Staring down the barrel of the 3rd trimester, I thought it was a good time to revisit Pliny’s advice to pregnant women. I’m feeling pretty good, and felt like a total fraud at TAG when packed sessions would ripple in order to give me a seat. Really, I’m probably more comfortable on the floor.
Anyway, what does Pliny say about the latter part of pregnancy? Well, he identifies the 8th month as the second of his most dangerous points in the pregnancy. A reminder: Pliny means what we would describe as 7 months pregnant: incidentally, exactly how pregnant I am right now. So why would Pliny observe a spike in maternal deaths at this point? The language he uses is interesting here, (Natural History 7: 4), in that it is made clear that both mother and child do not survive in these cases: “abortion during this period is fatal.”
I wondered if this was a reflection of pre-eclampsia. This nasty condition is characterised by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, swelling of the body especially the feet, problems with vision, headaches and pain below the ribs. It progresses, without effective treatment, to full-blown eclampsia: seizures that end in death. Every midwife appointment I have includes checks on my urine and blood pressure, to ensure any problems are spotted early. The only cure is for the pregnancy to end, with the expulsion of the foetus: a foetus unlikely to survive in Pliny’s 8th month, but with better prospects closer to full term delivery. He lists examples of rare babies that did survive premature delivery at this point, but they are very much the exception. The death of the mother during full-term birth, and the death of a premature infant were presumably more common occurrences.
Of course, this is all HIGHLY speculative stuff. But considering that pre-eclampsia is diagnosed in 5% of modern pregnancies*, and that Hippocrates centuries earlier had observed the occurrence of headache and fatal convulsions in late pregnancy, I wonder if this condition is partly responsible for the danger zone that Pliny observed.
Very cheerful. I’ll hopefully be back with more helpful pointers from Pliny in the run-up to labour. Spoiler: it involves hyena feet as pain relief. And I thought natal hypnotherapy was alternative.
PS. I have a midwife appointment this week, fingers crossed for a good urine test and low blood pressure.
*Abalos, E; Cuesta, C; Grosso, AL; Chou, D; Say, L (September 2013). “Global and regional estimates of preeclampsia and eclampsia: a systematic review.”. European journal of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology. 170 (1): 1–7.