What? Did you hear that? It’s another sickeningly adorable millennial pregnancy announcement!
Indeed, my husband and I are expecting a baby. I think it is important to note that all the preventative instruction I got about pregnancy as a youth was incredibly accurate. If both parties be virile, it is frighteningly easy to get pregnant. I thought it would take longer but here I am with a honeymoon bun in the oven.
My husband, in perfect hipster form, selected a hilariously bad song to announce that I am in the “family way.” We plan to rock this at karaoke at a later date. Ironically.
We spent about thirty minutes trying to research how pregnancies were announced historically. We looked at the Victorian period in particular. Conclusions? Well, I am to understand that a woman expecting a child in the Victorian era, especially an upper class woman in American, could expect to be invited to zero parties or social events, lest someone happen to spot her in her delicate condition! It seems there wasn’t much of any announcement until the baby was born. I suppose if I lived in an era where doctors delivered babies by touch only (heaven forbid a man look Down There) or with a large pair of forceps (not sure how he wielded these without looking Down There…?), I would not want anyone to be congratulating me until that child was safely delivered.
And that’s if I were a well-to-do woman. In Chicago at the turn of the century there was no assistance for expecting women in poverty. Jane Addams’ Hull House first successfully managed attract those in need to their facility by offering free childcare for women who worked in factories. Previously, some women were left with no choice but to leave their babies at home, alone, and hope that nothing terrible happened to them while they were gone working 12 hour shifts. One story shared by the Hull House guide told of a child they cared for whose skull had been permanently deformed because he’d been tied to a table leg everyday while his mother was at work. It sounds monstrous, but it was that woman’s only option to ensure the safety of her baby while she went to earn a wage to feed him and keep a roof over his head.
In fact, the history of prenatal care really begins at the turn of the 20th century. It is unlikely that many of my great grandmothers, like GG Redding or GG Olson, had much of any prenatal care at all. It was a period of transition, moving from thinking that the course of a pregnancy was outside of anyone’s control to the idea that a pregnancy could be controlled, made more successful with the implementation of certain behaviors.
The latter idea has prevailed to this day, by my measure. I have an app that tells me information about what is happening with my baby literally every day. There’s a way to look up foods I should and should not eat, medicines I can and cannot take, a forum to ask questions, articles about how to eat well, exercise, and do A, B, and C to make sure the pregnancy is as successful as possible. No pressure.
Since most turn-of-the-century expectant moms were trapped at home, they had a lot of time to prepare. Making stuff for baby was the primary focus. Therefore as part of my objective to live life like Great Grandma, I am endeavoring to make as much baby stuff as possible from scratch. Baby clothing will be sewn and knitted. I will try my hand at quilting for the first time. Food, soaps, and lotions will be made from scratch using tried and true recipes. My husband is on board with his woodworking hobby, planning to build wooden toys and furnishings, including the crib. Anything I cannot make I will scavenge in the most thrifty manner I can manage, buying second-hand and borrowing from friends and family.
No rule is complete without an exception. The only major practice we will not be attempting is fabric diapers. Neither of us has managed to ever change a diaper in our lives. Let’s not get in over our heads!
From what I already know, GG Loney and GG Kingsley both did a lot of sewing for their children. I don’t have clear evidence that GG Redding did a lot of sewing but I do know that her mother had a loom. GG Olson remains ever elusive so I’m not sure what she made, but being a Swedish immigrant, I feel certain she had mastery of a few handicrafts.
I’ve already begun researching magazines from the 1910’s and 1920’s for knitting patterns and ideas for baby clothes. I’m hoping to find more. I got Hadley Fierlinger’s book, “Vintage Knits for Modern Babies” from the library but it doesn’t cite what era any of the patterns are from. There doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive source of information on this era. The continuing difficulty of researching women in history.