This may clarify a few things about me. What life lessons did your mother teach you?
This may clarify a few things about me. What life lessons did your mother teach you?
As a writer of historical romances, I guess you could say I have a professional interest in birth control methods of the past. Basically, humans have been trying to prevent pregnancy, with varying levels of success, ever since we figured out what causes it. People think of the Comstock Laws and don’t realize that contraception has been part of American life since the beginning.
Colonial women grasped the implications of controlling their reproduction early. Before obstetrical medicine developed, 1 out of 10 pregnancies ended with the mother’s death, according to centuries of parish records in both Europe and America. Add to this the number of deaths from complications, infections from dirty hands exploring the birth canal, and general lack of basic hygiene, and maternal mortality approaches 25 out of every 100.
One less mouth to feed meant more resources were available for a family‘s existing children, and eased the husband’s economic burden. Women could not compel their husbands to use abstinence (and probably didn’t like it much themselves) or withdrawal. Breast-feeding provided some protection, but lacked dependability. Vaginal sponges and condoms don‘t seem to have been common. That left plants in cottage gardens that could be used to induce abortions. There are North American plants with similar qualities, and I would be very surprised if Native American women did not know how to use those.
During the nineteenth century, Americans continued to search for ways to manage the size of their families:
1839: Charles Knowlton publishes the first pamphlet in America describing various methods of contraception, aimed at married couples. He advocated douching after sex as the best method. A hundred years before the FDA, no one realized that douching has a 90% fail rate and can lead to painful pelvic inflammations. The same year, Charles Goodyear invents vulcanized rubber, enabling the manufacture of rubber condoms in the 1840s. Compared to the porous condoms made of animal skin or intestines since the 16th century, the 50% fail rate of these ‘capotes’ and ‘cundrums’ is hailed as a miracle by married couples.
February 1840: Queen Victoria, a figure of fascination for many Americans, marries Prince Albert and discovers sex, which she privately describes to her doctor as “fun in bed”.
November 1840: Queen Victoria gives birth to her first child. She does NOT consider this fun and discusses birth control with her doctor. He suggests she and Albert use the rhythm method. At the time, doctors believed that a woman’s ‘safe’ days were midway through the woman’s menstrual cycle. You know, the days when she is actually most fertile. To her dismay, the Queen went on to have eight more children. She never lost her passion for Albert, although she shared a dread and loathing of pregnancy with women on both sides of the Atlantic.
1842: German physician W. P. J. Mensinga invents the diaphragm. Copies are soon available in the U.S.
1860s: Newspapers from New York to Charleston to Cleveland carry adds for ‘capotes’, douching syringes, penis caps, ‘wife protectors’ (rubber cervical caps or diaphragms), sponges and ‘female solutions’. Quality was dubious, making them undependable and in some cases dangerous. They become connected with the sex trade and promiscuity in the minds of many who might otherwise have taken advantage of them.
1873: The Comstock Laws, a series of anti-commerce laws are passed, which define contraception as ‘obscene’ for the first time. The U.S. becomes the only country in the Western world to criminalize family planning. Dr. Edward B. Foote advocates the benefits of ‘fertility limitation’ for married couples, citing improved health for mothers and infants as well as relief of the husband’s economic burden. (Sound familiar?) In spite of the Comstock Laws, he distributes birth control devices and information about them.
1876: Dr. Foote is tried for breaking the Comstock Laws and sentenced to a fine of $3,000, equivalent to $67,000 to $73,000 today. When he asks for help paying it, 300 people come forward to offer support.
1879: Connecticut passes the stiffest anti-contraceptive law in the country: Even married couples cannot legally obtain from a doctor birth control to protect the wife’s health. For both health and economic reasons, It is regularly flouted for nearly 100 years.
1888: Dr. W. R. D. Blackwood writes “Is it proper, is it human, is it desirable that the lot of a married female should be a continual round of impregnation, delivery and lactation?…I do not hesitate for an instant to say NO! And I look with more than suspicion on those who, assuming superior virtue, condemn any and all attempts to control conception.”
