Monday, February 21, 2011

Qualities of a Good Midwife: Part 1/4

Laurie Alice Eakes is starting a four part Monday series on midwifery and I'm really looking forward to it. Today, she'll be focusing on the character of a good midwife. Comment contest is still in force. Whoever leaves the most comments this month wins a prize. Winner announced March 1.

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?
Midwives historic role in society began to fascinate Laurie Alice Eakes in graduate
school. Before she was serious about writing fiction, she knew she wanted to write novels
with midwife heroines. Ten years, several published novels, four relocations, and a
National Readers Choice Award for Best Regency later, the midwives idea returned, and
Lady in the Mist was born. Now she writes full time from her home in Texas, where she
lives with her husband and sundry dogs and cats.

Laurie Alice Eakes--Lady in the Mist from Revell Books, February, 2011. Read an Excerpt


  1. Wow, he goes into detail! :-) Actually, I think I would make the cut. :-) I have small slender hands, I'm pretty active, and I've always enjoyed being at births and have even helped deliver my siblings. Talk about a neat experience! :-D

    ~ Katy

  2. Wow Katy...that's amazing! Being a part of delivering your siblings. I'm not sure I'd make the cut... possibly not refined enough.

  3. I don't know that I'd make the cut as I may have some traits, but may lack others. It is quite interesting to learn about those women who did. What an interesting profession. I look forward to reading future posts on the topic.

    Just finished Lady in the Midst and highly recommend it!

  4. Laurie is such an amazing person and writer. So glad you enjoyed her novel.