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Thread: Medieval method of inducing a fast miscarriage

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    Dragon rider Perle_Rare's Avatar
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    Medieval method of inducing a fast miscarriage

    I'd like to have one of my fantasy characters use a herbal "remedy" to induce a miscarriage. I'd like to stick as close to possible to what could or would have been done in a medieval period though if that fails, I'll invent something.

    This girl would be 17 yrs old and would have missed her period by about two or three weeks. She'd have access to a healer's room which contains various herbs and a handful of books with recipes and such. (Convenient, I know.)

    I'd like her to take something (pennyroyal? tansy?) early in the morning and have had the miscarriage by evening at the latest. She does not need to be up and about after the miscarriage. In fact, she can be as sick as she wants for the next 5 days or so after that. Then she'll have to start being able to function again.

    Is this feasible? If so then:
    1. What should she take?
    2. How should it be prepared? (Infusion? Eat the leaves? Munch on seeds?)
    3. What side-effects / symptoms is she likely to experience?
    4. How will she feel after the miscarriage? (Horrible I'm sure but I'd like to be able to include a few specific details.)
    5. How long till she's able to at least travel in a carriage?

    Any help is greatly appreciated!

  2. #2
    Lightly salted Willowmound's Avatar
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    I believe, based on a friend's accidental personal experience, that psilocybe mushrooms ("magic mushrooms") could do the trick.

    She'd trip out for a five or six hours, lose the baby, sleep, wake up and be "fine".

    Or she might need a heavier dose, and then keep going. In which case we're talking 24 or maybe 48 hours, not five or six.

    She's have a hell of a trip either way if the aim is to kill the foetus.
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    Down Under Fan HeronW's Avatar
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    For any miscarriage, no matter how enduced, there'd be latent bleeding, cramps, nausea.

    A 2-3 week missed period doesn't mean a pregnancy. Various factors inc. diet, exercise, stress can cause missed weeks. A goodly percentage of women still bleed while pregnant.

    The further along the pregnancy, the longer it takes to recover since the embryo grows, takes up more space, uses more blood/food/oxygen etc.
    Last edited by HeronW; 07-24-2008 at 02:44 AM.
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    Dragon rider Perle_Rare's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HeronW View Post
    A 2-3 week missed period doesn't mean a pregnancy.
    I can make it so she's 8 weeks pregnant but I don't want to make it much longer than that. I want her to be sure of the pregnancy and to have some amount of hope that it's early enough that the herbal "remedy" will remedy the problem without killing her.

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    you didn't come and help me kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    There are plenty of herbs that can do this. Something like pennyroyal, which you mentioned, being among them. Google for more. Often, they're somewhat difficult to find today.

    The key to their use most of the time is using the right part of the herb. They're very dangerous, usually, which is why they work. Use the right part, and it'll work. Use the wrong part and it'll either do nothing or kill you.

    Alternatively, anything with lots of vitamin C will also work, but much more slowly.

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    practical experience, FTW Danger Jane's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Perle_Rare View Post
    I can make it so she's 8 weeks pregnant but I don't want to make it much longer than that. I want her to be sure of the pregnancy and to have some amount of hope that it's early enough that the herbal "remedy" will remedy the problem without killing her.
    FWIW, my best friend just missed her period for three or four months, and there was zero possibility of pregnancy. Most likely culprit was stress, in her case.

    Funny though, she didn't believe me when I told her I'd had three or four periods since she last had one. Somebody's not marking her calendar.

    Your MC would probably notice other symptoms besides missing a period, though. Morning sickness sets in real early, right?

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    Dragon rider Perle_Rare's Avatar
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    The herbs do not need to be available today. I have no plans to try this first-hand.

    I've done some internet research but most of the instructions I found recommend this or that remedy be taken 4 times a day for 5 consecutive days or some such schedule. Understandably, they want to make sure that anyone using those remedies doesn't just drop dead after overdosing.

    What I'm looking for is whether, say pennyroyal (tansy, ergot or anything else), could be potentially used in higher dosage for a much quicker result. I unfortunately can't have my character lounging around drinking tea for five days before she miscarries. I do have the power to make sure she survives the ordeal.

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    Dragon rider Perle_Rare's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Danger Jane View Post
    Your MC would probably notice other symptoms besides missing a period, though. Morning sickness sets in real early, right?
    Exactly!

