and Joseph Gies
Europe after Rome: A New Cultural
History 500-1000 by
Julia M.H. Smith
the Wandering Womb” by Kate Phillips, The
Haverford Journal, April 2007
Author: Kim Rendfeld
Rendfeld is the author of The Cross and
the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press) and The
Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press). To read the
first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit kimrendfeld.com. You’re also welcome to visit
her blog Outtakes of a Historical
Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com,
like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld,
or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at]
kimrendfeld [dot] com.