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AIBU to wonder how some people coped in former times?

(458 Posts)
Flyingfish2019 Sun 17-Feb-19 02:59:35

When they had 12 children, husband was working down the mines 16 hours a day, no transportation, no frozen/canned food, no fridge, constantly pregnant. No help if somebody suffered a disability (and I think this was likely working down the mines those days).

I just wondered because I have far less then 12 children and dh does not work down the mines and still we are often soooooo tired. Children keeping us awake play a role in this... how would we cope if there was 12 of them and we had to live under the conditions described above?

Spudlet Mon 18-Feb-19 15:21:04

On the subject of labour and maternal death (specifically to do with women suffering from rickets, which apparently causes deformation of the pelvis and makes vaginal delivery a lot more difficult, if not impossible) , this is from Call the Midwife:

It will never be known how many women died of exhaustion in the agony of obstructed labour: the poor were expendable, and their numbers not counted. Where was it I had read, in some ancient manual for the Instruction of Women attending the Lying-in: “If a woman is in labour for more than ten or twelve days, you should seek a doctor’s aid”?

I mean, bloody hell. 10 or 12 days?! But more than that - no one knows, because nobody cared enough to count them.

My mum had a post-partum haemorrhage that would have been the end of her if she hadn't had access to medical care, and my sister was in latent labour for a week and ended up with a forceps delivery. And two women I know from antenatal / baby groups ended up having a crash c-section, neither of them would have made it otherwise.

LoniceraJaponica Mon 18-Feb-19 15:27:29

Interestingly, in the early 20th century, if you were well off you were more likely to due from an infection from childbirth. Rich women had doctors in attendance, often coming straight from autopsies where they didn't wash their hands afterwards. Poorer women had midwives who were more aware about handwashing.

I read this interesting fact at the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds. It is situated in the old workhouse next to St James hospital and is a fascinating way to spend a day. Well worth a visit.

Ploppymoodypants Mon 18-Feb-19 17:33:27

I am sure I read somewhere that before modern advancement of medicine and midwifery the natural maternal death rate in childbirth was 40% and infant mortality in childbirth was 60%!!!! Think that’s from call the midwife as well. I know I quoted it at my consultant when asking for an elective csection and they didn’t dispute it. (This was before the tv series)

My granny was in fact a midwife and district nurse in the late 1940’s in the east end of London. She read the Call the Midwife books and said they were pretty accurate. She also said that absolutely if she delivered a baby that was alive but obviously seriously deformed, they would tell the mother it was dead and then ‘let it fade away’ 😔😢 But like she said these were women living in slums in grinding poverty, with no NHS and no money to feed existing kids. The poor disabled child would have had no access to any healthcare and been raised in poverty and pain and ignorance with no chance of escape. 🙁 After granny married she has just one child of her own. And fostered many many others over 20 years. My mum said she would often come home from school (1950’s) and there would be new foster children, and she had to share a bed with them, sometimes 4 kids to a single bed (Only a 2 bed house). She said the poor children would be smelly (although granny washed them ) and covered in lice and often traumatised and would wet the bed etc. She hated it at the time, but obviously now recognises what a wonderful thing granny was doing.

As a child I was always aware that one of my aunties was actually a long term foster child of granny’s. But she is in all intense and purposes part of the family. Well she is our family, what more can you say. Was with granny from 6 months to adultshood.

Alleycat1 Mon 18-Feb-19 17:49:24

My great-grandmother, who was illiterate, had 13 live births. She didn't want that many but there was no contraception and her husband was a brute who blamed her every time she got pregnant. 11 of the children survived into adulthood, heaven only knows how she managed to feed and clothe them all. She looked beautiful on her wedding day but after only a decade of married life she had aged terribly and looked deeply unhappy. They all lived in a two up, two down cottage. It just doesn't bear thinking about and yet all the children did really well in life.

clairemcnam Mon 18-Feb-19 17:52:08

merry I have read a Dr from the 50s and earlier say that when couples came to him saying that the woman could not get pregnant, the first thing he did was question them closely in what they were actually doing. Because a lot of the time the issue is that they were not having penetrative sex. So the woman could not get pregnant.
My gran also told me that when she went into labour, she did not know where the baby was going to come out. She asked the midwife, who just said, the same way it got in.

