Readings — From the October 2012 issue

Parts and Labor

From Observations in Midwifery, by the English physician Percival Willughby, written around 1670 and published in 1863. One of two known copies of the book, which Willughby wrote “to inform the ignorant common midwives with such wayes as I have used with good successe,” was auctioned in July for £38,000 by the Dominic Winter auction house in Cirencester.

In London, 1656, I was desired by a countryman dwelling foure miles from the city to visit his wife. Hee said, That shee had been in labour severall dayes. I found this woman very faint, and her young midwife troublesome, telling her, That shee could have found in her heart to have tied her feet in her chaire, and so, whether shee would or not, to have delivered her. I put the woman into her bed, and afterward, perceiving by my fingers that no waters had issued, I gave her cordiall powders and juleps, her disquiets were taken away, and about a quarter of a year afterward shee was happily delivered of a living child.

Not far from Nottingham there dwelt a good woman that oft had great pashes of bloud, accompanied with pain, comming from the womb. Some midwives affirmed that shee was with child. One of these midwives assured her, That shee could ease and deliver her of the child. The midwife thrust up her hand into her body, and took hold of shee knew not what, and endeavoured violently to pull it away. But through her struglings and enforcements, great pains ensued, with a flux of bloud, and the woman being not able to endure such violence, the midwife was restrained from farther proceedings. After this usage I was sent for; instead of a child, I found a swel’d, cancerous tumour in the womb; within a few moneths afterward, shee was eased by death.

Goodwife Ann Frith, a woman in Derby, 1646, having a hard and long labour, was much haled and pulled by her midwife, that hoped, through much tugging, quickly to deliver her. So that the lips of the vulva were greatly swelled, and turned outward, and became discoloured, with sundry colours. The midwife, supposing these swellings to be part of the afterbirth, thrust her fingers into them; forthwith the blood spirted on the midwife’s face, and ran down her gorget. Upon this I was sent for.

At the time of her travaile, the child proffer’d an arme. This unnaturall birth dismai’d the mother, and troubled the midwife. My company and assistance were wished for. But this resolution was unfortunately altered, and shee was perswaded to put herself under the hands of a wicked woman, that took upon her to free her of the child. This woman first cut off the child’s arme. Afterward, shee divided the child into severall parts, to pull it forth by pieces. Her knife, in doing this work, was broken with many great notches, as shee hackled in her body. This Gentlewoman died in few dayes after shee had suffered her barbarous tortures.

I was sent for by a Lady who thought that shee was within a fortnight of her account, but shee continued above that time seaven weekes. Her labour being long, and tedious, I intreated her to take the Earle of Chesterfield’s powder to move the birth. In her labour, the excrements of her body were forced out before the child’s head, as it descended. And, before the child was borne, great blasts of wind, of long continuance, like farts, came from the womb, between foure and five, that Sunday at night.

To move more strongly the expulsive faculty, I gave her severall doses of the midwife’s powder, acuted with a larg quantity of Borax. But they nothing helped our desires, which made mee to suppose, That the child’s head and body were too great for the passage. I was greatly desirous to save the mother, with the child. Therefore I thought it good to put back the child’s head, and to deliver her by the child’s feet. All of us thought the child had been dead. But, holding the feet toward the fire, and with laying the afterbirth on hot coales, and stroaking the navel-string toward the belly, the child revived, and was baptized the Sunday after, and was named Mary.

Anne Bonsall of Dunnington, in Leicestershire, had an ignorant, torturing midwife. I found this labouring woman kneeling, and her midwife working, and her body swel’d, and torn, and discoloured. I placed her kneeling. I put up my finger, and it passed very easily into a hollow place of the child’s body, and I knew not what to think of it. But, after a while, I perceived that it was the child’s fundament. Then I slid up my hand, and quickly delivered the woman by the child’s feet. Afterwards, I viewed the body of the female infant, and I perceived that this midwife had oft thrust her finger into the child’s fundament, and, with it bended, shee hoped that shee might have drawn the body forth. By her ignorant practice, the child was deprived of life. Oft midwives bee much mistaken, supposing the buttocks to bee the child’s head. But, if they would consider, that the buttocks feele soft, and have no haires, and that the head is hard, and round in figure, and hath haire on it, then they might, with more understanding, better know how to help their suffering women.

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