Maternal struggle: Mary Philips Greg

Line drawing of Mary Philips Greg

Mary Philips first encountered Quarry Bank through her marriage to Robert Hyde Greg in 1824. This marriage was the start of her role as wife and mother. Through her diaries and letters we are able to gain insight into how she felt about these roles.

Mary came from a large family, with 8 sisters and 2 brothers. Her teenage journals suggest that while she was very close to her family, particularly her sisters, she was an introspective, anxious and self-critical young woman. This continued to play a significant role throughout her adult years. Before the birth of her first child she wrote a letter to her husband, expressing her wishes in the event that she should die during the birth. She encouraged him to remarry, and recommended her sister Priscilla as his second wife, saying ‘No wife would be so palliative to me as my dear sister Priscilla’.

She was often physically ill with ailments such as bronchitis and influenza, and these bouts of illness seem to have affected her mental state on numerous occasions. Several major upheavals added to her mental instability: the deaths of several of her sisters, of her mother and her husband’s parents. Some years had both the arrival of a child and the death of a loved one, adding to her tumultuous mental state.  She writes about the events in moving terms, and reading about them brings home how uncertain life was in those days.

" His birth was an agony of bodily torture – My suffering was terrible for some weeks after – Almost no sleep for that time – Fever high and a very distressing state of nerves – Surely, were I more calm in my general state of mind, this sad suffering might have been, in part, diminished. I expected Death for some time – It was an awful thought, but, I believe, not terrifying."
- Mary Philips Greg

There is evidence to suggest that Mary suffered a miscarriage in the year following her marriage, and this may have been a contributing factor to the depression she documents in her diaries and letters before and after each of her six following pregnancies.

" Edward was born and I felt low and spiritless, very indifferent towards him, as being a boy, when I so ardently longed for a girl. I have never felt strong since this event ….. Resolution and energy have been little for some months. A good deal owing, I hope, to my having felt very weak and good for nothing. My back has been almost a torment to me – I do earnestly hope I may feel stronger and with strength of body, gain some vigour of mind."
- Mary Philips Greg

Women suffering in this way today are offered medical help and support. Mary lived in a period before post-natal depression had been recognised as an illness, and she had no such help.

Happily, she grew more and more attached to her children and later wrote: ‘I thank God I have been a mother, and had such dear and good children’.