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How would the midwife know?

Discussion in 'Research' started by Rosemary Tea, Mar 11, 2021.

  1. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Sage

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    Looking for some historical facts on how a woman was determined to be--or not be--pregnant in the majority of human history that did not include doctors' pregnancy tests.

    I've written a chapter in which a character believes she's pregnant, so she visits the village midwife. The midwife determines that she isn't. If she really were pregnant, it would only be about 6-8 weeks from conception. I've kept the description of what actually happens between her and the midwife vague, but written it with the assumption that the midwife really can tell, accurately.

    In the absence of modern methods of determining pregnancy, how would the midwife know?

    I would love to find a method that actually works, but barring that, I'm willing to take a not-necessarily-true old wives' tale and make it true for the purpose of my world building.
     
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  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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  3. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

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    Regardless of your opinion on abortion, this is a very good article about your question. Your profile says you're female and I'll assume you're cis so you know the basic mechanics of how AFAB reproductive organs work. You can skip your menstrual cycle if you're sick, underfed, or do not have a lot of body fat....for most of human history, food scarcity was a huge problem. Many women weren't having periods every month, so missing a period wasn't the "OMG am I pregnant?" event like it is now, where very few people (in the "modern" countries) starve. You also need to keep in mind how, even modern-day, just how many pregnancies end up as miscarriages. Many times this happens even before you have a chance to have a missed period, and we have proper nutrition, less physically-demanding jobs, knowledge of prenatal vitamins etc. A LOT of stuff has changed from Ye Olden Days and today.

    Women thought of themselves as pregnant once they felt the fetus kick/tumble/flutter/etc. It was called "quickening." At that point, it was clear that you were far enough along that you were probably going to have a baby. Otherwise, any sort of missing your period could be caused by any number of things. Women would take various abortificants to bring their period back or to get it "unstuck."

    Some non-magical pregnancy tests that actually work:
    -Pee on some wheat and/or barley seeds. If they sprout, you're pregnant
    -Chadwick's Sign, which is inspecting the sex organs for color changes
    -Inject the urine of the woman into an immature rabit/mouse/etc. If they begin to ovulate, then you're pregnant (requires better tech than Ye Olde Englande but idk what your world is like)
    -Inject the urine of the woman into a toad/frog, if it releases eggs, then you're pregnant (obviously it needs to be a girl frog but you can re-use the frog, unlike the rabbit/mouse)

    If you have magic you could come up with a bunch of different stuff. You could also have a made up animal/planet that has a similar reaction, like maybe there's a magic salamander that, as part of its reproductive cycle, changes color as it's creating eggs. Pee on the salamander, see if it changes color! Now you have a whole industry of salamander breeders/collectors, maybe your local midwife/witch has a salamander on her shoppe signe so they know what she's all about.
     
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  4. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Sage

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    All I'm after is the pregnancy tests part. I already know plenty about female reproduction and how to interfere with it! Not only am I cis female, I'm severely intolerant to, and/or have multiple contraindications for, every mainstream method of contraception, so I've had to get creative in that area, and I've done LOTS of research! And I've had training in clinical herbalism, though not midwifery.

    For the purpose of the story, nothing requiring animal dissection or modern technology will work. Magic does exist in the world I'm building, but it's all based on real concepts. Healing, including midwifery, doesn't veer far from what would be feasible in pre-industrial real life. While I do let myself give the healers fantastic (to us) methods at their disposal, all of those methods are based on something that's actually been done somewhere, sometime.

    Doing a little research of my own, I came across a trending diy pregnancy test that consists of pouring the urine over dandelion leaves. That fits my world building perfectly. These people rely mainly on herbs for medicine. Dandelions being some of the best, and growing everywhere, they'd definitely have them.
     
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  5. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Sage

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  6. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    You know, I know it's not what you're looking for, but I really like the idea of small little magic affecting everyday life. Instead of just magic missiles or fireballs something like this...
     
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  7. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Sage

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    That's exactly what I'm going for.

    In some instances, I have built on the magic so that it gets more into magic fireball territory, but even for that, what I've done is taken a folkloric or New Age concept, called it a fact, and imagined what people might have developed out of it if it were an actual, indisputable fact. But when it comes to healing arts, there are plenty of real (if not mainstream) methods that are magical enough, so I prefer to use them.

    My basic rule is, if the problem doesn't involve fireball level magic, neither does the solution.
     
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  8. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Sage

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    hmm... seems that pulse diagnosis, as acupuncturists do, can pick up pregnancy, according to some.

    That's in dispute on the scientific side, but no reason it can't be accurate in the world I'm building.
     
