Selling Stillbirth, 1569 to Now

In one of my monthly visits to the Folger Shakespeare Library this year, I called up Pierre Boaistuau’s Certaine secrete wonders of nature: containing a descriptio[n] of sundry strange things, seming monstrous in our eyes and iudgement, bicause we are not priuie to the reasons of them (1569). I was looking for a particular image,…

FTM: Arriving, No Arrivals

FTM is an internet acronym that people use to identify themselves as someone who has transitioned, or is transitioning, from female to male, as well as someone who has transitioned, or is transitioning, into a first-time mom. FTM is an identity but it is also a hashtag: a sorting tool that creates a digital community, a grouping mechanism. When the #FemaleToMale and #FirstTimeMom tags collide, an accidental abbreviation of experience is turned into a digital community, and the hashtag becomes an intersection. The personal narratives we articulate below are meant to explore this intersection.

An Elegy to Breastfeeding, from Titus Andronicus to Now

Alicia Andrzejewski // I nurse my daughter for the last time. She is fifteen months old. I hear her sharp cry at 6:10, and, as my partner checks his phone, I rush to grab a glass of water and walk through our five-foot hallway to her. She stands in her crib, expectant, and offers her…

The Then and There of Transmasculine Pregnancy

The first epigraph above is taken from the climactic scene in Thomas Middleton’s play, More Dissemblers Besides Women (1614), in which a Page swoons and calls out for a midwife after rigorous dancing lessons. Cinquepace, the speaker, assumes a miracle, an upside-down world, a strange case, and that a woman must have impregnated the Page—all of which allow for the possibility a young man could be pregnant (5.2.224-29). The audience has more insight into this moment, however. In the first scene of the play, Lactantio recognizes the Page as a former lover in disguise, and the Page informs Lactantio they are “with child” (1.2.142). (Because the Page is given no names other than Page or Antonio in the play, I refer to them throughout this piece with they/them pronouns). Over the course of More Dissemblers Besides Women, the Page waits in vain for Lactantio to marry them, while the other characters perceive the Page as “sweet a breasted page as ever lay at his master’s feet in a truckle-bed” (1.4.100-3). Even after the Page goes into labor, Cinquepace is none the wiser and exits the stage “supporting the Page” (1069).

Postpartum Exhaustion in William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Now

In William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (ca. 1609-11), Hermione is dragged to court by her husband, King Leontes, a few days postpartum to defend herself against accusations of infidelity. Imprisoned on these charges during the late stages of pregnancy, Hermione gives birth to her daughter, Paulina, in a jail cell. Once in court, Hermione pleads against Leontes’s “immodest hatred” with eloquence and rhetorical skill reminiscent of Shakespeare’s earlier courtroom heroines (3.2.100).

Flayed Animal Bodies: Cats and Pregnancy from 16th Century—Present

Alicia Andrzejewski // “If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat.”—Douglas Adams In The Animal That Therefore I Am (2008), Derrida writes of “seeing oneself seen naked under a gaze”—his female cat’s gaze, in particular—“behind which there remains a bottomlessness, at…

Two Babies, Two Fathers, One Pregnancy: Superfetation in Myth and Medicine

According to early modern gynecological manuals, superfetation is “a repeated conception”—a rare but real medical phenomenon when a woman who is already pregnant becomes pregnant again. The anonymous author of The English Midwife Enlarged (1682) responds to those who dispute superfetation, explaining that when a woman is “animated with an earnest desire of Copulation,” the “overheated”…

Monstrous and Mindful Births: Policing the Pregnant Imagination

Aristotle’s Master-Piece, or The Secrets of Generation, was first published in 1684 and quickly became the most popular medical book about “sex and babies” from its publication through the 19th century (Fissell 114). The frontispiece in many editions of this text depicts a black infant and woman covered in hair, alongside a description: “The Effgies…

The Myth of Miscarriage: An Early Modern Legacy

If a medical school student or resident looked up “miscarriage” in the index of Blueprints Obstetrics & Gynecology (2013), they would be directed to “spontaneous abortion.” Denoting a pregnancy that ends before 20 weeks, spontaneous abortion occurs in 15% to 25% of all pregnancies, and this “number may be even higher because losses that occur…

Ophelia’s Rue

In act 4, scene 5 of Hamlet, Ophelia gives away a number of flowers with medicinal properties, keeping only rue for herself: OPHELIA: There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts. LAERTES: A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted. OPHELIA: There’s fennel for you, and columbines….