1892-1920: Gynecologist Clelia Mosher asks her married patients to fill out questionnaires on their sexual practices and beliefs. Only 45 did so over the years, but their comments are interesting. 41 of the women used birth control, including douches, condoms, and ‘womb veils’, all illegal. One woman used a rubber ring around the cervix, which was apparently painful, but not as bad an another child. Many of the 41 considered reproduction a secondary reason for martial sex.
1913: On October 16, Margaret Sanger and her sister Ethel Byrne, both nurses, open America’s first birth control clinic in Brooklyn. They see 488 women in the ten days before they are shut down. At their trial, the judge rejects the idea that “a woman has the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception.”
1920s: Spermicidal gels and suppositories (some foaming — how festive!) are sold over the counter as ‘feminine hygiene products’ to get around laws forbidding the sale and use of contraceptives. Adding spermicides reduced the failure rate of diaphragms to 20%, the most reliable birth control until the Pill. Although more effective, this method as it is messy and pretty much kills spontaneity.
1936: In the face of the Depression, 70% of Americans favor birth control in a national survey. An upswing in abortion as a method of birth control also occurs during the decade. One doctor in Chicago reported after his arrest that the majority of his patients were married women aborting third pregnancies or higher. He didn’t say whether they had tried contraceptive measures that failed.
1945: Alabama becomes the first state to establish a tax-supported family planning program. Several southern states follow suit. Poor families shrink and illegitimate births drop across the region.
1950: Katherine McCormick, one of the wealthiest widows in America, finances the research that would lead the first Pill.
1955: The Margulies spiral, the first American made IUD, is invented. Its long tail intrudes into the vagina, causing “pain and trauma” to partners. Unsurprisingly, it never catches on.
1960: Enovid, the first pill, goes on sale. It causes headaches and weight gain, but users flock to their doctors demanding prescriptions anyway. It becomes the best-selling drug in U.S. history to that time, thanks to its dependability and ease of use.
1965: The first American-made IUDs prove popular long-term permanent birth control solutions. The modern IUD was invented in Germany in 1920, but could not be legally imported.
1965: The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the 1879 Connecticut ban on all contraceptive use and confirms that a “right to marital privacy” exists in the spirit of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. In 1972, the Supreme Court extends the right to privacy in deciding to use contraceptives to unmarried people.
1971: The Dalkon Shield hits the market. Eventually two million women will use this IUD. Undisclosed problems include severe pain and a tendency to cause uterine infections. 18 known deaths are eventually associated with it, along with hysterectomies, infections, birth defects and miscarriages (not always a problem with other IUDs.)
1988: High dose pills are taken off the market.
2002: Contraceptive patches are introduced. Changed once a week, they have fewer side effects than pills, but are more expensive.
For more reading:
A History of the Wife, Marilyn Yalom
Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America, Andrea Tone
A Distant Mirror, Barbara Tuchman
The Weaker Vessel, Antonia Fraser
The universal flouting of the Comstock Laws amazed and amused me! What do you think is the most surprising thing about the history of birth control in the U.S.?
Also, here is a fun slideshow on WebMD on some of the things people have used in the past to prevent pregancy. Think fish bladder condoms and crocodile poop.
I can’t help it. This is my favorite time of year. The broiling temperatures of summer are relieved by cooler temps, yet the wicked winds of a Nebraska winter haven’t started blowing. And the violent weather of spring (rains, tornadoes, thunderstorms, hail, etc.) have disappeared for the most part.
My favorite sport resumes in the fall. Around here, Husker football approaches the status of a state religion. Our home games have sold out for the last forty-nine years. (The 50th anniversary will be in early November 2012.) We do have four seasons, but they have different names: Post-Season, Spring Practice, Pre-Season and FOOTBALL! I not only remember where I was for the Game of the Century, I can describe the outfit I wore.
This year, we’re pretty excited about joining the Big Ten. For one thing, the Cornhuskers will be going up against new (to us) opponents, which is exciting both because we hope the team will do well, and because the competition will be tough. But you have to love a conference that has its own TV network. Yes, that’s right: the Big Ten Network. Yeah, baby! Candy bar!!
