Tuesday, December 6, 2016

How far have we come? Princess Charlotte's death in childbirth

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales
by George Dawe, oil on canvas, 1817
I'm not going to devote the time this topic deserves. That's more of a promise to myself than anything else, but I have been inspired to speak on the subject, and I will do so, even if I do not go as deep as the topic warrants.

I spoke not long ago of Princess Charlotte of Wales when I was sharing my adventures in London at the National Portrait Gallery (read the post here). She died after an excruciating breach labor to a still-born son which use of forceps could have prevented, but such intervention was against the philosophy ascribed to by her attending physician. This national tragedy sparked a new interest in birthing practices amongst members of the medical establishment: an entirely male body. Prior to this time, many doctors were content to leave the mysteries of childbirth in the capable (if often dirty) hands of the midwives. The effect of childbirth becoming such an intense focus of study had many positive effects but also many drawbacks, and we remain to this day subject to the inadequacies of a field of study conducted almost entirely by those who have no first hand knowledge of the experience.

Two articles in the news lately grabbed my attention. The first's headline is one that I'm sure ensnared many. 100 Women in 2016: Researching the female discusses the lack of knowledge we have in mapping the nerve endings in female genitalia as opposed to the swath of information available on the male. This dearth of knowledge leads many in gynecology and obstetrics to attribute responsibility for sexual dysfunction on the patient, as they do not understand the medical cause. The second article, Cesarean births "affecting human evolution", regards a study conducted in Austria demonstrating an increase in the number of women suffering from fetopelvic disproportion, or FPD, and attributing it to medical intervention's effect on the evolution of humanity. Basically, because cesarean births have enabled women who (like Princess Charlotte) may not otherwise have survived and delivered healthy offspring to do so, a genetic predisposition for a narrow pelvis is being passed down from one generation to the next, increasing the number of women who aren't able to deliver vaginally because the baby's head is too large to pass through the mother's birth canal. The result is the cervix doesn't dilate all the way, and labor fails to progress naturally.

This next paragraph is somewhat gruesome. Be warned.

Princess Charlotte went into labor at 42 weeks and 3 days on the evening of November 3, 1817. Having followed her prescribed diet, called a "lowering" treatment, she was weak due to inadequate nourishment and bloodletting. Mild contractions came at 8 to 10 minute intervals. Her cervix was considered to be a "half penny dilated," whatever that means (I could find out, but I'm not taking the time to do so). Around 3 am the princess had a violent vomiting spell, and important state personages were called into attendance. At 8 o'clock in the morning on the 4th she was only 3 centimeters dilated, and the labor continued to progress slowly. The following day at noon, after the presence of meconium was detected, doctors began to fear for the cild's life. A 9 pound, still-born boy was not delivered vaginally until 9 pm on the 5th of November. Charlotte had been in labor for 44 hours. Thirty minutes later she began hemorrhaging. The doctors were able to extract the placenta, and for a time all seemed relatively well, yet by the 6th she was dead, having experienced a series of severe spasms (follow the link for a detailed account of Charlotte's labor and death: http://www.innominatesociety.com/Articles/The%20Death%20of%20Princess%20Charlotte%20of%20Wales.html).

This is in many ways so similar to what happened to me when I gave birth to my daughter, yet with all the benefits of modern medicine that a 19th century princess could ever imagine. My daughter wasn't breach, but she was facing backwards, so all my labor pains were in my back and very intense. I could have blessed the anesthesiologist when I received the epidural. From then on my pains were not acute, but the labor didn't really advance. I had discussed with my doctor upon first being pregnant my doubts about being able to deliver vaginally, and she must have recalled my warnings, because after only one round of pushing at 8 centimeters with no progress she looked at me and said, "How wed are you to the idea of vaginal birth, because this is going to take a very long time. A mere hour later I had my daughter, but I could not hold her for several because of hemorrhaging. Sound a bit like Charlotte?

The reason I doubted my ability to give birth naturally was many fold. First, I was so fortunate as to have a gynecologist once who thankfully bothered to mention that I had unusually narrow cervix. Second, my husband and I were both the products of mothers who only had cesareans. Both are small women who delivered large babies. Third, my husband has one of the biggest heads I've ever seen. I mean, he can hardly buy a hat. I considered the matter and concluded it was quite likely I would not have a natural childbirth. Every medical expert I spoke with fervently disagreed.

