Victorian Maternity Essay

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Victorian Maternity

Working Class Maternity
According to author Helena Wojtczak, “the average working class wife was either pregnant or breast-feeding from wedding day to menopause,” bearing approximately eight pregnancies, and ultimately raising approximately five children. This overflow of offspring was most likely linked to the fact that birth control literature was illegal at the time (Wojtczak). Wohl’s research of the difficulties in Victorian childbirth shows that a combination of a nutrient deficient diet, and a substantial deficiency of both height and weight prevalent in urban working class Victorian women very likely contributed to an exceedingly high number of premature births, and consequently, a high infant mortality rate.
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Though fairly rare in the middle class, unwed mothers-to-be were pressed into marrying the father, or sent away to give birth in secrecy, and give the child up for adoption (Wojtczak).

Upper Class Maternity
Being that birth control literature was illegal, it can be assumed that the upper class woman was not exempt from constant and continuous pregnancy. However, Wojtczak notes that upper class families had fewer children than their lower counterparts, which leads us to believe that the more educated had knowledge of how to avoid pregnancy. Also, pregnancy outside of marriage rarely occurred among this class because of close monitoring of its young ladies by chaperons (Wojtczak).

In advice columns of Victorian publications, it was advised to pregnant mothers “to eat regularly, but in moderate quantity…[avoiding] the vulgar notion of what is called ‘longing’ for unusual food…[that] is inconsistent and ridiculous” (“The Reading and Management” 10). Basically, Victorian society found “food cravings” that commonly plague pregnant women to be vulgar, a symptom readily accepted in modern times.

Representation of Pregnancy in Victorian Literature
The modern reader is often shocked at the discovery of the birth of a child in Victorian literature with the narrator never before mentioning the mother’s pregnancy. However, the Victorian reader would be, in turn, shocked if there was the slightest

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