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    ever seeking GeorgeK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Danger Jane View Post
    Your MC would probably notice other symptoms besides missing a period, though.
    One would hope, However, I was flabbergasted as a med student on OB/Gyn and I saw the number or women (usually teenagers) who came in in labor, thinking that they'd just got a little fat over the last few months and now had really bad cramps.


    Quote Originally Posted by Danger Jane View Post
    Morning sickness sets in real early, right?
    Variable from none to the whole 9 months. For my wife the second trimester was usually the worst.

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    Wear Thick Armor MelancholyMan's Avatar
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    Trauma, I would think.

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    Slave to the Wordcount WildScribe's Avatar
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    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Perle_Rare View Post
    I'd like to have one of my fantasy characters use a herbal "remedy" to induce a miscarriage. I'd like to stick as close to possible to what could or would have been done in a medieval period though if that fails, I'll invent something.
    Invent something. Really.

    On the other hand, it's actually fairy common, particularly with young women with less than ideal nutrition, to have a zygote that's implanted essentially spontaneously abort.

    If you want to it to be induced, look for Jo Walton's King's Peace. It's got a similar situation handled well, and believably, with the heroine deciding it's too late to abort and realizing that she had waited too long for the conventional methods of herbs, prayer, and a charm, to work. You could have the herbs and charms work -- and make the herbs "the ones all women are told about at their first cycle/moon time" or whatever.

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  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW chevbrock's Avatar
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    Me either.

    I'm looking through "Yates guide to herbs", by well-respected herbal expert Jackie French. From my quick flick I've got Juniper berries (uterine stimulant), large amounts of parsley (causes miscarriage), large amount of rosemary (causes miscarriage), Rue (but may kill the mother as well!), Tansy, as mentioned before (bit of a medieaval cure-all), Wormwood (helps to speed up labour), large doses of yarrow (uterine stimulant).

    Hope one of these helps!
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    ubiquitous Keyan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Perle_Rare View Post
    I'd like to have one of my fantasy characters use a herbal "remedy" to induce a miscarriage. I'd like to stick as close to possible to what could or would have been done in a medieval period though if that fails, I'll invent something.

    This girl would be 17 yrs old and would have missed her period by about two or three weeks. She'd have access to a healer's room which contains various herbs and a handful of books with recipes and such. (Convenient, I know.)

    I'd like her to take something (pennyroyal? tansy?) early in the morning and have had the miscarriage by evening at the latest. She does not need to be up and about after the miscarriage. In fact, she can be as sick as she wants for the next 5 days or so after that. Then she'll have to start being able to function again.

    Is this feasible? If so then:
    1. What should she take?
    2. How should it be prepared? (Infusion? Eat the leaves? Munch on seeds?)
    3. What side-effects / symptoms is she likely to experience?
    4. How will she feel after the miscarriage? (Horrible I'm sure but I'd like to be able to include a few specific details.)
    5. How long till she's able to at least travel in a carriage?

    Any help is greatly appreciated!
    Since it's your story, you can do what's needed for the plot, within reason.

    1. She should take a herbal tea/ infusion (boil in hot water), probably. If you want specifics, google gets you several options. But I'd suggest that you don't specify what it is. That way, you don't have to deal with complaints that the herb doesn't work that way or doesn't grow in the ecosystem you describe.

    2. If you don't want a tea, seeds or chewing on leaves would work fine. Maybe she chews on the leaves and keeps a wad under her tongue for an hour or two. I've encountered home remedies that work like that.

    3. Think cramps, like a period. Possibly some nausea. A diuretic effect. Again, whatever you need for your story: only the cramps are essential, and even they might not be particularly bad.

    4. The physical effect of the actual miscarriage would be pretty minimal because at 4-6 weeks, the embryo is tiny. It would essentially be like a very heavy menstrual period. (It will be messy.)

    http://www.estronaut.com/a/spontaneo...ion_common.htm

    The psychological effect can be whatever you need it to be, from relief and joy, to guilt and misery.

    5. She should be able to travel as soon as the bleeding stops - say by the next day.

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    Momma Wolf Sassee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeorgeK View Post
    One would hope, However, I was flabbergasted as a med student on OB/Gyn and I saw the number or women (usually teenagers) who came in in labor, thinking that they'd just got a little fat over the last few months and now had really bad cramps.
    Yeah... I never understood that. How do you not realize there's something alive and [literally] kicking in there?

    Really nothing useful to add to this thread I just had to comment on that.
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    I remember hearing in a lecture at college that the women of Slovenia had some herbal concoction that they used, even in medieval times. This was just an intro survey lecture, so I cant comment on how reliable this comment was.