  9. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I think if you are trying to depict a world with more primitive methods, the accuracy rate will necessarily be less. Any midwife would essentially give their best guess based on whatever evidence they collected. The amount of credibility a given character gives to them needs have nothing to do with the chances they were correct. It can be the midwife is a quack with an unreliable method, is believed by the character, and turns out to have guessed accurately. Peeing on dandelions is as good a method as any assuming any has reason to believe it effective.
     
  10. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Sage

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    Not so. Modern medicine doesn't have exclusive domain over validity. There are lots and lots of traditional methods, now marginalized or outright forgotten, that developed because they worked. Where the inaccuracies come in is when people know the basic description of the traditional method but don't know all its nuances.

    Modern medicine wouldn't do any better if people didn't know all of its nuances. For example, you might have heard that people with suspected (or actual) concussions should not be allowed to sleep more than a few hours at a time. There's actually no danger in letting them sleep, in and of itself. The reason a medical professional would wake them up every few hours is to recheck their vital signs, including their alertness and orientation (A & O, in paramedic speak), which can be rapidly altering in case of a concussion, and if they do, that's a danger sign that needs to be addressed. But if you are not trained in that kind of assessment, you won't do them any good by waking them up, and when you don't know what to look for or what it means, your accuracy rate will be zero.

    In a world where the traditional forms of medicine were not forgotten and are mainstream, they would be accurate, in the hands of a practitioner who knows what they're doing. As a writer, I don't necessarily know what those practices were or what the nuances of their accuracy would have been. In the absence of solid information, I might have to make something up. But that doesn't mean that pre-industrial midwives were necessarily less accurate than modern doctors.
     
  11. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Well...if you want to say even today we don't have 100% accurate methods...sure. I am not sure how that changes the notion that any activity believed to be meaningful, and found credible by the one seeking answers, has additional impact on the story.
     
  12. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Sage

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    It would have an impact if it weren't really accurate. If the midwife's assessment were wrong and the character actually were pregnant, it would really affect the story arc.

    For this part of the story, that the character isn't pregnant is highly relevant (it has a great effect on what comes next), and that the midwife can be trusted also matters. That she is a competent and credible practitioner, with every bit as much authority as a modern doctor, is a highly relevant detail, and not just in this one scene. Later on, she's going to be called upon as an expert witness. It wouldn't do to have her just making her best guess.
     
  13. Seems like you have it RT! I was going to suggest a simple salt test I'd heard is still done to this day, but the dandelion leaves are really perfect. The thing i liked about the potential salt test was, in a story world, it might need to be sea salt, collected and rendered by the midwife herself (to guarantee its purity) if the sea is within travel distance. It could add a little more character effort than picking leaves. Also, year around access versus potential seasonal issues if the dandelion needs to be fresh. (Does it?)

    Best of luck!
     
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  14. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Sage

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    Yes, the dandelion needs to be fresh, in reality. But dandelions grow year round in most places. The only exception is if there's enough winter snow to bury everything for months at a time. Then the dandelions wouldn't be accessible. But they do tolerate frost and mild snow (even heavy snow wouldn't kill them, just bury them). The climate I'm setting the story in only gets that, and the scene I'm working on takes place in the summer anyway.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2021
  15. MisaMai

    MisaMai Dreamer

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    From what I understand I think you have what you need medically to make things work. Several methods have been presented that you can use as a test for this character that could be administered by a midwife. It might be interesting to establish some sort of ritual that only a midwife would be wise to. You mentioned dandelions growing year round with the exception of snow but they can grow just as well indoors and a midwife in this setting could have a private store to rely on in all settings. If your world has certain religious practices there could be a religious tradition that could be used in tandem with the traditional medicine. It could also be possible that the dandelion method is considered sacred in some way due to the flower itself. Maybe the people link it to fertility in some way or consider it a sacred symbol of femininity. I know this doesn't answer your question explicitly but I found this thread so interesting I couldn't help but replying. I'm so excited to see what you decide!
     
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  16. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Sage

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    The midwife in my setting has an herb garden. Dandelions are naturally going to be in it. If you're growing a medicinal herb garden, you can't very well exclude them. I speak from experience.

    In a climate that doesn't get more than mild snow, live dandelions would be accessible all the time. No need to move them indoors. They would be a frost tolerant food source, and available for other uses, too.

    I don't have to make that up. Dandelions are such a valuable medicinal and food source, they'd be valued for that alone. They also have a long history of magical use. Expansion and growth are among their properties, because dandelions propagate themselves so prolifically. That could be a fertility indicator, among other things.
     
  17. Chuck

    Chuck Dreamer

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    There have been stories about women going scuba diving with dolphins, only to have the dolphins force the woman out of the water. On surfacing, the dive masters told the woman she was pregnant, because the dolphins could tell using their sonar.
     
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