Pregnancy - Symptoms, Stages and Tests
The modern woman knows that that there are three pregnancy stages or trimesters. But the word trimester hasn't always been used as a way to describe the various stages of pregnancy. The term has only been used in relation to pregnancy since 1821 even though women have been giving birth for thousands of years. The word evolved from the Latin trimestris which means three (tri) and month (mensis). In North American, trimester refers to the three three-month periods in a pregnancy calendar and can also be used to describe how a school year is divided. In the United Kingdom the word trimester is only used in connection to pregnancy.
Pregnancy Symptoms in History
Women have been experiencing the same symptoms and pregnancy signs throughout history. But there wasn't any type of pregnancy test in ancient times a woman could take to confirm that she was going to have a baby. Women simply determined that they were pregnant when they missed a period. This bit of knowledge was shared through the generations from mothers to daughters.
In ancient times people did not understand the process of conception or specifics of how it happened. People knew procreation wasn't possible without a certain type of relation between a man and a woman, but often a baby was considered a sign or a gift from the gods. Women were considered as ploughed fields that could be fertile or barren, and no connection was ever made to the man if a woman didn't get pregnant.
Trees, rituals with sacred stones, herbs, amulets and water were often associated with ancient labor and delivery. Births in most cultures were a women-only event and were midwife assisted. Mid-wives didn't provide any prenatal care as they do today. Special prenatal care was unheard of. They didn't answer any pregnancy questions either, and if a woman had any concerns about her pregnancy, she was to discuss it with her mother or adult female relatives.
Early pregnancy pictures show that Egyptian births were done on a brick seat, squatting or kneeling. The Greeks and Romans used pregnancy stools. Most cultures practiced upright births where the women used a rope, tree, pole or another woman for support if need be. Birthing was done in a kneeling, sitting, standing or squatting position.
Who Managed Births?
From Medieval times to the 17th century births were managed by female midwives. These women were often influential in their communities and were considered the most trusted women in their villages. The trade was usually passed down from mother to daughter. The women were paid for their work with gifts or money. Herbs were sometimes used to speed a long and difficult labor.
Most births were still performed by midwives. The view of childbirth as a dangerous event began and more male doctors slowly became involved in the birthing process. Male doctors also start to speak against the dark lying-in birthing chamber (where the house was closed off with windows closed, curtains drawn, keyholes stopped and candles lit). They start promoting an airy bright birthing chamber to prevent puerperal fever.
The Victorian Era
Women were considered too frail to handle pregnancy symptoms and labor. An increased view that midwives didn't know what they were doing started. Pregnancy was considered something to be ashamed of in upper class North American society and expecting women disappeared from the social scene. Upper to middle class women began to have birth in bed in the lithotomy position (woman on her back with knees up) still common in hospitals today. Women were draped with a sheet and the doctor worked by touch alone rarely ever looking at a woman's genitals. Rural and lower class women often still practiced traditional childbirth. Births were still mostly at home until the 1920s and 1930s when hospital births became the norm.