Home Institution

Smith College

Publication Date

Spring 2019

Program Name

Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender


This historical survey focuses on the memoirs of Catharina Schrader, a Frisian midwife in the eighteenth century, as a lens into beliefs about maternal impression and monstrous births during the early modern period. The then popular theory of maternal impression, where pregnant women could impact their gestating fetus’s appearance or characteristics through their behavior, thoughts, and feelings, was used to explain many instances of monstrous births. Monstrosity, now understood as congenital defects or disabilities, was seen as a result and marker of pregnant women’s moral failings. Using examples of monstrous births from Schrader’s memoirs, I analyze the threat of maternal impression causing monstrosity as a form of control over women’s sexuality, behavior, and desires, focusing on themes of God, sex, motherhood, and paternity. I also link the ideas about maternal impression and monstrous births from Schrader’s world in the eighteenth century Netherlands to modern conceptions of pregnancy and childbirth, exposing the similarities and differences between these ideologies of reproduction.


Dutch Studies | Family, Life Course, and Society | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Gender and Sexuality | Obstetrics and Gynecology | Women's Studies


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