18th Century Midwife Teaching Model
Angélique-Marguerite du Coudray was a famous 18th century midwife and designed this medical model to teach midwife trainees about delivering babies. Louis XV learned of her expertise and asked her to set up courses throughout France. From 1759-1779, she traveled the country with her mannequin and published her Abridged Art of Chid Delivery.
The Curious Case of Mary Toft Who Gave Birth to Rabbits
In 1726, Britain was enthralled with the story of Mary Toft, a woman of Godalming in Surrey, who claimed that she had given birth to a litter of rabbits. The news of Mary and her “birthing of rabbits” grew quickly and reached the court of King James I.
Mary was a 25 year old illiterate servant and the wife of Joshua Toft. In September of 1726, Mary gave birth to what appeared to be a deformed cat. The family called upon John Howard, a local obstetrician. When he arrived, he was presented with more animal parts which had been taken from Mary during the night. Over the next month, Howard recorded that she birthed a rabbit’s head, the legs of a cat, and in a single day, nine dead baby rabbits.
Howard sent letters to some of England’s greatest doctors, scientists and the King’s secretary regarding the miraculous births. The curious King sent his personal surgeon and the secretary to the Prince of Whales to examine the matter.
By now Mary Toft was a local celebrity. When the King’s men arrived, they were immediately greeted with the news that Mary was in labour with her fifteenth rabbit. The doctors examined the rabbits and were highly suspicious of the results. But one doctor was convinced her case was genuine and that the rabbits were the result of the supernatural.
As Mary’s story was quickly spreading throughout London, the King sent another doctor to investigate. The doctor took some of the rabbits back to London and found that the dung pellets from one of the rabbit’s rectum contained corn, hay and straw. He had proof that the rabbits did not come from Mary and he reported the fraud to the King.
Mary was finally caught. The final proof came when a porter was caught trying to sneak a rabbit into Mary’s room. He confessed that Mary’s sister-in-law had asked him to procure the smallest rabbit he could find. Mary was taken into custody but admitted nothing…until one of the doctors threatened to perform painful experimental surgery on her to see if she was formed differently from other women. Mary finally admitted that she had manually inserted dead rabbits into her vagina and then allowed them to be removed as if she were giving birth.
Mary Toft was charged with being a “Notorious and Vile Cheat” and was sent to Bridewell Prison. After just a few months, the whole case was dismissed and she was released. Not for lack of proof, but to avoid any further embarrassment to the establishment if the case were pursued any further. No more was heard of Mary or her strange rabbit births, but she will forever be remembered in the annals of bizarre and curious history.
Male Seahorse Giving Birth
Adjustable Birthing Chair, Europe, 1750-1850
Childbirth was made more comfortable for the mother by the adjustable seat, back and arms of the chair. Birthing chairs were used for hundreds of years prior to the invention of modern medicine. It is made from wood, padded leather and iron. The seat shape allows a clear route for the emerging baby and access for those assisting the birth. The chair is also known as a parturition chair. They were used from ancient times until the 1800s. The grooved parts on the bottom of the frame were used for leg rests, which the mother would use for support and to press against. Some birthing chairs have low centers of gravity so the mother can squat and still be supported by the chair.
Curious History: The Legend of the Ubume
According to Japanese folklore, an ubume is the ghost of a womam who has died in childbirth (birthing woman ghost). Appearing disheveled or in a state of desperation while holding a swaddled infant, the apparition will beg those who pass by to hold her baby, only to then disappear. The infant will grow heavier and heavier in the arms of the stranger, until when becoming impossible to hold, it is revealed to be a heavy stone.
According to one legend, the warrior Urabe Suetake who was a retainer and guardian king to the Lord Minamoto no Yorimitsu, was traveling with a group of soldiers. One night he overheard his men telling wild stories of an ubume that haunted an upcoming river. She would appear to travelers who attempted to ford the river. Standing in the rapids, she would beg them to help save her child, but upon accepting the child, it would grow so heavy that the good samaritan would sink below the waters and drown.
After hearing of the story, his men became too frightened to cross the river the next day. Suetake chided his men for being superstitious and crossed the river himself to prove it was safe. At first the ubume didn’t appear, but on his return crossing, a woman with a crying child did appear and begged Suetake to save her baby. Suetaki, momentarily forgetting the old tale, took the bundled infant in his arms. The child grew heavier and heavier, but Suetake was a strong warrior, and he hefted the child across to safety. Upon arriving back at the camp he opened the bundle and found it to be nothing more than wet leaves in the rough shape of an infant.
Much thanks to peashooter85 for this submission