Midwifery and Abortion in Terry Pratchett’s “Equal Rites”
I just finished reading Terry Pratchett’s Equal Rites, and noticed several somewhat coded references to women’s reproductive health topics, and would love to know if other readers caught others.
First up, “Old Granny is up with my wife right now,” said by the smith, whose wife is giving birth. “Granny” is a common old term in the U.S. south for a lay midwife. Granny Weatherwax is a witch, too, the concepts of witches and midwives as women healers being somewhat intertwined in the imagination and history.
Later: “Esk knew that she [Granny] was famous throughout the mountains for special potions for special illnesses that her mother-and some young women, too, once in a while-just hinted at with raised eyebrows and lowered voices…” The mention of the occasional young women along with the secrecy here suggests that we are likely meant to think of herbal remedies for a late period (i.e., methods of terminating early pregnancy). Infertility and other menstrual problems are a possibility as well, but we can be fairly sure that Granny is working within the realm of women’s reproductive health.
“..a number of mysterious potions that Granny said she might learn the use of in good time.” Potentially a reference to sex or menstruation-related potions young Eskarina wouldn’t have need of just yet.
Esk out with Granny, Hilta Goatfounder speaking at her shop at the market: “…I say, there’d be many a family in this town a good deal bigger and poorer if it wasn’t for Madam Goatfounder’s Pennyroyal Preventatives.” Pennyroyal is well-known for its use to end pregnancies.
(Disclaimer: do not attempt! You can read about this elsewhere, and I do wonder how much knowledge we can pull together given MS, ND, and other states, but I’m emphatically not encouraging anyone to dive into this in a self-experiment-y kind of way.)
This is the first of Pratchett’s witches books that I’ve read – has anyone caught similar references in the other books?
PS – I’m reading books again! *For reasons,* I had to go on hiatus for a bit, enjoying briefer blog posts, fanfiction, and other online materials. Also reading: Dorothy Roberts’s Fatal Invention : How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century. I’ll probably have to return it before I’m finished. I also just finished the last book in the Southern Vampire Mysteries series, about which I have *feelings.*