Margaret Sanger, "What Every Girl Should Know," 19 Jan 1913.
Published article. Source: New York Call, Jan. 19, 1913 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:0053 .
This is the ninth article in an 12-part series. For "Introduction," see Nov. 17, 1912, for "Girlhood-Part I" see Nov. 24, 1912, for "Girlhood-Part II" see Dec. 1, 1912, for "Puberty-Part I" see Dec. 8, 1912, for "Puberty-Part II" see Dec. 15, 1912, for "Sexual Impulse--Part I" see Dec. 22, 1912, for "Sexual Impulse-Part II" see Dec. 29, 1912, for "Reproduction--Part I" see Jan. 2, 1913, for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part I" see Jan. 26, 1913, for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part II" see Feb. 2, 1913, and for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part III" see Mar. 2, 1913.
In the first part of this subject I said that if the process of labor occurs before the seventh month (which is the earliest time the foetus can live for any length of time outside the womb) it is known as abortion or miscarriage. When labor occurs later than this or within two weeks before term, it is known as premature labor.
The average girl in using the word abortion, has in mind a criminal act, whereby the process of pregnancy is purposely interrupted. She prefers the word miscarriage.
There is also the belief among girls that a miscarriage occurring in the early stages of pregnancy can be brought about without bad results or any serious consequences to her health.
It is a mistake to regard an abortion as of slight importance, for any interruption in the process of pregnancy is always more dangerous than the natural labor at full term. One writer claims there are more women ill in consequences of abortion than from full term childbirth, on account of which there are so many women who are semi-invalids.
There can be no doubt that the often excessive loss of blood leaves the girl in a weak and rundown condition thereby lessening her powers of resistance to other diseases.
The shock to the girl's system is greater than that produced by natural labor, and consequently leaves her in a hysterical and often critically nervous state for some time after.
The causes of abortion are many. Among them are overexertion, overexcitement, shock, fright, fall, great anger, dancing, fatigue, lifting heavy weights, purgative medicines and excessive sexual intercourse.
The dangers resulting from abortion are blood poison, hemorrhage -- even lockjaw has been known to be the result of abortion, also the danger that one miscarriage is likely to follow another, and disables a woman to carry a child to the full term.
If there is the same care and treatment given the woman who aborts as the woman in childbirth, it will naturally be less likely to suffer serious results than if no medical attention were given her.
One of the most common disturbances of pregnancy is nausea, more commonly called "morning sickness," because it is felt in the morning when the woman first assumes the erect position. As a rule, this lasts only during the early months.
About the latter part of the fourth month, or often not before the fifth month, movements of the foetus are felt. These movements are called "life," and women are glad of this signal that all is progressing naturally. One writer said a woman had described the first feeling of life as "the trembling movements of a bird within my hand."
There are often many nervous manifestations accompanying the pregnant woman, such as headache, neuralgia, toothache and as a usual thing constipation is always present, and should receive attention. The teeth should also receive attention at this time for they decay easily on account of the secretions in the mouth which are increased during pregnancy.
The breasts enlarge in the early months of pregnancy, and there is a fullness and tingling felt often in the fifth week. The nipples become erect and the skin around the nipple becomes dark brown. These are only a few of the disturbances of pregnancy, but enough to show that other organs beside the uterus are tested in strength and how important it is to have a good healthy body. In fact, every tissue and fiber in the woman's body feels the impetus of pregnancy, and all kinds of physical changes occur.
One of the common questions asked by young women in early married life is how to tell if they are pregnant.
This is not always easy, but there are a few points on which a diagnosis is based, namely : in a healthy woman (during the reproductive age) the function of menstruation stops, together with morning sickness, and the enlargement of the breasts with dark color around the nipples, are early indications that pregnancy exists. I am not going to take the time nor space to explain that all three of the above named can exist in nervous women, even when pregnancy does not exist. It is, as I said in earlier articles, with the average healthy girl I am dealing, not with the exception. The only certain signs of pregnancy are the hearing of the heart beats of the child and its movements.
Another question which troubles young women is how to count the time when she will be confined. This, too, is difficult to say, for an error of two weeks earlier or later is possible, because the time of conception is seldom definitely known. Experience has given a method of arriving at an approximate date which is used and which answers the purpose fairly well though it is by no means perfect. Add seven days to the first day of the last menstruation and count nine months forward. For example, Mrs. A menstruated last, beginning October 5; add seven days: this brings the date to October 12; add nine months, which brings the date of confinement to July 12. It is well to have every thing prepared two weeks before this date so that the woman can be as much as possible in the open air during the remaining waiting days.
The dress of the pregnant woman should receive serious attention. In the first place, it should be simple and warm, without bands restricting the circulation of any part of the body, like skirt bands, round garters, corsets and tight shoes. The secret of a comfortable outfit for the expectant mother is to have all clothing hang from the shoulders. Combination underwear can be bought as reasonably as the separate drawers and shirt. There should be no pressure on the womb from above, rather let all support come from below. The corset gets in its harmful work by pressing down the uterus into the pelvis, thus displacing the abdominal organs and crowding them together in such a way as to cause injury to the uterus as well as to the child itself. The muscles of the uterus and abdomen are weakened and from this results that horror of all women, "the high stomach." Some women, especially those having children, prefer to wear in the latter days of pregnancy an abdominal supporter. If it is well fitted to the body it helps to assist the abdominal muscles in carrying the weight and affords great relief. If women would devote to making themselves comfortable during pregnancy as much time as they give on the baby's outfit, they would profit by it. Instead of wearing any old worn out dress, ill fitting and out of style, make one "maternity" dress to fit the figure. This can, of course, be let out in size as the figure grows. It can be made of some pretty, inexpensive material and gives much comfort and ease to the mind as well as to the body that the woman who has once had one will never again do without one.
The food also should be simple. In fact, there are few restrictions to be placed on food unless so ordered by the physician. One common mistake of women is that they believe they are eating for two persons and, consequently, must gorge themselves, which, of course, results in indigestion. Physicians advise a small amount of meat once a day. Plenty of water, milk and cereals, fruit, vegetables and especially fruits, which loosens the bowels. Rich pastry or starches fried in fat should not be eaten, because they are hard to digest. There is no reason why the diet should be at all strict unless the woman is under the special care of a physician. She should take a moderate amount of exercise every day, but should not get tired. Walking in the open air in the sunlight is best. Avoid dancing, swimming and all violent exercise; sewing on the sewing machine should be restricted. Fainting in the early months is often caused from the bad air in overcrowded and overheated rooms, also from an empty stomach when the woman is too busy to notice nature's call for nourishment.
There is little more to be said here except that a pregnant woman should be mentally and physically active, though not fatigued. And of all things she should keep out of the hearing of old superstitions, which have a sign for every act and keep a young woman constantly worried. She should not be allowed to worry over her approaching labor, and as far as possible be kept cheerful and happy.
At the end of the period the child and the placenta are expelled from the uterus. The uterus gradually returns to its former size. It requires about six weeks for this to occur and it is very important that there should be no heavy lifting and overwork at this time. As a rule after childbirth the woman's form becomes matured and more developed. The facial expression takes on a kinder, a maternal look, the whole nervous system is awakened to sympathy, pain or grief bringing tears to the eyes quicker than ever before. Especially is this true for the first few years following.
The important thing is that the care of the pregnant woman should be begun in girlhood. If we are going to be and have mothers, then we should give attention to the development of the organs which make us mothers.
I shall now leave the mother with her new happiness and her new world to take up next week the subject of Ignorance and its Consequences.(To be continued.)
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project