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….

Back to Obstetrics: Beyond Normal and Problem Pregnancies

In the image that accompanies the title page of Aristotle’s Compleat and Experience’d Midwife (1700), the birthing chamber is depicted as a room full of lively, fleshed-out bodies, warm and inviting from the fireplace to the small animal sleeping in front of it. The baby is not pictured at all; the experienced midwives gather around…