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CrastersBabies
01-23-2015, 04:43 AM
So, I have a faux medieval fantasy setting. (Not perfect, but close.) And I have a character that has had one child and I would like for there to be a medical reason for her not to be able to have anymore.

"Medical" for the times, that is.

How did midwives and so-called girl-part experts back then know if a woman was unable to bear children? It can be either that she has tried forever and nothing has happened (and we know the man is capable because he has sired other children). Or, it could be that she has to avoid sex because if she does get preggo, it would mean her death.

Any ideas?

benbenberi
01-23-2015, 04:56 AM
Mostly, the indication that a woman was unable to bear children was her failure to bear children -- either not getting pregnant at all, or not successfully carrying a child to live birth. Medical causes of barrenness would probably be an imbalance of the humors -- her womb was too hot/cold/moist/dry to host a child. Or perhaps her womb was displaced, and wandering around inside her causing other ailments too. Has she any other ailments? A wandering womb ("hysteria") may be to blame. Or perhaps she hasn't been having enough sex -- her husband should be more diligent in his duty, because a womb that isn't fed frequently gets grumpy and unproductive (and may start wandering in search of more sustenance).

Unimportant
01-23-2015, 05:06 AM
So, I have a faux medieval fantasy setting. (Not perfect, but close.) And I have a character that has had one child and I would like for there to be a medical reason for her not to be able to have anymore.

"Medical" for the times, that is.

How did midwives and so-called girl-part experts back then know if a woman was unable to bear children? It can be either that she has tried forever and nothing has happened (and we know the man is capable because he has sired other children). Or, it could be that she has to avoid sex because if she does get preggo, it would mean her death.

Any ideas?

If the midwife knows she's not menstruating, then the midwife can make a pretty accurate prediction that her chances of getting preggers are close to nil.

snafu1056
01-23-2015, 06:46 AM
Maybe she suffered an injury. Or early menopause (explained as punishment for angering some fertility god or spirit or something)

Bolero
01-23-2015, 01:52 PM
Scarring due to difficult first birth.

Had the kid too young. That happened. Trying to remember which medieval queen it was - she had the baby when she was I think 13 and that was it.

Other than that - what everyone else has said.

There were tonics around "to bring on the courses" - modern re-enactors are unclear whether they were meant as a tonic for a malnourished person, or it was a coy way of saying they were for abortion.

Depending on her economic status, if she doesn't get enough to eat her periods will be irregular.

Fibroids.

I don't know if medieval midwives did internal examinations, but those would be detectable.

Deb Kinnard
01-23-2015, 07:18 PM
1) too thin. This happens current day to athletes and anorexics.
2) injury, such as laceration to the cervix during previous birth. A good midwife should be able to discern this later on.
3) heroine's secret use of certain herbs. I think Culpepper's has some advice on which herbs were efficacious in preventing conception.
4) seems to me there are other reasons, such as the fact Margaret Beaufort bore the future Henry VII at age 13 and then had no more children over the course of a long life and multiple marriages. I'd suspect scarring or prolapse in her case, though. 13 is very young to start a successful reproductive career.

CrastersBabies
01-23-2015, 08:36 PM
Wonderful ideas! She is essentially the consort of the king. The queen has a daughter, but lives apart from the king and refuses anymore... uh... relations.

So, the consort had one child (a son) and now cannot have more. She wanted more children but something has happened and she can't have more. I like the idea of there being several other "almost" children, but her being able to carry to term due to ______ might be an interesting route.

I find myself underestimating medicine in past history and kept thinking, "What would a midwife know back then?" Probably more than I imagine--as already seen in the answers here!

Ariella
01-24-2015, 02:52 AM
For a sense of what was known or thought about women's conditions, at least in scholarly circles, you can take a look at the twelfth-century texts known as The Trotula (http://books.google.ca/books?id=yPhNe9ZkcFsC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA17#v=onepage&q&f=false). Lots of fun, strange stuff in there.

Quentin Nokov
01-24-2015, 03:11 AM
Penny Royal tea I know is used for inducing menstruation--which is a woman thinks she might become pregnant would drink the tea sooner after the "incident" and thus be inducing a possible abortion. From what I've read catnip and definitely chamomile help regulate menstrual cycles so these could be used as well. Parsley, celery stalks or leaves; cumin; rosemary; angelica root; chicory; burdock root; cinnamon; and numerous other herbs are suggested to stimulate the uterus and cause menstrual bleeding.

