University of North Carolina Press


In Maternal Bodies, winner of the prestigious Allan Nevins Prize from the Society of American Historians, Nora Doyle explores the tension between women’s lived experiences of motherhood, both physical and emotional, and the cultural representations of motherhood that began to emerge in the second half of the eighteenth century. In terms of women’s experiences of motherhood, Doyle notes significant continuity. For example, despite the fact that the average number of children American women bore and reared did decrease during the period, “childbearing and childrearing continued to define most women’s lives” (2). Another example of continuity during the era was that most women delivered their babies at home in the presence of and with the assistance of other women, though the numbers of urban-dwelling women who delivered their children under the supervision of male physicians did begin to grow. In the chapters Doyle dedicates to the examination of women’s experiences and perceptions of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding, very little changed. Women continued to “count” their pregnancies and births much as their mothers and grandmothers before them had. Moreover, their writings continued to reflect an understanding that their bodies were at the center of their experiences.