chapter  II
3 Pages

II.5 Pain and suffering


This theatrical form of expressing and experiencing pain has many other different examples. In the case of menstrual pain, treatments such as bloodletting, hot baths, enemas and sedatives were frequently administered, coupled with patience and resignation. Again, pain and fear were counterbalanced by promises and expectations of recovery. Similarly, popular remedies abounded as far as the pains of childbirth were concerned. In some cases, relics and reliquaries were arranged around the room surrounding the birthing mother. In others, a concoction was prepared using the head of a deer. While some women asked for holy water, others drank large quantities of alcohol, which were shared equally between the woman giving birth and the midwives who were present. Early treatises on midwifery allow us to see different social standards regarding the expression or repression on pain depending on social status. While most women were encouraged to cry out their pains, queens and other aristocrats were supposed to bear childbirth pains in silence. Before the arrival of chloroform, their pain was interpreted not only as an inevitable consequence of a natural action, but also as a punishment imposed on women after Eve’s expulsion from Paradise. Even after chloroform was incorporated into the process of childbirth in the mid-nineteenth century, arguments were still made against its use under the pretext that it operated against the divine mandate, as was laid down in the Book of Genesis: ‘in pain you will bring forth children’.