The character has one child, but throwing out an idea, could you--in passing, don't have to dwell too much on the idea--but could you add that she had a second child, except it was a stillborn? A mid-wife might take that as a sign that she shouldn't have any more children. Superstition and lack of medical knowledge could make the mid-wives think that all her children from now on will die due to a curse or some other off-the-wall medieval medical interpretation like she has a dead womb and therefore all babies will be born dead, too. Or her womb is too cold, causing the children to die. Of course to prevent pregnancy she can drink a menstrual tonic regularly.

Just my thought. Not sure if it'll be helpful, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Deb Kinnard
01-24-2015, 04:55 AM
Anne Boleyn had but one living child -- the future Queen Elizabeth I. Though she became pregnant afterward, none of those children survived and I believe one or more miscarried.

I lost two to miscarriage between my healthy kids (now 20 and 26, thank God).

If it works for your story, you might want her to be able to become pregnant but not carry to term. I think in Boleyn's case, historians blame paternal syphilis. Pity. Henry would have done better to cut off his own head rather than hers.

CrastersBabies
01-24-2015, 05:45 AM
The character has one child, but throwing out an idea, could you--in passing, don't have to dwell too much on the idea--but could you add that she had a second child, except it was a stillborn? A mid-wife might take that as a sign that she shouldn't have any more children. Superstition and lack of medical knowledge could make the mid-wives think that all her children from now on will die due to a curse or some other off-the-wall medieval medical interpretation like she has a dead womb and therefore all babies will be born dead, too. Or her womb is too cold, causing the children to die. Of course to prevent pregnancy she can drink a menstrual tonic regularly.

Just my thought. Not sure if it'll be helpful, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

It is helpful, thank you!


Anne Boleyn had but one living child -- the future Queen Elizabeth I. Though she became pregnant afterward, none of those children survived and I believe one or more miscarried.

I lost two to miscarriage between my healthy kids (now 20 and 26, thank God).

If it works for your story, you might want her to be able to become pregnant but not carry to term. I think in Boleyn's case, historians blame paternal syphilis. Pity. Henry would have done better to cut off his own head rather than hers.

I'm sorry about your miscarriages, Deb. Thank you for posting. I know this is a sensitive topic, so I appreciate your answers. I had no idea about Anne Boleyn and Henry possibly being part of the reason she might have had issues carrying a child to term.

Bolero
01-27-2015, 12:16 AM
Henry 8th plus Catharine of Aragon managed one living daughter (Mary). Don't know what mishaps there were.
Henry plus Anne you've got
Henry plus Jane Seymour - one son and she died of an infection shortly after giving birth
Henry plus Anne of Cleves - he didn't fancy her, it was annulled
Henry plus Katherine Howard - nothing that I know of
Henry plus Katherine Parr - nothing, she went on to have a kid in a later marriage (and then I think died of infection but I've not checked that)

And so far as I know, no bastards needing titles and money.

Bit of a pattern there......

Deb Kinnard
01-27-2015, 04:24 AM
There was one bastard, early in Hal VIII's life. He was known as Henry Fitzroy, child of Elizabeth (? "Betsy" "Bessie") Blount. Fitzroy means "son of the king". He died aged 17, possibly of tuberculosis. Fitzroy's mother went on to have several children by her husband, Gilbert Tailboys or Tallboys, so maybe Good King Harry was not syphilitic to the point that it impeded his women's fecundity by that time.

Belle_91
01-27-2015, 04:30 AM
There is also a lot of suspicion that Mary Boleyn had a couple of Henry's illegitimate children. Her daughter Katherine had red hair, like the king, and it was commonly believed that she was his daughter. I think the same can be true of her brother, Henry. It could have been a rumor at court, but Mary was also the King's mistress for a time.

Anyways. I read somewhere that they think Anne Boleyn had a condition (sorry I can't remember the name) where she could only produce one living child. She had multiple miscarriages. Katherine of Aragon had Princess Mary and she and Henry did have one son together, but he died very shortly after birth. She also suffered from several miscarriages. In regards to Katherine, some historians think that because she was so religious that she fasted a lot and this fasting led to her unable to bear children because she wasn't healthy enough. Katherine was very devout and was actually praying for a child. She thought that by fasting (which also occurs yearly for Catholics around Lent anyways) might give her a leg up so to speak with the man upstairs.

LeighAnderson
01-28-2015, 12:54 PM
Often times if a woman had one miscarriage or stillbirth, it was believed that she would only have miscarriages/stillbirths afterward. Henry kept Catherine of Aragon after her first loss, but more for legal reasons. But this is why Anne Boleyn freaked out so much after her first miscarriage - she knew it was her end because Henry wasn't going to keep her around if she couldn't have more children, which is what he would have believed.

