It took me a significant amount of time to get pregnant. My husband and I were just about to start looking for a fertility specialist when I conceived. During this time, I was (obviously) very stressed, and my favorite stress relief bar none is a romance novel in the bathtub. As I read, I could not freaking believe how many romance novels were full of magical infertility cures, including the most patronizing one I’ve ever read, in which the heroine’s body was “just waiting for the right man.” Because apparently my husband was the wrong man? Nothing jolts you out of your relaxation bath by being poked in the eyeball by the exact problem you got in the tub to escape, that’s for sure.
Now, as somebody for whom it did eventually, suddenly “just happen,” I know it’s ironic for me to complain about the same thing happening to characters. But at the time, not knowing what was going to happen to me, it was deeply upsetting and strangely ignorant.
Then there was childbirth. Since having my child, I find myself getting very nervous for heroines in historicals, who will have to go through this without modern medicine. (This article on the history of epidurals is interesting). I know that many contemporary women also have inadequate medical care, and they also have all my sympathy. Until I actually went into labor, I had no idea how severe that pain would be. I had so much more sympathy for the villainess “first wife” heroines, reviled for turning the heroes out of their beds to avoid second pregnancies. Before epidurals and with no reliable contraception, I might have wanted to do the same. I wouldn’t say it’s ruined sex scenes for me in historicals, but it certainly puts a damper on things.
That’s just a question of what’s less awful, not what is actually dangerous. This year alone, I’ve had two friends whose babies went straight to the NICU for lung problems, a friend whose fifty-plus hour labor required an unscheduled C-section, and a friend whose baby had to be induced. I needed Pitocin to stop excessive post-delivery bleeding. It’s very likely that I’d know at least one or two women or children who did not survive childbirth. It’s possible that I would have been one of them. The common elimination of inconvenient mother characters with a blithe “Oh, she died in childbirth. I don’t remember her, so I can hardly miss her” jumps out at me in a way it never did before, and frankly breaks my heart. I also read this recent fascinating BBC article on the history of alternative foods for babies who could not be breastfed. For those historical orphans to survive, they would very likely have needed wet nurses, who never turn up in the story.
If you’ve had children, did that event affect your romance reading? Even if you haven’t, do you ever worry about the heroines? Are you as tired of magical infertility cures as I am?