Maternity Tales: Exploring the History of Maternity Spaces by Emma Cheatle

Maternity Tales is a three-year research project led by Dr Emma Cheatle at Newcastle University. It looks at the buildings and interior spaces used for childbirth in England from the seventeenth century onwards and evaluates their impact on the development of maternity practices. Until the 1750s all births took place at home – except of course where birth occurred unexpectedly! A labour and the recovery afterwards were known as ‘lying-in’. The lying-in period was typically a month, during which the new mother at first recuperated bed-bound, then remained in the house, gradually returning to her household duties. Lying-in ended with the public cleansing and thanksgiving ritual of ‘churching’ performed in the local Church of England.

Two midwives assisting a woman in labour on a birth chair, Eucharius Rößlin, Rosengarte, 1513. Courtesy Wellcome Images, London.

Two midwives assisting a woman in labour on a birth chair, Eucharius Rößlin, Rosengarte, 1513. Courtesy Wellcome Images, London.

Lying-in did not take place just anywhere in the home but involved carefully remaking the master Read more...

Conceiving Histories – a project exploring the history of pre-pregnancy.

If you begin typing ‘Am I …’ into a google search box, ‘Am I pregnant?’ is the first offered suggestion, just ahead of ‘Am I registered to vote?’ – a vestige from the Brexit referendum, ‘Am I depressed?’ and ‘Am I insured?’. The internet is externalising and collectivising something that for our mothers’ generation had been private, internal: the ambiguity of early pregnancy. Whether hoping for or fearing pregnancy, the wait to find out can be hard: a time of fantasy and projection, of bitter anxiety or ardent longing. These days the time before a pregnancy test will give a sure result is referred to as the ‘two week wait’. In practice, because false negatives are likely in the early stages of pregnancy, it often takes a little longer than that for a not-pregnant woman to accept a negative result: more like two and a half to three weeks. What Read more...