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Pregnant women looked forward to birth with a mixture of joy and fear because of the risks entailed. After the colonial period women created the "virtuous woman" who loathed sex, as a way of breaking the natural reproductive cycle and reducing their risk.
Most women delivered at home, sometimes with the assistance of a MIDWIFE. Because of the high natural mortality associated with childbirth, midwives were especially susceptible to complaints of negligence or witchcraft. More often than not, after the first couple of children (after the second or third child, the birth canal is often enlarged enough that normal birth is quick and relatively painless), the working-class woman worked (often in the fields) until she went into labor, stopped long enough to give birth and secure the baby, and then went back to work. The more fragile lady of leisure often took more time to recover, but not in every case. Some were remarkably strong and strong willed.
In the early days special BIRTHING, NURSING or CRICKET STOOLS were used to position the body vertically for birth. This practice continued along with the traditional manner of LYING IN in bed. Despite New England traditions of borning rooms, I am not familiar with any documentation for such a specific room use in the period.
Most women made pads of dried grass, fuzzed barks, linen, tow or rags for postpartum and menstrual discharges, as well as swaddling clothes for infants. Rags were too valuable to dispose of, so they were washed and reused.
About six weeks after giving birth, women were CHURCHED, or presented in the church in a purification ceremony descended from the old presentation in the Temple of the ancient Jews.
Children were not considered special throughout most of the period. Infants of both genders belonged to the woman's sphere, as they were dependent on her for their care. Both boys and girls wore dresses, some a simple T-shaped tunic tied in the back for ease of changing and expansion as they grew. At about sixteen to eighteen months girls were placed in their first stays and would remain in them virtually all their lives. Boys were also placed in stays at an early age, to force them into correct posture. Unlike the girls' stays, a boy's stays would be removed before he became dependent on them for support.
The potential for damage to a child's soft head was known, and PUDDINGHEAD CAPS were made of leather with padded rims and top to protect the head. Walkers were used, although not commonly, usually made of turned sticks in a pyramidal form with space for the child to stand in the middle.
At about six years of age boys were BREECHED. This involved removing them from their dresses and stays, shaving their heads and fitting wigs, giving them clothing befitting an adult male of their station and expecting them to act like young adults. The social implications of breeching changed with time. In the early years, boys were not yet men until they passed through adolescence. In the middle and later periods, breeching fully initiated them into the world of men.
Families maintained a distance from children, loving them but expecting them to die. In part, this was manifested in the manner in which children were brought up. In general, after infancy children were not brought up as children but as young adults, contributing to the general welfare as soon as capable. Playtime was over, although to see play as strictly ended would be shortsighted, as even adults played many games we associate with children today. Education and games were mainly designed to ready the child for the practical needs of life and were focused in two areas: skill development and mental faculties. The higher the class of the child, and the later in the period, the childhood, while the working-class child was simply another mouth to feed and a laborer to help the family community. SOURCE: The Writer's Guide, Everyday Life in Colonial America From 1607 - 1783. Dale Taylor. Weiter's Digest Books (1997) p 130 - 31
CONTINUE ON TO EARLY AMERICA SEX, MARRIAGE, CHILDREN, GAYS, LESBIANS, BOYS AS GIRLS, ABORTION, BREECHING, FAMILY AND OTHER MYTHS. PART 20