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The hidden truths of the belly : the uncertainties of pregnancy in early modern Europe.

McClive, C. (2002) 'The hidden truths of the belly : the uncertainties of pregnancy in early modern Europe.', Social history of medicine., 15 (2). pp. 209-227.


For early modern men and women and their medical practitioners, the experience and understanding of pregnancy was primarily uncertain. This uncertainty extended to the whole process of pregnancy—from the moment of conception to delivery, the detection and bearing of a ‘true fruit’ was doubtful. This ‘uncertainty’ was heightened by the fact that both body and language could conceal the truth. The woman herself was frequently uncertain and could be mistaken in her interpretation of the condition of her belly. This ambiguity is expressed in the vague and faltering language used to describe such experiences. Women's bodies were believed to conceal the truth more readily than their male counterparts. Equally a woman's physical narrative was more likely to be distrusted. Tensions surrounding the appropriate nature of women's ‘knowledge’ of such hidden ‘secrets’ also affected the ways in which women and their practitioners described the ‘truths’ of the belly. This article traces the ambiguities faced by women and their midwives/accoucheurs through three areas of pregnancy: quickening, false conceptions, and the threat of miscarriage. The much-neglected source of medical texts and observations is drawn upon, alongside letters and diaries and judicial material.

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:Society for the Social History of Medicine Student Prize Essay 1999, Runner-up.
Keywords:Corporeal uncertainty, Medical 'expert', Quickening, Moles, Miscarriage, Matron, Female body, Women's knowledge.
Full text:Full text not available from this repository.
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Record Created:05 Nov 2008
Last Modified:20 Aug 2009 12:47

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