This article’s title requires immediate explanation. I once read a statement that most medieval women never experienced a period because they were pregnant from the first moment possible, and what with pregnancies, miscarriages, and breastfeeding, they were pretty much doing the baby thing until menopause set in. This post is not about whether or not women were supposed to have making babies as their sole purpose in life (I think that’s adequately addressed in Misuse of the Word Medieval Part 4: Women). This post simply asks the question “How many pregnancies did the average woman bear in the course of her life?”
Taking the same women used in Part 13: Most Girls Married Old Guys, I looked at the number of pregnancies borne by each one, disregarding spouses since I’m not interested in the number of pregnancies per marriage, but the number per woman. Thus, miscarriages or stillbirths are still counted, and twins are counted as 1. 65 women were included.
In dividing the data, I looked at what would be considered normal by modern standards. In American society, I see 1-5 as being the number of children one can have without being considered too “strange,” though someone with 5 likely hears the comment “Wow! You must love children!” (or a less polite version of that) on a regular basis. I also calculated the number who had 1-3 children, since that would probably be considered “average.” I looked at the number who had more than 5, then finally, at the number who had more than 10.
- 50.8% of women bore 1-3 pregnancies
- 60% of women bore 1-5 pregnancies
- 40% of women bore more than 5 pregnancies
- 13.8% of women bore more than 10 pregnancies
Obviously, the data doesn’t support the stereotype. Even considering the women who died in childbirth at a young age or were separated from their husbands, there were plenty who lived long lives and only had 3 children because they wanted 3 children. 5 pregnancies will not prevent a woman from ever seeing a period. I suppose 10+ pregnancies might, but even with more data, I have doubts that 13.8% would grow to something we could call “most.”
Obviously, this data is far too limited to draw a definitive conclusion. Having more data would improve the study, but as before, I got sick of entering numbers after 65. It should also be noted that this data applies only to the upper classes, who didn’t have the motivation of having lots of children to work the farm. I’d love to examine that data as well, but right now, I don’t have access to it. As before, this study is almost entirely limited to England and France, so expanding could bring different results.