Lemond1fficult Mon 18-Feb-19 17:55:55

For anyone interested in this, the original book 'Lark Rise to Candleford' is fascinating. It's one woman's memoir of growing up poor in a Cotswold village in the 1890s.

It answers all the questions about where everyone slept, what they ate, how they had fun, what childhood was like (answer: very short). And all without too much rose-tinted nostalgia.

winniestone37 Mon 18-Feb-19 17:58:21

My Irish grandmother was considered middle class, she had 5 kids in 5 years. She said she put her head down and didn't lift it for a decade she just worked and was exhausted all the time.

SchadenfreudePersonified Mon 18-Feb-19 18:07:40


One of the most heartbreaking books I read as a teenager was "The Road to Wigan Peir", about working and living conditions of the pitmen during the 20.s and 30,s I think.

"People of the Abyss" (Jack London) is an eye-opener, too.

Also Upton Sinclair "The Jungle" - working and living conditions of immigrants employed in the Chicago stockyards and abattoirs - horrific!

PerkingFaintly Mon 18-Feb-19 18:09:28

I remember reading about research on Greek women in the 70s or 80s who lived a very simple life in rural areas. Holiday makers travelling over there from Britain thought it looked marvellous. The research showed that these women were far more stressed and unhappy that women living in Cities in Britain.

This matches what I've found living in very poor countries as well.

Many women are excruciatingly unhappy, crushed by the work load, expected to wait on unfaithful husbands – who have the wife who smells of nappies and does all the domestic labour and then a girlfriend for going out and having fun with.

The levels of mental illness are very high, but of course never spoken of. Levels of sexual abuse, including of children, are also very high, and there's plenty of opportunity for it because the children aren't being supervised all day and are actively sent on errands.

SchadenfreudePersonified Mon 18-Feb-19 18:18:03

Somebody asked for menstrual pads. I think they used cloth like some environmentalist do today.

They used old pieces of cloth which had outlived any other use - hence the expression "on the rag" for menstruation.

My son once asked me (after a history class) why it was that nowadays women lived longer than men, when in (whatever-time-period-he-was-studying), men had a longer life expectancy. He was quite shocked when I explained that the biggest killer of women all through the ages is pregnancy and childbirth. Couple theses with no contraception, poor nutrition and worse hygiene and having a baby was bloody dangerous.

SchadenfreudePersonified Mon 18-Feb-19 18:19:14

"London Labour and the London Poor"

Agree - another excellent book.

Diverami Mon 18-Feb-19 18:19:33

I suspect that many did not have long lifespans that lived with such hardship. Amazingly, some did live to old age.

cloudspotter Mon 18-Feb-19 18:23:10

I honestly think life would have been pretty miserable by our standards, but they knew no different.

My mum's generation had more children, no help from their husbands with housework or childcare, and still had full time jobs. They just got on with it. confused

Looking furqard, one day maybe humans will only work three hours a day, three days a week, will live with perfect health or immortality, and will look back on us with equal pity!

MdNdD Mon 18-Feb-19 18:45:38

I often find myself wondering how mums coped (mentally more than anything) before washing machines...

