Midwifery In The Middle Ages

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Midwifery In The Middle Ages

One of the most important jobs to the women of the Middle Ages is often left forgotten and unmentioned. Without these people, there would not have been enough people to populate the villages and castles of Medieval times, or even enough to build such structures. Without someone ensuring that most births are successful, the population would not have been big enough for society to develop manorialism, or enough citizens become knights, or to fight in the Crusades, or to form guilds and towns, or even enough people to consider the Middle Ages a significant part of history, Midwives were an essential part of Medieval society, in many ways. A midwife is a person who assists a woman in childbirth, who, in the
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Midwives handled most matters of gynecology. Although male doctors had more theoretical knowledge about female genitalia, midwives had more practical knowledge, so most male physicians left gynecology to them. Midwives are most notably known for assisting women in birth. They handled everything from prenatal care to “baby-catching”, or the actual birthing process, to cutting the umbilical cord. Some midwives were even known to perform cesarean sections by the Late Middle Ages. Midwives were also known to turn a baby in-utero just before birth, a risky practice that greatly raises the chances of a successful birth, if it does not immediately harm the baby or kill the mother. Midwives also provided some comfort to birthing mothers. They had some herbal medicines that eased pain, like bark from aspen trees that makes what is known today as aspirin. However, many of these herbal drugs may have not actually relieved any pain or made birth any easier; many historians theorize that many remedies had a placebo effect on the mothers. Midwives also performed some rituals, cast spells, and engaged in ancient practices, like the use of a birthing girdle (later, these practices would contribute to the Church’s accusations of witchcraft towards midwives). One of these spells was a childbirth charm, meant to strengthen the mother through pregnancy, birth, and mothering, and the child until it was mature. In order to cast one such charm, the…show more content…
Midwives often were called to court to testify as a medical expert on matters of pregnancy and gynecology. Similar to the instance mentioned above, although medical doctors had more theoretical knowledge about gynecology, Medieval culture generally left all gynecology and oncology to midwives, despite their technical non-expertise. Court records also support this; doctors were called to court to testify for everything but gynecology. Midwives were known to prove impotence, or the inability of a husband or wife to produce children. Impotence was both legal and moral grounds for divorce, and so midwives testified in the courts as a medical “expert”. Midwives also were called to court to prove the pregnancy of women in order to prove rape cases, and examined the health of a baby in-utero if it was possibly harmed, which was an extra charge in the courts for the offender. Midwives were also known to prove the virginity of a woman in rape cases, before certain marriages, and to prove a woman’s honor in special situations. The most notable case of this was in the case of Joan of Arc. Although midwives did not necessarily have the technical expertise of gynecology that a male doctor might have, they, once again, had more practical
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