I am now thinking of having another child. My hope is that this new research will allow me to point out a body of evidence to my new Swiss docs that helps them take my concerns about a VBAC seriously. My fear is that it will increase an already strong cultural reluctance towards assisted births of all sorts. I'm not particularly concerned about receiving proper medical attention if I need it, but I would rather avoid the rigamarole of waiting for the doctor to see the evidence before his or her eyes that I have been trying to explain for months and just get the whole ordeal over and done. First world problems, I suppose, but they take up a great deal of my attention.

So these are my thoughts on this sunny Tuesday morning. Doctors need to be less satisfied with their breadth of knowledge and start filling in the massive holes left by centuries of male-dominated medicine. In the meantime, please listen to your patients. Particularly when it comes to the female body, we are each so unique that it is impossible to boil us down into neat categories and distinct experiences, no matter how hard pregnancy manuals might try. It's disgraceful I should be able to compare the birthing practices of two hundred years ago to those of today and find doctors still subject to the same prejudices.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Crafty Regency Christmas, today at Austen Authors

Come join me today at Austen Authors for my post, A Craft Regency Christmas. Here's the beginning of the post. Follow the link for more.

Wheew! I just wrapped up the NaNoWriMo madness, and now it’s time to bring on the holidays!
I can’t help but get crafty at this time each year. My fingers seem to literally itch for a needle and thread, a pile of scrapbooking supplies, or whatever else I’ve found on Pinterest to inspire me. Ah, Pinterest! What did we ever do without you? So as my attention turns away from writing and onto paper folding, I thought I would do some research on Pinterest for Austen/Regency inspired craft projects to decorate your home with this holiday season. I’m not sure if I will personally get to any of these projects this year as I am in midst of appliquéing a set of Twelve Days of Christmas ornaments, but all are going on the “maybe someday” list, of which I have such a treasure trove.
The first project I will definitely get to someday, as I have a proliferation of inherited, crochet doilies (not all of which I’m willing to cut up – but some seem perfect for this!) and have yet to find a use for them. Why not turn them into a garland for use on any festive occasion? This is an item that you can buy on Etsy from DaisiesBlueShop, but I think it would be quite easy to make. The key is getting your hands on the doilies, if you haven’t a convenient stash on hand. Now you have an excuse to go antiqueing: you’re welcome!

Read the rest of the post at Austen Authors: http://austenauthors.net/a-crafty-regency-christmas/.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

NaNo Update: My parody of Carroll's parody of 'The Sluggard" by Isaac Watts

Just popping in to share a but of fun I've been having with my NaNoWriMo story, Darcy in Wonderland. I'm just under 35,000 words as I write this, a bit behind after a crazy viral thing that took me down for four full days last week, but still on track to finish 50,000 words before the end of the month. Some of the hardest earned words in those 35,000 are my responses to the many poems Lewis Carroll includes in Alice in Wonderland. I just got though the episode with the Mock Turtle, which is very verse heavy, and I'm in need of a short reprieve. 

In that scene Alice is asked to recite a famous moral poem by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), and the words come out quite nonsensical instead. Thought I do a quick side by side comparison of Watts' original, Carroll's version, and my own Austen inspired variation. This is very rough still, but I'd still love to hear what thoughts you have on it: please share them!

First, Isaac Watts:

'Tis the voice of the sluggard; I heard him complain,
"You have waked me too soon, I must slumber again."
As the door on its hinges, so he on his bed,
Turns his sides and his shoulders and his heavy head.

"A little more sleep, and a little more slumber;"
Thus he wastes half his days, and his hours without number,
And when he gets up, he sits folding his hands,
Or walks about sauntering, or trifling he stands.

I pass'd by his garden, and saw the wild brier,
The thorn and the thistle grow broader and higher;
The clothes that hang on him are turning to rags;
And his money still wastes till he starves or he begs.

I made him a visit, still hoping to find
That he took better care for improving his mind:
He told me his dreams, talked of eating and drinking;
But scarce reads his Bible, and never loves thinking.

Said I then to my heart, "Here's a lesson for me,"
This man's but a picture of what I might be:
But thanks to my friends for their care in my breeding,
Who taught me betimes to love working and reading. 


Next:, Mr. Carroll's, with interrupting dialogue omitted:

'Tis the voice of the Lobster: I heard him declare
"You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair."
As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his nose
Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes.
When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,
And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark;
But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,
His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.

