Everything I Know About Obstetrics, I Learned From the Tudors

Boleynmainjpg Somewhere along early-to-mid pregnancy, I got a call from our midwife, "Your blood test results are back--did you know that you're rh negative?"

"Huh," I thought, "Just like Anne Boleyn."

Quick and dirty explanation for those of you unfamiliar with blood typing and Tudor history.  "Rh negative" means you have a negative blood type.  This can cause problems in pregnancy if your Baby Daddy has a positive blood type that gets passed on to the baby, because, if ever your blood and the baby's should mix (in amniocentesis, a car accident, or--commonly--during delivery) your blood will make antibodies to fight the baby's blood.  Bad stuff!  

Most of the time it doesn't effect the first baby--if the blood doesn't mix until delivery, he's already out before it's a problem.  But, in subsequent pregnancies it can lead to pretty horrific complications and miscarriage.

Fortunately, modern medicine has come up with a shot (Rhogam) to prevent the formation of antibodies.  However, blood types weren't even discovered until sometime around 1900, so back in the 1500's women would have a healthy, normal first pregnancy and then nasty miscarriages from there on out.  

Which brings us back to Anne Boleyn.  One theory about her healthy first baby (Elizabeth I) and subsequent miscarriages, is that she was rh negative and Henry VIII was positive.

All of this got me thinking about how completely different Anne's life may have been if just a few of our modern practices had been available to her.  For example, in addition to the unavailability of Rhogam, she had to wait until her baby was born to find out its sex.  How would it have changed history if she could have gone in for an ultrasound at 20 weeks and ended the suspense early?

Or, since we're talking about Henry VIII's wives, what about poor, sweet Jane Seymour, who died of infection after spending three days in labor with Edward VII.  Say what you will about the over-abundance of c-sections in this country, but, again, how would history be different if one had been available to Jane?

And let's not even get into fertility treatments and older women having babies.  If IVF had existed, we may not even know the names of Henry's second and third wives, because he may have been able to conceive later with his first wife, Katherine of Aragon.  England's break with the Catholic church totally may not have occurred if Katherine could've had a healthy boy.  

Makes you grateful for modern medicine, for sure, but thinking about it all also makes me feel a sort of oneness with them.  Granted there's no danger that Sweet Husband will arrange for my murder if the Peapod surprises us and turns out to be a lady, but still.  It's neat to think of the univeral-ness of it all.  Jane most likely felt the fetal Edward kicking her in the ribs.  Anne reputedly shared my craving for apples.  Katherine lovingly hand-sewed bits of baby clothes....

It's fascinating to me to think about how I have those things in common with women who lived so long ago.