One of my big hobbies is genealogy. That's right folks, in case you hadn't figured it out already, I'm a total nerd. I have been researching my own genealogy for about 8 years now. I've collected records from hundreds of family members and have built up my family tree so that I can now trace back one side of my family to the 1500s. I have linked myself to well over 7000 people either by blood or marriage. And, yes, it took a lot of work.
Anywho, this post is not about how fabulous a researcher I am. Actually, it's about what it all circles back to of course, the dead baby.
We all know that dead babies were more common 'in the olden days'. Babies and young children died from many things that are generally less of a concern these days. Baby deaths that can now be avoided by C-sections, blood thinners, blood pressure medications, insulin, and probably most importantly antibiotics. Penicillin, one of the greatest inventions EVER people. Just out of curiosity I decided to do a search through my provinces death records for exactly 100 years ago. I typed in July 30th 1910 into ancestry's search engine for Ontario death records in the part of the province that I am currently located.
On one page alone, containing records of 30 people, there were 6 stillbirths and 4 deaths under the age of 3 years old. One of the 'under three' was a baby listed as dying of 'congenital debility' at age 4 days. Only one of the babies who was still born was named (Thomas F.), the rest were listed as only "Last name, Baby" with their gender "M" or "F" beside it. The baby with the 'congenital debility' was named "Lucy Mary". Now, this page may contain a proportionally high number of baby deaths, but probably not by much. I'm fairly certain that if I was just to keep scrolling through this county's death records you'd often see "stillbirth", "premature", and "congenital debility" listed as the cause of death for infants. If they were smart enough, or the infection was obvious, you'd probably also see words like "toxemia" (a blood infection) or "pneumonia" listed as the cause of death for others. The next page even lists a little guy named "Charles" who was 23 days old and his cause of death was listed as "puny at birth". Nice.
What this illustrates to me is a few things. Number one, is how as a culture did we get so ingrained with the idea that BABIES DON'T DIE??!! When did it start to be the norm that we assumed from conception (or at least after the 12 week 'safe point') that it was now pretty much a sure bet that our child would outlive us? Were people always delusional? In days of yore, did they just ignore the babies and children all around them who were dropping like flies? Is this a relatively new belief after the invention of so-called 'modern' medicine? Is the media to blame, with its happy, healthy, images of smiling babies with not a sick or dead one ever noted? When did we hit the percentage point of baby death that everyone started to feel comfortable thinking it wouldn't happen to them?
The other thing it brings up for me is that, no wonder we all feel the need to connect via the Internet. Women probably connected with others in their community who had experienced a baby death. It was a pretty good bet that their mother, sister, friend, cousin, aunt, or grandmother had experienced a baby death, some probably more than once. Since baby death has become somewhat less common, we are now having to go farther afield in search of others for whom we feel a connection to.
I wonder what baby death looked like all those years ago? Did the mothers and fathers hold their dead or dying baby? Did they save things like locks of hair or the blanket their child was wrapped in? There would have been no photos, possibly no foot prints (did they have ink?), no stuffed toys bought at the local Toys R' Us. Did the five still born babies listed on that page really go to their graves without a name? Was little Thomas an anomaly because his mommy and daddy chose to name him?
Someone with a social studies or history degree should really get on this. Do some research. How did families in the past cope with baby death? Were there any traditions associated with it? Did women connect with one another afterwards? When, as a culture, did we start assuming that all babies arrived healthy and alive?
Would this interest you?