Both cooler weather and football games means I start to enjoy cooking again. When it’s over 95 F outside, my goal for dinner is ‘do not heat up the house’. Come autumn, we can go back to stews, oven-braised meats and what may be my kids’ all-time favorite dish: Roasted Rosemary Potato Slices. And then there’s baking — muffins, cookies, brownies, cakes. Life is good!
Now if only we could get Oklahoma back on the schedule.
Here are a couple of my go-to recipes: One is a great year-round appetizer and the other is the aforementioned potatoes.
Cucumber and Cream Cheese Appetizers
1 loaf of party rye or party bread
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese
1 envelope of dry Italian salad dressing mix
Combine the cream cheese and dressing mix until well blended. Let it sit while you cut the cucumber into 1/8 inch slices, or a bit thinner if you prefer. Spread the cream cheese onto slices of the party rye bread and top with a cucumber slice. Easy peasy!
Roasted Rosemary Potato Slices (serves 4)
4 Russet potatoes, scrubbed
4 T melted butter or olive oil, as you prefer
1 t dried rosemary, crumbled
Cut the potatoes into 1/4 inch slices. Pour half the butter or olive into an 8-inch baking pan and swirl it to coat the bottom. Layer the potatoes in the pan, in separate rows, arranging them so that they overlap slightly. Pour the remaining butter over them, then sprinkle them with the salt and rosemary. Add pepper to taste.
Bake in the middle of a 425 F oven for 22 minutes. Turn the potatoes over. Supposedly you can do this with a long, thin spatula. I’ve tried to and failed, so any more I use a regular spatula and don’t worry about keeping them in rows so much. They’re not as pretty, but they’re still delicious. Aaanyhoo, after you turn the taters, put them back in the oven for another 20-25 minutes, until they’re golden brown.
Last week, my husband and I drove with our youngest daughter to Louisiana for a college visit. It meant a lot of driving, but after years of taking our older daughter to out-of-state skating competitions, road trips are nothing new to us. While it’s nice to leave our daily routines behind and see new parts of the country (or revisit fun destinations), there are downsides to car travel. One of which is road food.
I love burgers and fries more than is good for me, but eating in fast food joints, or even nice chain restaurants, palls after the first few days away from home. After a frustrating morning that included two wrong exits and a stretch of road without even a burger place, we decided to stop at Isabella, in Port Gibson, Mississippi. Located in a house dating from 1880, the bed and breakfast also serves lunches at its Porch Restaurant. Lucky us!
Owners Bobbye and Phil Pinnix are only the third family to own the historic house, and their renovations include Victorian furnishings in the parlors and bedrooms. Even our lunch was served on a collection of vintage glassware and red toile plates. My husband enjoyed a huge roast beef sandwich with fresh fruit, while my daughter tucked into sliders and I tried a burger with a side of Bobbye’s potato salad. Yum! Did I mention they grow their own tomatoes?
Fortunately for us, we arrived at the tail end of lunch, so we were able to chat with the Pinnixes. Bobbye told me that while she is not fanciful, she is convinced that the house is haunted by some of the former owners. She and Phil, along with some of their guests, have heard the sounds of glass shattering in the butler’s pantry and furniture dragged over the wooden floors. The ghostly activity seems to be limited to making noise, as there is never any broken glass or rearranged furniture to be found. Bobbye even told of receiving a comforting squeeze on the shoulder while she was completely alone in the kitchen area. According to her, spirits in the house don’t mean any harm. “After all, it was their house before it was ours,” she said.
I am skeptical of most reports of paranormal activity myself, because I think much can be explained by scientific fact. However, I would love to risk a haunting if it means I can return to Isabella!
Isabella Bed & Breakfast
1009 Church Street
Port Gibson, MS 39150
601-437-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The first time I stepped out of the car wearing the Darth Vader-esque boot that has made up half my footwear for the last month, my youngest daughter took one look at it and deadpanned, “You’re never going to be able to accessorize that.”
That is only one of many reasons I love the kid. While both of my children are phenomenal young women and I’m thankful to be their mother, I have a soft spot for my wise-cracking, moody, impatient youngest. This summer especially, she has demonstrated remarkable fortitude in the face of disappointments.
