My essay on Martha Mears — a nature-loving, bird-watching, poetry-quoting, 18th c. English midwife — now appears in Midwifery Today (Fall 2016).
“Mears places a high value on cultivating the emotional well-being of women during pregnancy. In her third essay, devoted entirely to this subject, she writes that the prayer of the wise is ‘the enjoyment of a sound mind in a sound body’ (26). She observes the connection between a woman’s emotional health and the first learning experiences of her unborn child. Drawing on the author Strabo, quoted in Chavalier Ramsay, she specifically adds the authority of the ancients to her argument:
‘In some of those valuable remains of eastern antiquities, which even the withering hand of time has delighted to spare, we are told that the Magi began, in some sort, the education of their children before their birth. While their wives were pregnant, they took care to keep them in tranquility and perpetual chearfulness, by sweet and innocent amusements, to the end, that, from the mother’s womb, the fruit might receive no impressions but what were pleasing, mild, and agreeable to order. The justness of the principle on which they proceeded is fully confirmed by the history of the whole human race, and certainly deserves the serious attention of parents …’ (26-27, italics in the original).
Mears goes on to attack the problem of ‘one of first and most prevailing passions in the breasts of pregnant women’ (27): fear. She observes that ‘the happiness of becoming mothers is sourly checked by preposterous ideas of danger. They take alarm at the change, at the novelty of their feelings, and the few instances they may have known of miscarriage, or of death, outweigh in the quivering scale of fancy the numbers not to be counted of persons in the like condition, who enjoy both then and afterwards a greater degree of health than they ever before experienced’ (27). Mears is all for rooting out fear by knowledge and hope, which she calls ‘the balm and life-blood of the soul’ (28), and with the help of a husband’s love. These are her answers to fear and melancholy.”