In which I take the air, practice prenatal hygiene, do light chores, and make quite possibly the most useless object on earth.
When I used to play the Sims game, I’d always get irritated with my pregnant Sim’s wish to read a book on pregnancy. I’d select that wish to fulfill thinking I’d get some easy points but then get bored when it took forever to finish the book. It became evident that reading the book wasn’t worth the number of points you got for it so I eventually just stopped promising that particular wish.
I understand now why the Sims wanted to read the book on pregnancy and childbirth. I have a bunch of books I borrowed from my sister-in-law and I’m addicted to them. When I’m not reading the prenatal books, I’m reading the guide my clinic gave me. And when I’m not reading that, I’m on mom blogs (I highly recommend Pregnant Chicken) and Facebook mom groups.
It was only a matter of time before I found a way to incorporate historical research into this habit.
Which brings me to Dr. Lena K. Sadler, preeminent lady physician of the early 19th century.
She and her husband, William Sadler, went to med school together and were a team in their research and philanthropic medical work. Lena was quite remarkable for the time; she toured and gave lectures and was considered an authority particularly in women’s health and maternal care. As progressives, Lena and her husband naturally did much of their work in Chicago. In 1916, they published a book together called The Mother and Her Child, a go-to guide on maternal and child care.
While William’s name is listed first, a note in the preface makes it pretty evident that this book is Lena’s:
“The larger part of the work was originally written by Dr. Lena K. Sadler, with certain chapters by Dr. William S. Sadler, but in the revision and re arrangement of the manuscript so much work was done by each on the contributions of the other, that it was deemed best to bring the book out under joint authorship.”
The book covers conception to the care of small children and all the parts in between. Lena may make several appearances in the course of the next few months, so I’m going to focus on some of her advice about prenatal care and preparing for birth.
The Importance of Hygiene During Pregnancy
Lena places the utmost emphasis on prenatal hygiene. She prescribes very precise directions on just about everything, from clothing and diet and water consumption to exercise, bathing, and Fresh Air.
Hydration and Diet
Some of her ideas are very reasonable and consistent with what we hear from doctors today.
“We believe the average person requires about eight glasses of liquid a day that is about two quarts.” 26
“White bread should be tabooed and in its place a well made bran bread should be used.” 32
Keep hydrated! If I had a quarter for every time our child-birth class instructor said that. And eating fiber to treat constipation. Definitely something I’ve heard many times from many books.
But then Lena likes to follow-up with grossly outdated or strange statements like these:
“The regular drinking of water is absolutely necessary to enable the body to enjoy its internal bath and this internal cleansing is just as grateful and refreshing to the cells and tissues as is the external bath to the nerves which exist in the skin.” 26
“It may ofttimes be necessary and it is far less harmful to insert a glycerine suppository into the rectum than to get into the enema habit.” 30
It is always so sad when people get sucked into that darn enema habit.
If there’s anything Lena gets jazzed about, it’s fresh air.
“Men and women are outdoor animals. They were made to live in a garden not a house. Remember that each person requires one cubic foot of fresh air every second.” 29
I’m not sure where she got that stat from but it sounds pretty serious. So today, when I got home from work, I opened up all the windows in the house!
“She should sleep with the windows open or out of doors at all seasons of the year, of course making due allowance for the severity of the winters in the North.” 29
It’s May now here in Minnesota. So naturally it snowed on Monday. I can’t say I’ve been very keen on this idea of sleeping with the windows open. But she is very serious about it.
“Don’t allow the temperature of living rooms during the winter season to go above sixty eight degrees. If your home has no system of ventilation, open wide the windows and doors several times a day and enjoy the blessings of a thorough going flushing with fresh air .” 29
She cares not for the temperature outside, truly she doesn’t. Later in the book, she suggests placing the baby to sleep outside regardless of the temperature, the need for fresh air trumping concerns about cold. This was a huge deal, not just for Lena but culturally in the West in general. By 1930, people in London were installing baby cages on their apartment windows to give their child an outdoor space to take the air.
“Oxygen is the vital fire of life. Our food however well digested and assimilated is just as useless to the body without oxygen as coal is to the furnace without air.” 29
Exercise and Activity
“I sometimes wish the prospective mothers in our dispensary districts might have some of the care and the kind treatment which is bestowed upon an ordinary prospective mother horse, which at least enjoys a vacation from heavy labor and whose food is eaten with calm nerves and in the quietness of a clean stall.” 53
Lena believes that women need their rest during the prenatal period, just like pregnant horses…
But in all seriousness, Lena makes a point to direct women to relieve themselves of their duties when they are overwhelmed or nervous. Always practical and not nearly as ridiculous as the superstitious, pseudo-science eugenicists (just you wait, they have a whole other insane approach to prenatal care – much of which Lena denounces), Lena explains:
“I have told many women whose household duties press hard: Your husband would rather see a cold lunch on the table or go out for dinner while his wife rested smiling and happy than to have a most sumptuous meal spread before him and the wife tired and fretful. Every woman should make it the rule of her life to stop just this side of the outburst of words and lie down long enough breathing deeply to calm the spirit.” 28
Rest is important to maintaining a peaceful mind and body, which Lena recognizes is important to a healthy pregnancy and delivery. However, her advice in overcoming anxiety is a little basic.
