This is my third Mother’s Day on this side of the table. The table where you put the hastily-made card, receive the kisses on the cheek, maybe a cup of tea in bed with a fresh-picked flower located nearby.
As nearly every mother will tell you, I love my child to distraction. I would give my life for him. But it doesn’t stop me from tearing up a few times with a lot of other conflicting emotions.
We had a difficult pregnancy, my little dude and me. He was fine—he was always fine—but not me. I developed a number of issues, and when his time to emerge came, I developed pre-eclampsia (affects between 5-14% of all pregnancies globally). In Regency times, if they’d even noticed (how could anyone not notice? My gums were so swollen that I couldn’t close my mouth!) they would have called it toxemia. At least, until I went into labor and things got really gruesome.
And for someone who spent her whole life reading, critiquing, and researching, knowing history and common narratives was not comforting.
What is one of the most common plot points? The wife/mother dies in childbirth, giving rise to a strange new beginning for husband/child. To our Western-educated minds, Snow White might be the most famous example—though the second wife was anything but nurturing. Credited as being the first novel, Murasaki Shikibu‘s Tale of Genji, has Genji’s first wife dying in childbirth. Cinderella, Oliver Twist, and more recently, George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, all feature a dead mother. It’s a character point for Tyrion Lannister that his mother dies giving birth to him. But it isn’t a character motivation for the mother, because she’s dead.
I was terrified that I was to be a plot point. The jumping off point for a happily ever after that I would never get to see. I would be the sacrifice. I would be the reason for the deficiency or the triumph in the ongoing lives of my husband and my child.
THIS IS NOT A FAIRY TALE (WHEW!)
Recently, the maternal morbidity rates have risen in the United States. No one quite knows why for sure, and there are lots of guesses, but nothing with enough data to make a clear hypothesis. Sadly, it was far safer to give birth in 1988 than in 2017.
I’m not the sort of person who scares easily. But if you were reading a story like mine—an unlikely pregnancy at an advanced maternal age, a host of health issues that only cropped up during gestation, you’d suspect that this was the introduction of the story where, well…we all know where it’s heading.
But since I’m here today, writing this blog, you know that it worked out. Thanks to modern medicine, a scalpel, and a pro-active doctor, all of us are healthy and safe.
In Regency England, the time period I write about, I would have likely died of “convulsions” if I’d managed to get to labor. They didn’t measure blood pressure at that time and weren’t sure what caused this condition, but we know now that it is eclampsia which causes strokes and seizures during childbirth. Toxemia would have been if I were sick enough to not get to labor. Both situations were a gruesome and painful way to die. And women faced this with every pregnancy. Without easily obtainable contraception (there were condoms, often referred to as French letters, but they were spendy and hard to get), women had serial pregnancies, each just as likely to cost her life.
Women: we delicate, shrinking flowers.
So while I will love every card with illegible crayon, every wonderfully sloppy toddler kiss on the cheek, sometimes, I want a damned medal pinned to my chest.
Edie Cay writes award-winning feminist Regency Romance about women’s boxing and relatable misfits. She is a member of the Regency Fiction Writers, the Historical Novel Society, ALLi, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can drop her a line on Facebook and Instagram @authorediecay or find her on her website, www.ediecay.com