Childbirth and Motherhood

Susannah was pregnant in series 1 with William Greg's child © Channel 4 and Ryan McNamara

Susannah was pregnant in series 1 with William Greg's child

In the show, we see many different sides to motherhood and childbirth amongst the working classes, throwing up questions of legitimacy and morals.

For most mill women, childbirth was accomplished with the help of family, friends and neighbours. There may well have been a woman who specialised in midwifery who could be called upon, but usually they were only fetched if it proved to be a difficult birth, and medical help from a doctor was thought of as a last resort.

Illegitimacy was stigmatised amongst the ‘respectable’ working classes, with a broader acceptance amongst the lower working class. The moral trajectory that an unmarried mother was expected to take was to turn to prostitution; her previous job often snapped up by an eager member of the vast unemployed during her pregnancy.

In many communities family members looked after infants if the woman could return to work, and often the elder children looked after the younger siblings. In the latter half of the century, nurseries were set up to care for children whilst their mothers worked.