The biggest ‘problem’ with being pregnant in the Victorian era was the obvious implication that the woman had engaged in sex. So being pregnant wasn’t something you announced, and certainly wasn’t something discussed in mixed company. This was the era of the euphemism, so that a pregnant woman was ‘in an interesting condition’, ‘in a delicate condition’, ‘expecting’, ‘with child’, ‘in the family way’, and ‘in the pudding club’ (considered crude). How different to today, when a pregnant woman often dresses to celebrate her impeding motherhood. I know I did!
At a certain point in a pregnancy, usually once the baby started showing, the mother-to-be went into ‘confinement’ and didn’t go out in public until after the child was born. To me, the word ‘confinement’ has overtones of imprisonment against one’s will; such as a soldier will be confined to quarters for a misdemeanour. And there is secondary meaning to Victorian-era ‘confinement’ … there was a whole range of corsets to ‘disguise’ the pregnancy for as long as could be managed. Imagine trying to cope with morning sickness AND a corset.
This was also the era when midwives were phased out and male doctors took over the delivery of children; giving the male doctors more income. Now, this may sound like a good thing, that formal education was triumphing over the ignorant, but it wasn’t. Midwives were knowledgeable, experienced women and certainly most knew about the importance of cleanliness during childbirth (boiling water and clean sheets). Male doctors turned pregnancy into an ‘illness’, made women in labour lie on their backs so they could oversee the birth (most women prefer to walk around or squat for the early stages of labour, and most certainly do NOT want to lie on their backs) and used unclean hands that directly led to an increase in the number of women dying from post-partum fevers. As part of the prudery of the era, the woman’s modesty was preserved by maintaining eye contact so the male doctor wasn’t looking at her genitals and the doctor worked by touch alone; I wonder how many women and children suffered and died because the doctor was too polite to actually see what was going on. Medicine wasn’t so much a science as an art in the early part of the Victorian era.
There was a great deal of controversy about the introduction of anaesthetic as a pain relief for women in labour, because childbirth was woman’s punishment for Eve giving Adam the apple. Thank goodness, Queen Victoria was a fan of anaesthetic, and used it for birth of Prince Leopold. She was so thrilled that she gave James Simpson a baronetcy. From a personal point of view, the man should have a sainthood.
When writing in the Steampunk literary genre, there is no need to be as prudish as the Victorians. Pregnancy can be used as a metaphor or analogy, particularly in relation to the creative process or the construction of an invention. Pregnancy had a negative connation in the Victorian era, but it need not be in a Steampunk narrative. In fact, I would encourage fellow writers to see it as a positive and natural process, to be celebrated and not ‘confined’.