Mum4Blake Mon 18-Feb-19 19:02:25

My mum lost her mum at 10 years old, and was put in a children’s home because her dad couldn’t work and look after her.
I don’t think “everyone” coped. There was more community help, and also lots of children who still had parents, but were in the care system (my mum wasn’t the only one in the car home who had regularly visits from her parent(s) - I’ve got the impression from my mum that there wasn’t a stigma attached to using the care system like this

manicmij Mon 18-Feb-19 19:06:49

No tv,computer,mobile phone. It's amazing how much time these gadgets take up in our daily lives. My DF suffered a horrendous accident in a mine when I was just 2/3. Didn't see him for a year and when I did I was terrified. He was in plaster neck to thigh. How we survived, 4 kids, was apparently through a male organisation generally associated with miners. Without their help apparently we would have starved. DF went back to work in same mine once he recovered. How I will never comprehend, a mine roof collapsing on you, and you go back. Why, no other job available, worked until he retired. When folk talk about hardship nowadays I just smile and move on.

JaneEB Mon 18-Feb-19 19:11:31

In 100 years people will be asking the same of today (apart from the number of kids). The houses will be auto-cleaning, there will be technology similar to 3D printers to produce food within minutes, the kids will be looked after by robots or similar.

The thing is, you deal with life as it is at the time. If you have to deal with 12 kids by yourself then that is something you do, if you have to hand wash without any machines or suchlike, that is what you do. Life is as it is at the time you are alive.

rivierliedje Mon 18-Feb-19 19:24:29

Another great book is Round about a pound a week. Which is a study done by the Fabian society in 1913 of the poor in London and how they spent their money (usually living on about a pound a week).
I found it fascinating that it was completely normal for the man to hand over his wage minus his pocket money to the woman and for her to then deal with all the financial decisions for the week. Also how incredibly different the meals for the men and the women were.

Galdos Mon 18-Feb-19 19:33:32

My great grandparents had 13 children, two dying in infancy. 6 boys and 7 girls. The age range was around 25 years. Older children helped look after the younger, not just in a domestic sense: my grandfather for example was mentored by a brother 12 years older, who fixed him in the same career path, and seems to have made sure he got on OK. OK, none of them were down the mines, or doing physically perilous work. As others have said, this was just the way it was, and folks coped. We wouldn't be here otherwise.

DontCallMeCharlotte Mon 18-Feb-19 20:14:13

I remember reading about research on Greek women in the 70s or 80s who lived a very simple life in rural areas.

We were quite shocked driving through the Croatian counteyside to see an (apparently) old woman tilling a small field by hand. This was 2005 and a world away from the fleshpots of the coastal resorts.

showerpower Mon 18-Feb-19 20:18:08

For anyone interested in the Edwardian era the films of Mitchell and Kenyon are fascinating:

bubblegumunicorn Mon 18-Feb-19 20:29:22

If you’re talking about Victorian times 11 year olds often were in the mines too so she would be home with the babies from 3/4 the kids would be out all day at school or with friends and the older siblings would look after the younger ones! Kids weren’t as young as they are now childhood ended at 9/10 back then really it’s all relative smile

Fishwifecalling Mon 18-Feb-19 20:30:28

I read this interesting fact at the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds. It is situated in the old workhouse next to St James hospital and is a fascinating way to spend a day. Well worth a visit.

It is indeed a great museum to visit.

My GM also didn't know how the baby was going to get out and was terrified when she saw the midwife laying out all the scary looking implements.

Aridane Mon 18-Feb-19 20:44:02

In 100 years people will be asking the same of today (apart from the number of kids). The houses will be auto-cleaning, there will be technology similar to 3D printers to produce food within minutes, the kids will be looked after by robots or similar

I dunno - maybe yes in terms of lifestyle but in terms health, poverty and degradation, I doubt it.

(though people may in the future be baffled by self-harming through smoking, alcohols etc)

3in4years Mon 18-Feb-19 20:45:28

I am one of 4 and had a great childhood in the 80s. But I think things have changed in the past 35 years, or maybe as we had a larger family? Some posters have mentioned lower expectations in the past, and kids being sent out to play. That was us. I don't ever remember my parents playing with me. My siblings and I did, usually outside. We watched tv with my parents, and went on the odd walk or bike ride, but didn't play inside.

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