I love the writings of Jane Austen, and I also love reading biographies. What better then to read than a biography of Jane Austen? Pure pleasure.
This past week I devoured "Jane Austen: A Life" by Claire Tomalin and thoroughly enjoyed it. A great read! I thoroughly recommend it.
It is often said that "three of Jane Austen's sisters-in-law died in childbirth." In this book only one of the deaths is described, and I find it puzzling - for two reasons; firstly, because the death was due to unknown causes, and secondly, because it occurred (seemingly) about a week after the baby's birth. Is that really counted as "dying in childbirth"? What is the definition of dying "in childbirth" according to the lens of history? Was this woman's death even due to childbirth? It would seem to be so, but it could also have been due to a non-childbearing cause. Very puzzling.
(Someone told me a long time ago that in historical times, a woman who died during pregnancy or up to one year postpartum was considered to have died "during childbirth," and it was partially for that reason that reported historical rates of women dying in childbirth were so high.)
Here is the describing passage:
"Fifteen-year-old Fanny wrote in her diary on 27 September, 'Mama as usual very low,' but on the 28th, 'About three this afternoon to our great joy, our beloved mother was delivered of a fine boy and is going on charmingly.' On 4 October 'Mama got up for dinner,' and the next day 'Papa to Quarter Sessions.' On Saturday the baby was named Brook-John, names from Elizabeth's family. Three days later, the mother was dead, leaving a family stunned by the suddenness of her collapse. The doctor could offer no explanation; she had eaten what Fanny called a hearty dinner only half an hour before the end. She was thirty-five; a well-to-do, well-born, well-looked-after woman who had married for love at eighteen, and been pregnant almost permanently ever since." (Tomalin 1997, p. 204-205)
Any guesses? My own guess would be that the death was not due to common childbirth complications (childbed fever, hemorrhage, etc.), as the symptoms of those complaints are and were well-recognized by physicians.
Oddly enough, the wife of one of my husband's co-workers experienced almost the exact same situation this past week - she had her baby last week and several days later collapsed from a brain hemorrhage. She is in the ICU and is expected to survive, but most likely would not have survived 200 years ago in the same situation.
Three of Jane Austen's sisters-in-law died "in childbirth" - one after her fourth child and the other two after their eleventh (!!!).
If anyone has any information or guess as to any of the above-mentioned mysteries, bring it on!
As usual, my friend Kathy shares some insight! :)
"Maternal mortality is defined as the death of a woman during pregnancy or within either 42 days or 365 days of the end of pregnancy (whether miscarriage, stillbirth, live birth or abortion), and somehow due to her having been pregnant -- car wrecks don't count; malaria and hemorrhage do. I think most people still think that "maternal mortality" equals "dying in childbirth", whereas I think of "dying in childbirth" as a death that happens during labor or immediately after (due to hemorrhage or something like that) and directly attributable to the birth.
"Often, deaths were not well-understood -- was it a heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, internal hemorrhage, bacterial infection, etc.? Was it somehow complicated by her having been pregnant, or was she a ticking time bomb with an unknown problem, and just happened to die a few days after birth as opposed to a few days before or a year before or after?"