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  • Writer's pictureHeather Moll

Book Review: Confinement

Confinement: The Hidden History of Maternal Bodies in Nineteenth-Century Britain by Jessica Cox is a fascinating look at topics typically held private. It relies heavily on hospital archives, newspaper reports, medical journals, and court, census, and parish records rather than letters and diaries. Those types of sources are referenced, but they don't provide nearly as much data as the other primary sources.

The emphasis on how motherhood was the ultimate ideal for women in this era was at times difficult to read, as it paralleled a stigma against infertility as well as being pregnant. "The measure of married happiness is to have a great number of children." Yet women did, and still do, walk the line between life and death while pregnant.

This was well-researched, although at times certain information was repeated as though assuming some readers would only read certain chapters, unlike me who read it cover to cover.

The maternal experience has changed in two hundred years with more access to information and more options for choice, yet this book demonstrates how feelings and experiences related to pregnancy prevention, trying to conceive, pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, post-partum depression, or child loss are markedly similar. Anyone who tells you that parents in this time period didn't value their children as much as they do now because of high infant mortality hasn't looked at the data. It was a fascinating look at maternal health and social attitudes as population exploded over the same time period.

This is a must-read for anyone setting fiction during the nineteenth century or with an interest in women's studies.

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