Hello dear readers, just under a year ago Austenesque Reviews was paid a visit from first-time author, Sophie Turner, who was just celebrating the release of her Pride and Prejudice sequel, A Constant Love. Today, Sophie is returning to Austenesque Reviews to share some interesting history and an enticing excerpt about her second release, A Change of Legacies, which is Volume 2 in her Constant Love series!
If you’re like I was before I did the research for A Change of Legacies, you have a certain impression of how birth went for the upper classes during the Georgian and Regency eras: As soon as she was visibly pregnant, the lady would hide herself away from society. Eventually, the family would retire to their estate, and about a month before she was due, the woman would go to her bedchamber, all of the curtains would be drawn, and she would lie there quietly in that stuffy room until she had the child. The birth itself would take place in some giant ancestral bed, attended by a midwife, and the poor woman had better hope it did not become a choice between her life and that of her husband’s heir, because they would cut the child out of her, if necessary. Even if she lived, she would still have little contact with the baby – it would be given over to a wet nurse, and sent off to the nursery.
Some of this might have been true before this era, but for the Georgian upper classes, this is not the story of most births. I was fortunate to find two excellent sources, during my research – Judith S. Lewis’s In the Family Way: Childbearing in the British Aristocracy, 1760-1860, and Thomas Denman’s An Introduction to the Practice of Midwifery. Lewis’s book, especially, turned on its head most of what I had thought about childbirth during that time.
The era Lewis covers was that of the rise of the accoucheur, specialist physicians, like Denman, who were willing and able to use instruments such as forceps to intervene in a birth, likely saving countless lives (unfortunately, they still had no notion of infection with these instruments, or they might have saved far more). They always attempted to save the life of both mother and child, but if a choice must be made, the priority was always placed on the mother’s life, not the baby’s.
Like many expensive commodities, accoucheurs were most commonly found in London, although some would attend the very rich at their estates. Most births, then, actually took place in town, and these ladies were not the sort to shut themselves away when there was society to be had! Even into their ninth months of pregnancy, women were attending social events, and there was no taboo against a woman appearing visibly pregnant while in public.
That big old bed was not the birthing place favored by the accoucheurs, either, nor was the birthing chair that had also been used in the past as a method to preserve the woman’s modesty, where the midwife would, maintaining eye contact with the mother the whole time, catch the baby as it came out! Accoucheurs wanted their patients giving birth on a lightweight folding bed, lying on their sides in what is known today as the Sims position. The accoucheur would be behind the woman, still preserving some modesty, but if any intervention was required, modesty started to go by the wayside, because accoucheurs would, ahem, go up in there if they needed to. Giving birth while lying on one’s side sounded very odd to me, but apparently this position was still used in British hospitals into the 1970s.
And what about lying confined in that stuffy room for a month or so, awaiting birth? At least in this era, “confinement” was actually after the birth, and it was the woman’s chance to recover after her epidural-less birth. While not every woman opted to nurse her child, many women in the upper classes did (particularly those who used it as a means of birth control) and the baby would be kept close to its mother during this time, so she could breastfeed it. Depending on how quickly the woman recovered, confinement could last a month or longer, and during this time, it was expected that she would not leave the house. When she finally did, it was for a special thanksgiving service at her church, and once she was “churched,” she could return to participating in society.
When I wrote A Constant Love, I purposely delayed any births so that they would not be a part of that book, because I wasn’t sure how I wanted to handle them. Once I had done my research, and had many of my own assumptions about childbirth during this time invalidated, this became my opportunity to show readers childbirth in a more historically accurate way.
Childbirth, then, is a major theme within A Change of Legacies, and there is one assumption I had that was not invalidated: it was very dangerous. About one in five women during that time would die as a result of childbirth, and as Elizabeth draws closer to her birth, Darcy knows he is approaching an event that could result in tremendous happiness – or the death of his beloved wife. In typical Darcy fashion, he does not always handle communicating about his worries quite as well as he could, as you can see in this excerpt, where our dear couple are discussing Darcy’s plans to go to Longbourn for a few days. I should note that unlike many of the ton, Elizabeth Darcy will have her birth at Pemberley; those who have read A Constant Love may remember that she did not do well in all that noxious London air, and sometimes equally noxious London society:
“I know, my love, I hate to leave you, particularly when you are so far along,” he said. “Yet perhaps it is for the best to be required to do so now. I believe I will go to town, first, and stay a day or so. I can ensure all of our accounts are in a settled place, for I expect we shall not be back to town for a half-year, at least, once the baby is born. As well, it will be easier to find good candidates for a wet nurse there.”