    I do not no what the nature or method of taking the liquid was, but maybe you can find more about it.

  17. #17
    Chief High Procrastinator Broadswordbabe's Avatar
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    If you can get hold of a traditional herbal, they may use phrases such as cures for 'delayed menstruation' or 'inhibited menstruation' in order not to be accused of providing means of abortion.

    You might find this site useful: http://www.orgonelab.org/contracep.htm

    I've heard ergot works but it's also very dangerous. Something I didn't know before reading this site is that parsley - much more readily available - is also effective but very toxic in high doses, especially the seeds!

    What she uses and how depends how much awareness/knowledge your character has and how dangerous you want her situation to be.
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    the world is at my command jennontheisland's Avatar
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    The midwives gave me a combination of blue and black cohosh to speed my labour. It is a uterine stimulant and will cause spontaneous abortion. I took about 1/2 an ouce of tincture at a time, 3 or 4 times. I think it was about 1/2 hour between each dose, but when you're in labour, time stops. It had a woodsy flavour and was a murky blue-black colour. You could not see through it, and it had a high level of suspended solids, but no residue was left in the cup.

    Also, high levels of nitrate in water will work...not sure how you'd manage that in a medieval though.
    Last edited by jennontheisland; 07-24-2008 at 07:43 PM.

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    practical experience, FTW Tsu Dho Nimh's Avatar
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    [quote=Perle_Rare;2582580]
    I'd like her to take something (pennyroyal? tansy?) early in the morning and have had the miscarriage by evening at the latest.

    She does not need to be up and about after the miscarriage. In fact, she can be as sick as she wants for the next 5 days or so after that. Then she'll have to start being able to function again.

    Is this feasible? If so then:

    1. What should she take? Pennyroyal mixed with cottonroot bark

    2. How should it be prepared? (Infusion? Eat the leaves? Munch on seeds?) A strong tea made from the leaves and bark. You take one cup, wait an hour, then sip about a cup an hour until the cramps start. The blended herbs minimizes the danger of an overdose, as does the continous administration.

    3. What side-effects / symptoms is she likely to experience? The usual, cramps, bleeding, some nausea, maybe vomiting

    4. How will she feel after the miscarriage? Tired, nauseated, crampy.

    5. How long till she's able to at least travel in a carriage? Next day, with sanitary pads.

    And tell the young lady that Queen Anne's lace seeds - one tablespoon, pounded and eaten in an electuary after romantic interludes (or rape) will prevent implantation,

  20. #20
    The Surreal Thing AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    I'd go with ergot, which is a fungus that affects grain crops, especially rye. (It appears on wheat in the US, FWIW.) I've got a nice google-books reference you can read discussing its use as an abortant before, during, and after the time period you want. It's pretty dry reading, being academic, but that makes it a more reliable resource, IMO. (It mentions rue as the #2 in the list of abortive substances.)

    I knew someone whose older sister used ergot and miscarried in the late 1950s. I didn't quite get it (I didn't know how babies got in there, at the time), and don't know in what form she used it.

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  21. #21
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    The thing is that things that are reliably effective (ergot, for instance) are highly toxic, and things that are less toxic (pennyroyal, for instance) are less reliable. There are plenty of people who take pennyroyal and never succeed in inducing miscarriage.

    I'm nth-ing the "MAKE SOMETHING UP" suggestion. Your publishers will almost certainly insist upon it, once you get to that stage--their lawyers would freak out about the liability if you used any real-world plant in your text, because of the risk of copycatting. Make up an abortifacient herb/plant/fungus and have it work similarly to ergot (by far the quickest Earth abortifacient, although very very risky).

  22. #22
    Dragon rider Perle_Rare's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone! You've all been most helpful!
    Last edited by Perle_Rare; 07-25-2008 at 05:34 AM.

  23. #23
    Better is the enemy of done Melenka's Avatar
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    Pennyroyal definitely IS toxic if not administered carefully. Blue and black cohosh are common abortifacents. One thing that most people don't know is that sage tea is an amenogogue and early in pregnancy can cause spontaeous abortion (the proper term, I believe, for miscarriage). Wild ginger is supposed to have similar properties.

    If you want to ease her recovery, valarian is supposed to help with the cramping.

    How do you not realize there's something alive and [literally] kicking in there?
    Denial can contribute to a body disconnect, even if there was not one before (and far too many women have it to start with).

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