I passed by his garden, and marked, with one eye,
How the Owl and the Panther were sharing a pie:
The Panther took pie-crust, and gravy, and meat,
While the Owl had the dish as its share of the treat.
When the pie was all finished, the Owl, as a boon,
Was kindly permitted to pocket the spoon;
While the Panther received knife and fork with a growl,
And concluded the banquet by eating the owl. 

And my own:

’Tis the voice of the Lobster: In tones not muted,
‘Take no pleasure in novels? Intolerably stupid!’
Like a lady when shopping for muslins and lace,
Our minds shout agreement, even as our hearts race.
‘Little boy and girls should be tormented,’ he said,
But only so long as it is good for their heads:
‘To torment or instruct: words found synonymous.’
All precision of language has now gone amiss.”

“I passed by his garden, and to my surprise,
Something shocking indeed was happening inside.
‘Indeed! Of what nature!’ The questions were fret.
‘More horrible than anything we’ve met with yet.’
‘Good heaven! A riot? Give me peace of mind!’
‘I expect murder and everything of that kind.’
 Laughing, ‘The riot is only in your own brain!
The confusion there might drive anyone insane.’

Friday, November 4, 2016

Winner of Darcy By Any Other Name and NaNoWriMo

It is National Novel Writing month, so I am unlikely to be blogging much. This is unfortunate as I still haven't finished traveling my late summer travels with you. Look for pictures of Bath around Christmas.

Before I disappear, I must announce the winner of one copy of Darcy By Any Other Name donated by the gracious author, Laura Hile. Ya da da da da da! And the winner is: Anonymous #1. Well, that was a bit anti-climatic. The winner may expect to hear from us soon. Congratulations! If you missed the giveaway, do still check out my review of this fantastic book. You can read it here: https://alexaadams.blogspot.ch/2016/10/darcy-by-any-other-name-by-laura-hile.html

Also today is my monthly Austen Authors post. My subject? NaNoWriMo. Shocking, right? The nifty part is I have included an excerpt from the very little I have written so far of Darcy in Wonderland. I'm having great fun with this one! Please come check it out: http://austenauthors.net/austen-authors-at-nanowrimo/.

As the month wears on, I may share some more excerpts here, so keep a lookout and wish me good luck!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Giveaway! Darcy By Any Other Name

A bit of excitement: upon reading my review yesterday, author Laura Hile generously offered my readers a giveaway! One ebook edition of Darcy By Any Other Name is up for grabs. Giveaway will run for a week. Just leave a comment below including your email address. Good luck, and thanks Laura!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Darcy By Any Other Name by Laura Hile

I can think of few authors who do justice to Jane Austen's fine appreciation for the absurd, but Laura Hile is certainly one of them. Her Mercy's Embrace trilogy (read my reviews) has long been amongst my very favorite Austenesque stories, and it was with impatience that I waited for the day last summer when I finally got to greedily devour a new book by Ms. Hile. I admit to feeling some trepidation regrading the premise of Darcy By Any Other NameMr. Darcy is struck by lightening and changes bodies with Mr. Collins. The very notion left me uncomfortable. Darcy as Collins? It gave me that feeling I get when an actor on film does something so ridiculous I can barely stand to watch, usually Will Farrell. There may even have been a moment of hesitation before I cracked the cover, but I knew I could trust the writer who redeemed Elizabeth Elliot, and in I plunged.

What a ride.

If there were cringe worthy moments, they effectively conveyed Darcy's own extreme discomfort with his predicament. Who am I to be skeeved out when it's poor Mr. Darcy who has to endure it? Upon first awakening from the accident, he find himself a virtually prisoner at Longbourn, studiously guarded by the well-meaning Mrs. Hill.

Darcy's eyes studied Hill as she moved about the room. In order to escape he might have to climb out a window and slide down the drain pipe. Not that he hadn't done this before, but how would Collins' flabby body respond? He'd caught glimpses of Collins' thighs, each one plump and rounded like the body of a seal. Could he climb with such legs? Could he manage to ride?

Darcy watched Hill stir the coals and add wood to the fire. How many stones was Collins? Did the Bennets have a horse that would bear his weight?

Presently Hill went out, and at once Darcy sat up, wincing a little at the way his head hurt. Steeling himself against pain, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Secretly he had practiced standing to gain strength and balance. Now it was time to venture farther.

