Episode 35: The Extremely Risky Behavior Literally All of Your Ancestors Engaged In


Join Em and Dr. Jesse as we play a little game we like to call, “How Early in History Could Em Have Had Children and Survive?” The answer may surprise you! We also cover Mary’s girdle, (some of) the life and times of Dr. James Barry and Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, childbirth-related saints, the masculinization of obstetrics, and debunk a few myths about parental love in a time of high infant mortality.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ One exhibit from the National Library of Medicine mentions a c-section in 1500 CE where the mother lived and went on to have five more children, and the baby lived to be 77 years old. In this case, the husband (who was a sow gelder) operated on his wife. However in other situations, the woman might live, but only for a month afterward, which I would call, mm, a qualified success at best.

Jesse: Wow, I was off to a rocky start! They all died? Anyhow, James Barry (1789–1865) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Barry_(surgeon)

For more on a trans individual potentially identifying as (or being identified as) intersex, see episode 26 note 14 on Eleno / Elena de Céspedes. See also Israel Burshatin, “Written on the body: slave or Hermaphrodite in sixteenth-century Spain” in Queer Iberia: Sexualities, Cultures, and Crossings from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999): 420–456.

Episode 26 note 14 also mentions Brother Marinos (mentioned later in this podcast) and Herculine Barbin, who was intersex (female identified) and a lesbian.

2/ We talked about Ignaz Semmelweis (1818–1865) at some length in episode 2, I think! He’s not in the notes, though. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignaz_Semmelweis

3/ For more on stones and lapidaries, see episode 26 (Valentine’s Day!) note 2.

4/ Saint Cyr https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyricus_and_Julitta

5/ Saint Margaret of Antioch! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_the_Virgin

Here are some great images:

6/ The Golden Legend https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Legend

7/ Cihuateteo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cihuateteo

8/ For more, see Monica Green’s Making Women’s Medicine Masculine (Amazon link).

9/ What Florence Nightingale actually wrote: “I never had such a blackguard rating in all my life – I who have had more than any woman – than from this Barry sitting on his horse, while I was crossing the Hospital Square with only my cap on in the sun. He kept me standing in the midst of quite a crowd of soldiers, Commissariat, servants, camp followers, etc., etc., every one of whom behaved like a gentleman during the scolding I received while he behaved like a brute . . . After he was dead, I was told that (Barry) was a woman . . . I should say that (Barry) was the most hardened creature I ever met.” (source)

10/ For the record, Henry VII and his wife (Elizabeth) had seven children.

11/ Here is the act we’re discussing (it’s working it’s way through congress): https://blackmaternalhealthcaucus-underwood.house.gov/Momnibus

12/ A clip from Conan’s podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend (they reference the guy who did her father’s birth certificate around 1:30–2:00 in, but don’t tell the whole story in this section; I believe this is the full episode this is excerpted from, and the whole story would be in there–plus he interviews Dave Grohl!) Also, in a statement on April 24, 2021 (Armenian Remembrance Day), Joe Biden referred to the Armenian genocide as a genocide! So that’s cool.

13/ Philippe Ariès was wrong, but here’s his Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippe_Ariès

Em: I wish I could provide a link to the article I reference, but honestly I have no idea what it might have been. Chalk that one up to sleep deprivation stealing my memory.

14/ Nicholas Orme’s Medieval Children (Amazon link).

15/ Genesis 21:16 (Also in 21:8 Isaac is weaned!)