Originally, my mother-in-law planned to take her to France for three weeks. However, my MIL’s doctor found a malignant skin tumor shortly after our daughter’s passport arrived. Thankfully, the doctor appears to have removed the entire tumor and my MIL is sailing through chemotherapy. While my daughter is as relieved as the rest of us that her granny is doing so well, it’s only human to feel disappointment at the change in plans. Who could blame her?
Then I injured my leg severely enough to warrant a cast and crutches. So instead of visiting Paris and the Ardennes, my youngest spent three weeks serving as my hands and feet. My oldest helped where she could, but she had a lousy summer last year when her college closed. To make up for credits lost when she transferred into the state university system, she’s been taking day classes, night classes and summer school for nearly 12 months.
My younger daughter managed housework, cooking, grocery shopping and driving me to and/or from work. Granted, she already knew what she was doing for all those things, but she was spending a lot more of her time doing them. And according to my family I am not a very good patient. (I have no idea why they’d say that.) Yes, there was a certain amount of muttering, but I can’t complain. There were also a lot of times when she’d poke her head in the door and ask I wanted a drink or something brought to me.
Not only that, she had to say good-bye to her best friend Sarah because Sarah’s dad accepted a job on the East Coast. Sarah is everything my daughter is not: perky, optimistic, mild-mannered and soft-spoken. She and my moody, outspoken, assertive offspring have been inseparable since seventh grade. My daughter would use her sharp tongue to scare off people like the obnoxious boy in math class that creeped Sarah out, in return getting a daily dose of cheer. My daughter has other friends she loves dearly (she may be moody but she’s no loner!), and they all form a Lack of Sarah Support Group for each other. But the day Sarah moved away required Mom hugs and medicinal Ben & Jerry’s.
Our tastes aren’t the same, but she’s got a sound critical eye, particularly for film, and she’s smart enough to be able to back up her opinions with good arguments. We’ve had some great conversations about dance, books, and movies.
As a late bloomer myself (really really really late), I watch this daughter make her plans for college and beyond, knowing that like most of us, she may very well change directions mid-course. I’m thrilled that she’s looking at the future with as much optimism as a moody sarcastic person can. Changes and obstacles are the nature of life. But even if her plans fail, she won’t.
With Mother’s Day coming up in many countries around the world, this historical romance writer thinks it might be interesting to take a look at motherhood during the Victorian era. Strip away the sentimental gauze which covers the 19th century and you’ll find some alarming advice given to new moms.
A young bride could go from complete ignorance about sex to motherhood within the first year of her marriage. And in an age where widespread knowledge of contraception did not exist (and providing it was often a crime), the average middle class Englishwoman would give birth four more times over the course of her life. (Provided she did not die of puerperal fever or the effects of a complicated birth.) Then, as now, advice books to help her through the process of raising a family abounded.
However, attitudes differed from our day. For one thing, women were not encouraged to follow their own mothers’ advice or their own common sense. The (mostly male) writers of books on ‘the management of children’ urged their readers to defer to “the superior wisdom of medical experts.” While the possession of a functional uterus does not automatically make a woman a good mother, some of the ‘wisdom’ offered is astounding. In a bad way.
New mothers who wanted to breastfeed were discouraged. Even where the occasional doctor might acknowledge some advantage to the practice, nursing for longer than three months interfered with a woman’s perceived duty to her husband and household. Also, advice books opined that breast milk was not nearly as nutritious as ‘pap’ — a concoction of bread soaked in water and sweetened with sugar. (And they wondered why so many infants didn’t survive to their first birthday!)
In the ideal painted by experts of that time, mothers did not spend excessive amounts of time with their babies and young children. Instead a nurse, nursemaid, or nanny provided most of the care, with the mother in a supervisory role. The old maxim is “Children should be seen and not heard.” While that is still an excellent piece of advice, especially when we take our kids out in public, in some families in the 19th century, children were barely even seen. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were considered model parents for visiting their two oldest children once a day. Their younger children got much shorter shrift, as the Queen noted in a letter that she scarcely saw them more than once every three months. While I believe that children are small wild animals that need to be trained in at least the appearance of civilized behavior before we let them loose on the rest of the world, this is extreme even for me.
