Qualities of a Good Midwife: Part 1/4

I’m reposting Laurie Alice Eakes four part series on midwifery. Today, she’ll be focusing on the character of a good midwife.

Welcome, Laurie!

The following section is redacted from the presentation I made at the 1999 New Perspectives in History Conference.  For facility of reading, I have changed the arcaic spelling into modern spelling.

“As concerning their persons, they must be neither too young nor too old, but of an indifferent age, between both; well composed, not being subject to diseases, nor deformed in any part of their body; comely and neat in their apparel; their hands small and fingers long, not thick, but clean, their nails pared very close; they ought to be very cheerful, pleasant, and of a good discourse; strong, not idle, but accustomed to exercise, that they may be the more able if need require.

Touching their deportment, they must be mild, gentle, courteous, sober chaste, and patient; not quarrelsome nor chollerick; neither must they be covetous, nor report anything whatsoever they hear or see in secret, in the person or house of whom they deliver…

As concerning their minds, they must be wise and discreet; able to flatter and speak many fair words, to no other end but only to deceive the apprehensive women, which is a commendable deceipte, and allowed, when it is done, for the good of the person in distress.”

Thus did William Sermon, a seventeenth century physician and clergyman, describe the attributes of a good midwife.

Compared with the attributes of a good woman, described in the numerous pamphlets, obituaries, and epitaphs of the same time period, a midwife in Early Modern England and the North American colonies was expected to embody the traits of a good woman as well as the characteristics of a good professional.  Though one cannot expect that midwives met the standards Sermon, his peers, and other midwives set down for childbirth practitioners, through the nature of their work, and the standards set down through the ecclesiastical and municipal laws, and the expectations of other women, midwives achieved goals superior to the ideals of mere virtuous women.

In an age when women possessed little to no authority outside the home, the midwife achieved a position of power over other women and  within society itself.

Would you make the cut?

*Originally posted February, 2011.*

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Since Laurie Alice Eakes lay in bed as a child telling herself stories, she has fulfilled her dream of becoming a published author, with more than two dozen books in print and several award wins and nominations to her credit, including winning the National Readers Choice Award for Best Regency and being chosen as a 2016 RITA®

She has recently relocated to a cold climate because she is weird enough to like snow and icy lake water. When she isn’t basking in the glory of being cold, she likes to read, visit museums, and take long walks, preferably with her husband, though the cats make her feel guilty every time she leaves the house.

You can read more about Eakes and her books, as well as contact her, through her website.

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