Daily Life in Medieval Europe

By Jeffrey L. Singman | Go to book overview
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2

The Life Cycle

CHILDHOOD

If we wish to see medieval life from the point of view of those who lived it, one of the best starting points is to enter the medieval world as they did, through the experience of childhood. At the moment of birth, medieval people were not very different from their descendants today—a millennium is not a long time for evolution—nor was the moment of birth very different from one medieval household to another. It was the years of childhood development that made medieval people distinctive as individuals of their time, place, and social setting.


Birth

The birth of a child in the Middle Ages normally took place in bed at the home of the mother. Hospital childbirth is a fairly recent innovation, and in fact the medieval world had no hospitals in the modern sense. Nor was it normal for a doctor to be involved, for childbirth was seen as a matter for women. The mother was assisted by her female relatives and friends, and if any sort of medical practitioner was present, it was usually a midwife. The midwife's professional status varied with the setting. In privileged households and towns, it was possible to call in a professional midwife, but in a small village the mother probably relied on the services of a neighbor or relative who had learned her skills through years of attendance at local childbirths. Only rarely were men involved in childbirth. A husband might assist if it was not possible to bring in any women, and a physician or surgeon might be called in if the delivery proved particularly difficult. Yet it does seem

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