Darcy took a sliding step in the direction of the wardrobe. He found that by holding on to the bedstead and then bracing himself against the nearby wall, he could reach the wardrobe door. Hanging inside were a black frock coat and a single pressed shirt. The shelves held smallclothes, stockings, and a cravat, clean and nicely folded. Darcy gathered these and made his way back to the bed.

With a weather eye in the unlocked door, he managed to dress himself. The effort left him weary and winded. He glanced at the clock. No wonder, it was almost time for the midday meal--more bone broth. Wonderful.

One of the things he'd noticed about Collins' body was how hungry he was. Continually he was craving food, especially sweets. This, Darcy decided, was something that would have to change. He would not be a slave to a voracious appetite.

The pages flew by as I anxiously sought resolution, desperate to learn how such an extraordinary occurrence might be undone, little suspecting that more than a body stood in our hero's way. Of course Elizabeth might learn to love Mr. Collins despite his person, were he Mr. Darcy inside, but how to rectify such a predicament proved just as complex as reclaiming a body. The novel is action packed, just like Mercy's Embrace, but Darcy By Any Other Name is a longer and more linear story, allowing the reader to linger and smell the roses. I think I might like it better. Rereads will tell. Brava, Laura!

And now we have a giveaway! Win a free ebook of Darcy By Any Other Name here: http://alexaadams.blogspot.ch/2016/10/a-bit-of-excitement-upon-reading-my.html.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Horatio Nelson at the NPG and in Edinburgh

by Lemuel Francis Abbott, oil on canvas, 1797
I am not hugely enamored with military history, but one cannot study Jane Austen's era without knowing something of Nelson. For better or worse, my early impressions of the man were defined by the 1941 film That Hamilton Woman (it's amazing how many characters, both real and fictional, were first introduced to me as Laurence Olivier). Those of us who don't find military history fascinating sometimes cling to scandalous tidbits like Nelson's affair with Emma Hamilton, as they are far more engaging to our brains than battle maneuvers. So it was with some chagrin that I visited The Nelson Monument on top of Calton Hill only to discover the small but highly informative museum exhibit dedicated to him there made not a single mention of his notorious mistress. For my five pounds, I would have liked to have had that small bone tossed my way. Of course, I was paying to climb the tower and enjoy the view, which I would gladly do again.

I suppose the legitimate Nelson enthusiast must get rather bored of we dilettantes who want to delve again and again into the details of his great romance. I understand that his military career is legendary and of far greater lasting significance than the details of his love life. Yet when presenting the image of a man in his entirety - when seeking to understand his character and motivations - is not such information essential? Behold his portrait on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London: this is not the image of a glorified military emblem (as we saw George IV portray himself in the same room), but a surprisingly gentle and unassuming looking man, not formidable in the least despite the proudly display of his Star and Ribbon of the Bath and Naval Gold Medal. This portrait is based on one from a previous sitting for the same artist, though it was also taken from life, and it was commissioned for Lady Nelson. How I wished there were portraits of both she and Lady Hamilton nearby! Perhaps such a display would be a bit sensationalist, especially in a room of the gallery dedicated George IV, but I would have reveled in it, nonetheless. I find this portrait fascinating in its backstory. There is some madness in this tale, and that always sparks my imagination. This is from the NPG website:
Although Nelson only sat to him twice, Abbott subsequently copied the picture over forty times. The copies gradually declined in quality as the artist became mentally ill but this was no bar to their popularity. Many were purchased by Nelson's naval colleagues, his family and friends.  
In July 1798, Nelson's wife wrote to him: 'My dearest Husband - I am now writing opposite to your portrait, the likeness is great. I am well-satisfied with Abbott… it is my companion, my sincere friend in your absence…'.
Nelson supposedly began his affair with Lady Hamilton that September, so there's your scandal. Revel with me.

Please enjoy the views from the top of the monument. It was incredibly windy up there but totally worth the climb. One gets the feeling of being an admiral on his ship, looking out into the endless distance.


The Nelson Monument, Calton Hill, Edinburgh

View of Hollyrood Castle from top of Nelson Monument

View of the rest of Calton Hill from Nelson Monument, including
the National Monument of Scotland and the City Observatory.

View of Arthur's Seat from Nelson Monument

View of Calton Hill, Edinburgh New Town, and the Firth of
Forth, estuary to the North Sea, from Nelson Monument.