“Don’t take drugs for worry and sleeplessness. Take a bath.” 33
But Lena doesn’t think you should sit around and lie in bed all day when pregnant. Oh no! There’s Fresh Air to be had! And the more the better.
“An expectant mother living in the city and enjoying the average health and strength should engage in such agreeable exercise as the raising of flowers the training of vines with brisk walks in the fresh air. As much time as possible should be spent in the parks.” 27
I took some time to do a little vine training myself, per Lena’s instructions, and walked to the park. I can’t say my walk didn’t bring on some uncomfortable Braxton Hicks, which pretty much any movement will cause throughout my day (whether I’m walking briskly to the park or shuffling to the bathroom).
“No matter what kind of weather prevails a daily brisk walk should be taken out of doors, on the porch, or in a room with open windows.” 27
Given that the weather was quite nice today, I enjoyed my walk to the park near our house. Everyone was out too. Children were playing, families were together, and a beer league was playing softball with not a little heckling between the teams. As I was walking back, I loved seeing all the new, green plants and buds peeking out. I found myself impatient as I headed home, though, because I’m so impatient to meet my own little baby! What will he be like???
“The woman who is compelled to leave her home for the factory, the laundry, the office, or other place of employment should stop work during these last two or three months.” 53
“All forms of light housework are commendable.” 27
My husband has been taking on a lot of tasks since my rib pain became severe (since January, basically). He and I agreed to abandon – for now – our very quid pro quo relationship and operate under the mantra “Do what you can.” We each do whatever it is we can. We aren’t bickering over whose dishes are whose or who does “more”. When we need something, we ask for it. No subtext or hidden meanings. It’s been great, actually.
So tonight, after we cooked dinner together, he asked me to finish up the dishes and run the washer. So I obliged. (But only because it was light housework. No scrubbing the tub for me! …Lena’s orders.)
“Warm cleansing baths should be taken twice a week at night. There is no good reason for the use of the vaginal douche during pregnancy.” 30
“Because the mother’s system is drained of the lime salts which aid in building up the bones of the child along with other metabolic changes which cause the retention of certain acids which ofttimes affect the teeth they should be frequently examined and carefully guarded …
“As a preventive to this tendency of the teeth to decay, a simple mouth wash of one of the following may be used after meals: 1. One teaspoon of milk magnesia; 2. One tablespoon of lime water; 3. One half teaspoon common baking soda. Any one to be dissolved in a glass of water.” 30
I love Lena’s medical explanations. They sound so archaic with the outdated terminology and I love to see how our understanding of the human body and its functions have changed. I have to wonder at what point toothbrushes fell into regular use? At any rate, after dinner I gave the baking soda a shot.
Addressing the Backache
If you are reading regularly, which all one of you is, you’ll know I have had some dogged rib pain throughout my pregnancy. It comes and goes but is largely due to a combination of my short torso, rapidly expanding uterus, and the incredible ease with which my ribs joints have mobilized. Seriously. I can lightly press on my rib cage and the ribs bob around like tiny little extra-springy diving boards. The consequence is that no matter how I lay, they eventually get compressed and become painful. Then I have to wake up, struggle mightily to roll over, and then go back to sleep to the sound of myself whining pitifully.
So I thought I’d look and see if Lena had any advice that might help. And while she did not address rib pain specifically, her remedy for a back ache had me totally flummoxed.
This is the photophore. It is made from a bright, pressed tin pail and a light fixture. It only requires light soldering… While Lena goes to great pains to give you precise measurements for building this wacky contraption, she says nothing as to how to apply it.
“Apply this twofold remedial agent light and heat combined to the painful back underneath the bed clothing and our restless mother will go to sleep very quickly This may safely be used as often and as long as desired.” 44
After completing my photophore and feeling very pleased with my ingenuity, I began to wonder how does one APPLY a photophore? Most near-term pregnant women (like me) can’t stand lying on their backs and must contrive the most elaborate means to prop themselves up on pillows so as to lay face down. So how does one apply this ridiculousness? On the back, while pregnant, under the bedclothes and in position to sleep??? It’s a BUCKET with a lightbulb in it!!! I can’t imagine how this can possibly be helpful?!
I tried it out for about 10 or 15 minutes. It was pleasantly warm and I didn’t need to get up and heat it in the microwave every 20 minutes. However, it required me to hold it in place the ENTIRE TIME. I’m really struggling to see how Lena envisions this to go. TR gave a little belly-boil show while we were testing it out though. That means he either loves or hates it. Not sure which.