chapter  6
30 Pages

The Provision of Care for Unmarried Mothers1

WithAngela Joy Muir

This chapter explores the nature of care provided to unmarried pregnant women before, during and after childbirth. Parish records, court depositions, and applications for licences to practise midwifery provide evidence of the care available to the poorest women in eighteenth-century Welsh society. Parish resources were limited, and the support provided under the old poor law often covered only what was considered absolutely necessary. Analysis of what was deemed essential for the safe delivery of illegitimate infants is one means of assessing the underlying priorities and anxieties surrounding reproduction in eighteenth-century Britain. Moreover, analysis of the care provided to unmarried mothers under different circumstances further reveals the diversity of experiences of childbirth outside of marriage. This chapter begins with an overview of midwifery in Wales within the context of eighteenth-century British childbirth practice. The chapter then examines the ‘ceremony of childbirth’ for poorer, unmarried women. Care provided to poorer unmarried women ranged from limited support offered only during labour, to extended support for days or weeks before and after birth. These differences, and the reasons behind them, are explored in detail, as are the broader roles and responsibilities of midwives and birth attendants beyond the safe delivery of infants.