If you are anywhere near London’s Bloomsbury area in the next month, please pop in to Conceiving Histories Exhibition at the Peltz Gallery – a small but perfectly formed collaboration between a medieval scholar – Isabel Davis, and visual artist, Anna Burel.
Together, they have explored the non-history of ‘un-pregnancy’ or ‘pregnancy feigned, imagined, hidden and difficult to diagnose’ through four narratives: the ‘phantom’ pregnancy of Queen Mary I – a fascination to me as a young schoolgirl; a fleeting and yet to be understood fashion in 1723 London for women to pad out their stomachs to look like a pregnant silhouette; the early pregnancy testing procedures that involved the use of frogs; and a bizarre – and horrific – plan to devise a ‘hospital’ for women to be impregnated within, so as to understand the period of gestation better (thankfully it never went to fruition).
It’s thought provoking. It’s clear to me that pregnancy loss and infertility isn’t thought about, or talked about enough today – yet so little scholarship addresses how it was for our ancestors of our past. We don’t have enough material from archives yet discovered to better understand women’s history from their own perspectives. We can only guess how painful these experiences must have been for them, especially at times when a woman’s role was far more to do with producing children than it is today.