So is the Victorian concept of proper food for growing children. Meals were to be plain. Highly flavored food might arouse passions (especially dangerous in girls)! Fruits and vegetables were suspect, and even fresh bread and butter might lead young people astray. Mrs. Beeton suggests day old bread is good enough for the schoolroom. Jam was considered inappropriate for children. One young woman only tasted marmalade for the first time after her marriage!
What about you? Would you have enjoyed raising children or growing up in this era?
I’ve had computer issues lately. Not the kind where you push the ‘on’ button and nothing happens, which is one of the worst sensations a writer can experience. (That happened to me last summer. I about had a seizure.) This is the kind where, for some reason, I have to force myself to the screen and keyboard. I don’t want to check emails, update my Facebook status or tweet. Dust settles on my last post here.
Maybe it’s a reaction to spending a lot of time online in February and March guest blogging or sending in posts related to the release of Her Scottish Groom. Don’t think for a moment that I didn’t enjoy the attention and contact with romance readers! This is not something that I get to do that often, and I am thankful for every single opportunity to write a post and respond to comments. I appreciate the kindness of other blog owners and their readers, and it seems to have generated interest in my latest release. The Kindle edition of Her Scottish Groom is selling steadily enough to range from 99 up to 65 on Amazon’s Kindle Store Historical Romance Top 100 list for the last 10 days or so.
(I know, it changes hourly and it’s not selling thousands of copies or downloads. But it’s the first list I’ve ever made, darn it!)
Anyway, Life is Good and there’s no real excuse for disappearing from my online haunts. Still, I’ve resisted logging into anything but my Pandora stations for the last two weeks. I outlined two presentations for a couple of unexpected speaking engagements. I worked on my WIP, but in longhand on notebook paper. The page count is shaky, because I’ve also free-associated two potential series into very rough descriptions on paper. (If I carried smelling salts, I’d take a deep whiff at this point — do I really want to get involved with an entire series?? Never mind two!) It’s too early to tell if they’ll come to fruition, but the chance to let my mind wander felt sort of like a vacation.
Writing is a huge part of my life, but not its entirety. Time spent away from the computer means that my house is a lot cleaner. This is good because clutter seems to block me mentally. (In view of how much I dislike housework, this realization disconcerts me greatly.) My family got muffins for breakfast and I’ve had lunch with my dad, chatted with my mom more often and helped my youngest host her friends for their pre-prom hair/makeup/dressing ritual.
So if anyone missed me while I was gone, thank you for the thoughts. I’m back, balanced, and ready to take on the world again. And I have the clean underwear to prove it.
As the rush of activities for Christmas slows down for our family (and I hope for you), I turn on some Christmas carols and look around at my home and loved ones. I’m typing in view of our Christmas tree, filled with beloved ornaments. A cup of tea is steeping that I will enjoy soon. My oldest is home following her finals and my youngest has only a half-day of school left before her vacation starts. Ah yes, the joys of hearth and home during the holidays….
My carols are competing with two televisions, the buzz of texts to a boyfriend, and a discussion between a sixteen-year-old and a twenty-one-year old about the likelihood that an American equivalent of Hogwarts exists. Dirty laundry waits for its turn to go into the washer and dryer by the basement door, because its owner is watching one of the aforementioned TVs. The decorations in the entryway are competing for space with a book bag, shoes, and boots while I ponder whether the Christmas dinner I planned will include enough food for the boyfriend and my aunt and uncle, invited to join us by my mother (thankfully, she informed me of this before Christmas Day itself).
The pile of cards needing stamps catches my eye, as does the cat snoozing in a previously cat-hair-free spot on our tree skirt. There’s some additional baking to do as well. And I just realized that I can’t remember where I put some of our gifts. Wrapping paper and ribbons cover the basement floor because the last person that used them didn’t put it away.
Oh, and I just realized that I need to research the British East India Company for my WIP, possibly resulting in some major rewriting.
The most wonderful time of the year? YEAH, BABY!!!
