The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy: A History of Miscarriage in America

ISBN : 9780190869816

Lara Freidenfelds
256 ページ
156 x 235 mm mm
  • The first book that puts early pregnancy loss in historical perspective
  • Based on scholarly sources and archival research, as well as blogs and parenting websites
  • Argues that technological innovations and contemporary cultural attitudes have deceived Americans into thinking they can control an unpredictable biological process

When a couple plans for a child today, every moment seems precious and unique. Home pregnancy tests promise good news just days after conception, and prospective parents can track the progress of their pregnancy day by day with apps that deliver a stream of embryonic portraits. On-line due date calculators trigger a direct-marketing barrage of baby-name lists and diaper coupons. Ultrasounds as early as eight weeks offer a first photo for the baby book.
Yet, all too often, even the best-strategized childbearing plans go awry. About twenty percent of confirmed pregnancies miscarry, mostly in the first months of gestation. Statistically, early pregnancy losses are a normal part of childbearing for healthy women. Drawing on sources ranging from advice books and corporate marketing plans to diary entries and blog posts, Lara Freidenfelds offers a deep perspective on how this common and natural phenomenon has been experienced. As she shows, historically, miscarriages were generally taken in stride so long as a woman eventually had the children she desired.
This has changed in recent decades, and an early pregnancy loss is often heartbreaking and can be as devastating to couples as losing a child. Freidenfelds traces how innovations in scientific medicine, consumer culture, cultural attitudes toward women and families, and fundamental convictions about human agency have reshaped the childbearing landscape. While the benefits of an increased emphasis on parental affection, careful pregnancy planning, attentive medical care, and specialized baby gear are real, they have also created unrealistic and potentially damaging expectations about a couple's ability to control reproduction and achieve perfect experiences.
The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy provides a reassuring perspective on early pregnancy loss and suggests ways for miscarriage to more effectively be acknowledged by women, their families, their healthcare providers, and the maternity care industry.


Chapter 1: Childbearing in Colonial America
Chapter 2: Planning the Baby: Fertility Control from Withdrawal to the Pill
Chapter 3: Bonding with the Baby: The Changing Meaning of Parenting
Chapter 4: Taking Care of the Baby: Prenatal Care at the Doctor's Office and Elsewhere
Chapter 5: Buying for the Baby: Marketing, Earlier and Earlier
Chapter 6: Imagining the Baby: Debating Abortion
Chapter 7: Seeing the Baby: The Ultrasound Ritual
Chapter 8: Detecting the Baby: The Home Pregnancy Test


Lara Freidenfelds, independent scholar
A historian of health, reproduction, and parenting in America, Lara Freidenfelds is the author of The Modern Period: Menstruation in Twentieth-Century America. She holds a PhD in the history of science from Harvard University and blogs at nursingclio.org and larafreidenfelds.com. She and her family live in New Jersey.

"This lively and informative book is simultaneously an exploration of contemporary 'mommy blogs' and a deeply researched history of childbirth in America. By focusing on the history of miscarriage, it casts new light on almost every aspect of our modern reproductive system, from technological innovations like sonograms to the semantics of abortion debates. It is an innovative and powerful contribution to history and to present-day discourse on childbearing." - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, author of A Midwife's Tale

"Bravo! Freidenfelds has delivered a formidable and gripping account of pregnancy loss in America. She weaves the voices of women today and generations past with keen historical and scientific insights.The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancyshines a much-needed light on miscarriage, a subject that has, until now, been hidden from both casual conversations and scholarly scrutiny." - Randi Hutter Epstein, author of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank

"Freidenfelds captures the dramatic transformation of the ideal of pregnancy over the past two hundred years, from a normal, accepted part of a colonial woman's life to the highly monitored, commercialized, and emotional-laden experiences of 21st century women. With sensitivity and care she explores the experience of pregnancy loss, which remains a common yet rarely publicly discussed occurrence." - Rima D. Apple, author of Perfect Motherhood: Science and Childrearing in America

"The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy offers far more than a meticulously researched historical perspective on reproductive health and parenting attitudes. It also provides critical insight to the present, with a lesson that much of childbearing and childrearing is out of our control, to expect and accept the ups and downs of life and the inevitable mistakes we will make as parents. Freidenfelds has used facts to illustrate how our perfectionist parenting standards came about, so that we may forgive ourselves our imperfections. This is a message many parents, myself included, need to hear and be reminded of. Freidenfelds' work can help shift the current culture of parenting, and we will all benefit." - Monique Tello, MD, MPH, FACP, Massachusetts General Hospital