“We have no need of a wet nurse,” Elizabeth said. “Certainly someone to help care for the child, particularly if it should prove so difficult as little Bess, but I wish to nurse the baby myself. My mother – and perhaps you – shall object to it, but it is what I wish.”
“I have no objections to it, and I do not know why she should,” Darcy said. “My mother nursed Georgiana and me, as did my aunt Ellen and my cousin Alice, for their children.”
“It was not common in our neighbourhood,” Elizabeth said, a little embarrassed, but secretly pleased with this fodder for convincing her mother, for if it had been done by her noble relations, this would be the final word in any argument with Mrs. Bennet. She only wished she had known of this before Jane’s birth, for perhaps young Bess would have been made more content by her own mother’s milk.
“I believe my mother’s generation was greatly influenced by Rousseau.”
“He has been my influence, as well,” said Elizabeth, who had been reading everything that could be found in the library on childrearing, as well as several newer volumes she had ordered from London.
“I will still seek out candidates for a nurse while I am in London.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “There is no need, Darcy. We may find someone closer who is able to help mind the child.”
“Of course, if you would prefer to interview the candidates, perhaps we should post advertisements in Matlock, and even Derby, after I am back.”
“Yes, I believe I would prefer that. It is not that I do not trust your judgment, but this woman will look after our child – I would rather we interview her together.”
“I understand completely, Elizabeth. But I do wish to point out that she must be a wet nurse. I respect your choice, and moreover, I am glad of it, but I must insist on this. She need not nurse frequently; just enough to maintain her livelihood.”
“I do not understand – if you respected my choice, you would believe she should not need to nurse at all. The greatest importance is that she be skilled in caring for the child, not that she be able to serve as a source of food.”
“I agree that the care she provides is of the greatest importance, but she should also be able to nurse the child.”
“I do not know that we shall be able to find someone so capable of both in Matlock, or Derby.”
“That is why I wished to find someone in town,” he said.
“If you were not so insistent on her being a wet nurse, I do not believe it would be so difficult.”
“I cannot yield on this, Elizabeth. I wish that I could, but I cannot.”
Darcy exhaled sharply; Elizabeth could sense he was growing frustrated, and yet she felt her own ire raised, which was exacerbated by the moods she found came with her present state.
“I do not understand why you cannot. I shall nurse the child, and we will find someone to look after her, or him, and manage the nursery. The right candidate might see all of our children raised to the appropriate age.”
“That would be a fine plan, but I must insist on this.”
“You cannot insist on this without giving me a reason!”
“I would prefer not to.”
“What sort of answer is that? You would prefer not to. This child is growing in my own belly right now. Do not my own preferences matter?”
“They do, Elizabeth. They are of the utmost importance.”
“If they are of the utmost importance, you might respect them more! You might give me some reason, rather than pretending to listen, and then continuing on your own path.”
“Is that what you think I am doing?”
“Did you think you were doing something else? For I cannot think of any other reason why you should insist we must hire a wet nurse!” Elizabeth stopped walking, upon exclaiming this, and turned to face him, defiantly.
“I insist, because if you die, the baby must have some means of nursing!” Darcy spoke in the agitation they both felt, he said it with an angry countenance that all but crumpled as soon as the words were out, and then he looked wholly overcome.
Oh my heart! Darcy! *sigh* Thanks for sharing such interesting research and an enticing sample, Sophie! I can’t wait to read A Change of Legacies!!!
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Today Sophie brings with her an opportunity to win 1 of the books of her Constant Love series – winners choice! (Paperback, kindle, or nook for USA, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain residents. Kindle or Nook for all other countries.)
To enter this giveaway, leave a question, a comment, or some love for Sophie below!
- This giveaway is open worldwide (with some shipping restrictions). Thank you, Sophie!
- This giveaway ends May 25th!