How to Choose a Midwife

Of Mid-wives

Many things are requisite, and needefull in a Midwife, but they are all referred to her person, to her Manners, and to her mind: First, concerning her person: she must bee of an indifferent age, neither too yong, nor too olde: well composed of body: not being subject to any diseases, nor mishapen, or deformed in any part therof, neat in her apparell, and person: especially havin little hands & not thicke: cleane, and her nailes pared very neere, and even; neither must she weare rings uppon her fingers, nor bracelets upon her armes, when shee is about her businesse. She must bee pleasant, merry, of good discourse, strong, painfull, and accustomed to labour, that shee may bee able (if need bee) to watch two or three nights by the women.

Concerning her behaviour, she must bee mild, gentle, courteous, patient, sober, chast, not quarrelsome, nor chollerick, neither proud or covetous, nor a blabber, or reporter or anything she shall either heare or see in secret, in the house or person of her she hath delivered. For as Terence saith, It is not fit to commit her into the hands of a drunken, or rash woman, that is in travaile of her first child.

As for her mind, she must bee wise, discreet, and witty, able to make use sometime of faire and flattering speeches: as Plato reporteth Midwives were wont to doe in times past: which was done to no other end but only to busie and beguile the poore apprehensive women. And it is commendable deceipt, allowed also in a Chirurgion when it is done for the patients good. For as the fame Terence saith. Deceipt doth serve oftentimes for a good medicine in extreame diseases.

Now above all things the said Midwife ought to know that nature, the handmaid of this great God, hath given to everything a beginning, increase, state, perfection, & declining, which he doth manifestly, and chiefly shew (faith Galen) in the birth of a child, when the mother brings him into the world. For Nature surpasseth all, and in that she doth, is wiser then either Art, or the Midwife, whosoever shee bee, yea, then the best or most cunning workeman that may bee found, as Galen witnesseth. For it is she, that hath set downe the day of the childs conformation, and the houre of his birth. And certainly it is a thing worthy of consideration, to see how in a little space, yea even in the twinckling of an eye, the necke of the wombe, which all the time of the nine moneths was so perfectly and exactly closed and shut, that the point of a needle could not enter therin: how (I say) in an instant it is dilated and inlarged, to give passage, and way for the child; the which cannot bee comprehended (as the fame Galen saith) but only wondred at, and admired. The same Author in his fifteenth booke deusu partium, desirous to shew the providence of Nature saith, that the faults of Nature are very rare, and that she worketh alwaies, and in such order, and measure, that of a thousand births, there is scarce one found that is amisse.

Wherefore neither the Midwife nor any of the Womans kinsfolkes, or asistants, ought to doe any thing rashly, but suffer nature to worke; helping her notwithstanding in that which shall bee needfull, as heereafter shall be declared: deviding the worke of delivery into three several times and seasons.


Source: Childbirth or The Happy Deliverie of Women, James Guillemeau, London 1612. Reproduced by DaCapo Press, The English Experience series, no. 464, 1972. Transcribed by Jacquelyn J. Smith.