Having turned in my revisions after weeks of steady work, I spent a week mentally catching my breath and another one literally looking around me. I don’t know if this is the case for all writers, but after days and weeks of immersing myself in characters and their time period, returning to my own life is a bit like breaking the surface in a pool. Under water, the sights and sounds of life above the surface can be heard, but they’re muted. When you come up for air, that first breath of air fills your lungs in an exhilarating rush, but you’re also taking in bright sunlight, vivid colors and shouts, music and laughter. All of these are delightful, but the first two seconds almost assault the eyes and ears.
Once I hit the ‘send’ button to the editor, I looked around and started wondering: When did summer get here? How can it be time to get my hair cut again already? What is that pile of laundry doing in my room and has it been washed or not? Who broke into the basement and left that mess all over my desk???
As post-deadline life settled down, I’ve given myself permission to not sit at the computer for hours day after day. In between writing sessions, I’ve cleaned, cooked, gotten my hair done, spent time with my family, spent time with fellow writers (hurrah!), danced at a wedding with my beloved (double hurrah!), and just generally acted like a normal person. Or at least as normal as we ever get in my family.
I’ve also visited two works-in-progress and decided they weren’t total wretched pieces of crap, and plotted my next book. Most of it, anyway. Writing is a process as well as a craft and an art. I know it will take a bit of time before I am really pulled under again into the world of my next set of characters. But settling down to work on each day’s pages, I look forward to the next dive into the pool.
Our oldest daughter is a senior level skater. My husband and I are way too familiar with early mornings at the rink, twice a day practices and off-ice conditioning. I have bedazzled more skating dresses than I care to think about over the years and I can usually predict when a skater is going to fall on her jump from the way she sets up her entrance.
Our daughter will probably hang up her skates after this season, which will be bittersweet, but even without getting to the U.S. Championships or international competition, it has been mostly a good road for her.
Skating can be expensive, time-consuming and at times frustrating, but there are tangible benefits. Our daughter learned valuable lessons from this sport about what is important to success: Commitment and hard work. The right equipment. A good coach or teacher. A good support system. As parents, we learned to make the hard calls for our budget and say “no” to the competition or workshop we could not afford. As a result, we don’t have a second mortgage and we do have a coach who gets paid on time.
Our daughter lettered in academics at our local public high school and graduated with a scholarship. She attributes this to the self-discipline and perseverance she learned from figure skating. She gained a second father in the person of her coach, who shall be known on this blog only as the Mad Ukrainian. (We lucked out with him. He yells a lot, but nobody shows more concern for their students’ well-being.) The unspoken code of deportment required of all skaters, parents and judges at competitions has also helped her through difficult personal encounters outside skating. (Never cry. Never whine about marks. Never EVER bash another skater, even if you’re an Olympic medalist. This is bad form, and the Skating Powers That Be will exact revenge. I’ve watched them do it.)
She learned not just how to win and lose graciously, but that at some point, everyone fails. She knows now to get up, assess the goal and change it or try again.
She is also able to use her knowledge to coach younger skaters, which is a boon to her wallet (and ours!!) and a credit to the Mad Ukrainian. She’s worked with international-level coaches and choreographers over the years. While she might struggle with the all-important triple jumps, she takes pride in footwork and spins that garner high marks and compliments.
Most important to her and to us, she has learned that competitors and their families can be friends. She has — and needs — dear friends outside the discipline, but only another skater gets the triumphs and disappointments of the sport. The same goes for parents and siblings. We’ve watched some of these young women for years. By now, our families sit together in the stands and cheer for all of them. Sure, each mom wants HER daughter on the podium. But we all know how hard every skater out there works. We’re not blind or stupid, either. We don’t focus on details the way officials are trained to, but we can generally tell who should get the best scores.
Figure skating throws up hideous public scandals periodically, but for every incident of knee-bashing and bribed judges, there are countless unseen episodes of kindness: Competitors squealing “You’re here!!” and tackle-hugging each other in the rink lobby. An official taking time to comfort a little girl in a sparkly dress who forgot her routine. Experienced skating moms guiding new ones through a first competition. Rivals and their families laughing together at a post-competition dinner. These are the intangibles that gold medals can’t replace.