1671 | England

What to Expect When You’re Expecting

A midwife explains it all.

Young women especially of their first child are so ignorant commonly that they cannot tell whether they have conceived or not, and not one of twenty almost keeps a just account, else they would be better provided against the time of their lying-in, and not so suddenly be surprised as many of them are.

Wherefore physicians have laid down rules whereby to know when a woman has conceived with child, and these rules are drawn from almost all parts of the body. The rules are too general to be certainly proved in all women, yet some of them seldom fail in any.

First, if when the seed is cast into the womb she feel the womb shut close and a shivering or trembling to run through every part of her body, that is by reason of the heat that draws inward to keep the conception and so leaves the outward parts cold and chill.

Secondly, the pleasure she takes at that time is extraordinary, and the man’s seed comes not forth again, for the womb closely embraces it and will shut as fast as possibly may be.

Thirdly, the womb sinks down to cherish the seed, and so the belly grows flatter than it was before.

Fourthly, she finds pain that goes about her belly, chiefly about her navel and lower belly, which some call the watercourse.

Fifthly, her stomach becomes very weak, she has no desire to eat her meat, but is troubled with belchings.

Springtime, by Maurice Denis, c. 1899. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of David Allen Devrishian, 1999.

Sixthly, her monthly terms stop at some unseasonable time that she looked not for.

Seventhly, she has a preternatural desire to something not fit to eat nor drink, as some women with child have longed to bite off a piece of their husband’s buttocks.

Eightly, her breasts swell and grow round and hard and painful.

Ninthly, she has no great desire to copulation, for some time she will be merry or sad suddenly upon no manifest cause.

Tenthly, she so loathes her victuals that let her but exercise her body a little in motion, and she will cast off what lies upon her stomach.

Eleventhly, her nipples will look more red at the ends than they usually do.

Twelfthly, the veins of her breasts will swell and show themselves very plain to be seen.

Thirteenthly, likewise the veins about the eyes will be more apparent.

The world is made of the very stuff of the body.

—Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 1961

Fourteenthly, the womb pressing the right gut, it is painful for her to go to stool, she is weaker than she was, and her visage discolored.

These are the common rules that are laid down.

But if a woman’s courses be stopped and the veins under her lowest eyelid swell and the color be changed and she has not broken her rest by watching the night before, these signs seldom or never fail of conception for the first two months.

If you keep her water three days close stopped in a glass and then strain it through a fine linen cloth, you will find live worms in the cloth.

Also, a needle laid twenty-four hours in her urine will be full of red spots if she has conceived, or otherwise it will be black or dark colored.

About This Text

Jane Sharp, from The Midwives Book. Sharp addressed her midwifery manual, the first published by a woman in English, to her “sisters.” Male midwives were often preferred by seventeenth-century upper classes; Sharp dismissed this as frivolous. What women lacked in official instruction they made up for in “long and diligent practice,” she argued. Furthermore, “the art of midwifery chiefly concerns us,” while men “are forced to borrow from us the very name they practice by, and to call themselves men-midwives.”