Birth in any culture is a time of hope as well as danger, and colonial New England was no exception. Did New English parents hope for a boy or a girl? Why? Is there any evidence that one was regarded as inferior to the other, even before birth? (See chapter 7, p. 5) Did parents have any choice in the matter of sex? Were boy and girl babies treated any differently at birth? Was this treatment medically necessary or only culturally desirable? How dangerous was childbirth for the babies? Was the primitive wilderness of New England more or less healthy than the civilized towns of the 18th century? Why? Was childbirth dangerous to mothers? Who delivered babies? Were they competent and qualified? How do you know? Were they always necessary? Was the process of having a baby much different than it is today? What are some of the differences? How can you find out?
When the Puritans came to New England, they brought with them a knowledge of childbirth gained from years of folk practice and occasional medical advice. The most popular book on the delivery and care of children in 17th-century England was Child-Birth; or, The Happy Deliverie of Womenby Jacques Guillemeau ( 1550-1613), chirurgeon to the French king. Translated from the French original several times, the book was at once a summary of the accepted practices of the day and the most advanced obstetrical advice to be had in contemporary Europe. The following passages occur onpp. 8-12and 86-100 of the London edition of 1612.