However, the idea that a queen just isn't going to do her duty (sex and produce an heir) would just be unheard of in Medieval times. It really didn't matter how many boys he had by a mistress, they could never inherit the throne. Even if he had 10 sons of his own when he died, they would not inherit. It would have to go to a nephew or cousin who might not have direct royal blood, but would be legitimate. The queen would try until her death to give her husband a son since that would be her only job and reason for being queen in the first place. This would probably be your bigger obstacle.

You said it is a fantasy, though, so you can rewrite these rules. You could also rewrite medical knowledge/history as well and give your ladies more interesting reasons for not having more kiddos - curses, battle injury, prophecy, etc.

Keyan
01-30-2015, 11:12 AM
An incompetent cervix (I think that's what it was called). It basically cannot contain a pregnancy after a certain point, resulting in fairly late miscarriages. This could follow on a successful first pregnancy if it was a difficult one and the cervix was damaged.

Katharine Tree
02-01-2015, 03:04 AM
There is also Rh incompatibility, which often results in one live, healthy child, followed by a lot of increasingly sicker, stillborn, or miscarried ones. Medieval doctors wouldn't have known what caused this, but the phenomenon was obviously recognized, due to the "you have one miscarriage, you're done" sentiments expressed upthread.

ClareGreen
02-01-2015, 07:15 AM
There was one bastard, early in Hal VIII's life. He was known as Henry Fitzroy, child of Elizabeth (? "Betsy" "Bessie") Blount. Fitzroy means "son of the king". He died aged 17, possibly of tuberculosis. Fitzroy's mother went on to have several children by her husband, Gilbert Tailboys or Tallboys, so maybe Good King Harry was not syphilitic to the point that it impeded his women's fecundity by that time.

There's also a rumour that just before young Henry Fitzroy died, Henry VIII was trying to get the law changed so that bastards could inherit. He did tinker with legitimacy laws, though, and actually did change the law so that Mary and Anne were illegitimate after the fact.

Deb Kinnard
02-01-2015, 11:02 PM
That'd be "Mary and Elizabeth", but your point's well taken. And yes, there were certainly other Henry VIII bastards, but Henry Fitzroy was rather a special case.

CrastersBabies
02-01-2015, 11:55 PM
This is so fascinating about the Tudors. It really helps me conceptualize things as well. Not just with the physiological aspects, but possible political ones as well.

Bolero
02-02-2015, 11:12 PM
There was one bastard, early in Hal VIII's life. He was known as Henry Fitzroy, child of Elizabeth (? "Betsy" "Bessie") Blount. Fitzroy means "son of the king". He died aged 17, possibly of tuberculosis. Fitzroy's mother went on to have several children by her husband, Gilbert Tailboys or Tallboys, so maybe Good King Harry was not syphilitic to the point that it impeded his women's fecundity by that time.

Interesting, thanks. That will be the Henry Fitzroy whom Tanya Huff has as her vampire.......:)

Bolero
02-02-2015, 11:14 PM
Often times if a woman had one miscarriage or stillbirth, it was believed that she would only have miscarriages/stillbirths afterward. Henry kept Catherine of Aragon after her first loss, but more for legal reasons. But this is why Anne Boleyn freaked out so much after her first miscarriage - she knew it was her end because Henry wasn't going to keep her around if she couldn't have more children, which is what he would have believed.

However, the idea that a queen just isn't going to do her duty (sex and produce an heir) would just be unheard of in Medieval times. It really didn't matter how many boys he had by a mistress, they could never inherit the throne. Even if he had 10 sons of his own when he died, they would not inherit. It would have to go to a nephew or cousin who might not have direct royal blood, but would be legitimate. The queen would try until her death to give her husband a son since that would be her only job and reason for being queen in the first place. This would

That is interesting, especially the bit about belief about miscarriages. Might also turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy in that if the husband thought the wife could have no more kids he wouldn't bother to try.....

LeighAnderson
02-03-2015, 06:44 AM
That is interesting, especially the bit about belief about miscarriages. Might also turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy in that if the husband thought the wife could have no more kids he wouldn't bother to try.....

Yes, and the stress and depression from a miscarriage could certainly impact the mother's health, ability to get pregnant and subsequent pregnancies.

Deb Kinnard
02-04-2015, 01:06 AM
Yes, and the stress and depression from a miscarriage could certainly impact the mother's health, ability to get pregnant and subsequent pregnancies.

This, yes. Oh, I'll say! I couldn't even write after my miscarriages. It was like things (many things -- I won't be specific) didn't work, or didn't want to work. I couldn't force anything so I just drifted through the days doing the minimal required for the husband and the daughter I already had. My brain was in a fog 95% of the time.

Funny enough, the only thing that cured me was our (already planned) vacation where I got to swim in the ocean. I can't describe its effect, and this is totally non-scientific. But I could feel it healing me both in body and soul.