Ten privileges for pregnant women

Ten privileges for pregnant women
16th Century. A woman giving birth, calling out to the Roman goddess Lucina («’Celestial diosa del parto, alma Lucina, / Principio y causa de todos los bien fecundos / que informas y conservas y perpetúas el mundo / Sé propicio para nosotros tu divina bondad’»). Four women are in attendance, one of them aged, with a stick. Giulio Antonio Bonasone. © Wellcome Collection. (CC BY 4.0)

Ten privileges for pregnant women

III Intrauterine life


There are ten privileges which the doctor from Daimiel claims for the privileged state of expectant women: all their cravings (the Spanish word antojos specifically refers to the cravings of pregnant women) should be satisfied, they should be freed from fasting; they should be allowed to choose both place of birth and midwife; to wear on their body all kinds of herbs and protective objects like precious stones, «even though they wear so many around their neck that it looks like a pedlar’s shop or a village bazar »… All help, no matter how small, was enlisted to avoid much feared miscarriages and premature births! 

The book intends to give guidance for safer births, very much in accordance with a period in which the fertility of the elite decreased and laments about a deserted kingdom could be heard everywhere.

But it is more than this, as Fontecha grounds his advice and warnings in an anthropology of the female sex. According to the physician, women are equal in value and dignity to men, and they are endowed with the same reproductive faculty, a faculty which they exercise with their own kind of female seed. «A mother actively contributes to generation, by means of an active potency», so that «there shall be created a good mixture of birth, for the conservation of the human species, for the growth of well-formed and tempered individuals». No wonder therefore that «many times we can see that children resemble their mothers, not only in their physiognomy and the disposition of their body and face, but also in their conditions and habits». The theory of dual contribution defended by Fontecha dates to Greek and Rome times, to Hippocrates and Galen.

Fontecha dedicated his book to the powerful duchess of Gandía, doña Juana de Velasco y Aragón. It gained international fame and even enriched obstetrical knowledge at the imperial court of Vienna.

(The emphasis on the female contribution to the creation of life may have been pleasing for a female aristocrat who shared the social status of her spouse. Paradoxically, however, it was not convenient for a servant or slave who bore the child of her master, and who might therefore have wished the offspring’s birth rights would exclusively be derived from the father’s rank.) [Wolfram Aichinger]