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By Clare Hanson

Hanson explores the various ways that being pregnant has been built and interpreted in Britain during the last 250 years. Drawing on quite a lot of assets, together with obstetric texts, being pregnant recommendation books, literary texts, well known fiction and visible photographs, she analyzes altering attitudes to key concerns resembling the relative rights of mom and fetus and the measure to which scientific intervention is appropriate in being pregnant. Hanson additionally considers the results of scientific and social alterations at the subjective adventure of pregnancy.

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Additional resources for A Cultural History of Pregnancy: Pregnancy, Medicine and Culture, 1750-2000

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The fact that the child moves is particularly significant in the context of contemporary debates about abortion, which was not actually criminalised until 1803. Prior to this, abortion was not a statutory offence, but was considered a ‘misdemeanour’ in common law and then only if it was procured after the stage of quickening. 40 None the less, ecclesiastical tradition held that the foetus became ‘ensouled’ at the time of quickening, and from this perspective (one which, as a profoundly religious woman, Wollstonecraft might well have wished to endorse), Jemima has committed murder:41 I hurried back to my hole, and, rage giving place to despair, sought for the potion that was to procure abortion, and swallowed it, with a wish that it might destroy me, at the same time that it stopped the sensations of new-born life, which I felt with indescribable emotion.

On the other hand, he deploys scenarios which are in effect case histories. He imagines an unmarried girl with ‘an unconquerable sense of shame’, drawn into concealment and disavowal of her pregnancy. ’43 Hunter argues that women in this situation waver between different schemes for concealing the birth, but often go into labour sooner than expected, when their distress deprives them of ‘all judgement’. Then, they are delivered by themselves, wherever they happened to retire in their fright and confusion; sometimes dying in the agonies of childbirth, and sometimes being quite exhausted, they faint away, and become insensible of what is passing; and when they recover a little strength, find that the child, whether still-born or not, is completely lifeless.

An examination of a range of texts from this period reveals two specific and related discourses which attempt to discriminate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ pregnancies. The first is that of differential breeding, which is grounded in the fear that certain sections of the population are breeding more successfully than others and that this may destabilise the social order. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, there was a widespread belief that the rural poor were breeding more successfully than any other class, while the aristocracy were failing to reproduce in adequate numbers.

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