Charlotte Lucas Collins

Many of you are probably saying either “Who?” or “That name sounds familiar, but I can’t quite place it….” It’s from Pride & Prejudice — Elizabeth Bennet’s close friend Miss Lucas who marries the Bennets’ cousin Mr Collins. [I’m guessing that most of you are now saying, “Oh, yeah!!” And if you’ve never read P&P nor seen the movie… that’s just wrong. Mostly just kidding, but you ought to at least familiarize yourself with it, even if you never are able to quote large sections of it from memory.]

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Charlotte Lucas was 29 years old and was probably more or less resigning herself to being an old maid. It was not uncommon for girls to get married at 16 or 17 years of age, and most were probably married (or at least engaged) by 24 or 25, or else never got married, having failed “in the bloom of their youth” to catch a man. This was a pretty serious thing in those days, since women were almost always dependent on their fathers, brothers, or husbands in order to live and survive, unless they were working-class women (governesses, maids, etc.)

After Lizzy spurns the offer of marriage from her cousin Mr. Collins, who is the heir to her father’s estate, and is pompous and socially inept and pretty much a horrible match for her (except financially), Charlotte sets her cap for Mr. Collins and in short order is engaged to him. She has no aspirations of romance; her encouraging Mr. Collins’s attentions was solely mercenary. She wanted to be married, and in some ways, it didn’t really matter to whom, as long as it was someone who could look after her financially. And that’s just what she got. She was content with her choice.

Sometimes women make choices about birth that confuse and confound other women. Just as Lizzy did not agree with Charlotte’s decision to marry Mr. Collins just to be financially comfortable, many women do not agree with other women’s decisions on birth choices — whether that’s with or without an epidural, in the home or at a hospital, etc. Charlotte thought that Lizzy was foolish to refuse the hand of Mr. Collins who was respectable and promised financial stability, even though it would mean being married to a man she could neither love nor respect. Lizzy thought Charlotte was foolish to accept his offer of marriage, because it would mean being married to a man she did not love and could not respect, even though it offered her the stability and (relative) independence she sought. So, who was right?

Well, it depends on what your goal is, I suppose. Charlotte’s attitude was “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush” — she grabbed Mr. Collins more or less out of desperation; but she had no romantic aspirations, so it was enough. Lizzy wanted something different — although had Mr. Darcy not come along, she may have come to regret refusing Mr. Collins had she become financially unable to support herself (if her father had died, and none of her sisters married a man who could support the rest of the family). In that situation, even a Mr. Collins may have been “enough.” But as long as she had her hopes and dreams, she could not choose the path her friend chose.

Women who have difficulty conceiving, or perhaps have had miscarriages or stillbirths, may have different desires and wishes from those of us who have not experienced such negative outcomes. They just want a baby, and if that means the baby has to come out through their nose, they’re fine with that! “Who bloody cares about C-section or vaginal birth — I just want a live baby to take home!” may be their mantra. And I’m fine with that for them. I want something else, but that’s just me. Just as you wouldn’t want to be married to my husband, and I wouldn’t want to be married to yours, so you and I may have different desires and criteria for birth. That’s normal. “Different strokes for different folks.” I won’t get my knickers in a twist if you won’t.

Yes, I will still encourage women to have natural births. I see great value in them. But I don’t think badly of women who make different choices (as long as they are informed choices). I may not understand your reasoning, or may not agree with it, but that’s okay, because I’m not making decisions for you, and you’re not making decisions for me. There’s no point in fighting each other or disparaging one another. Live and let live.

The “D” Word

I really just don’t like the word “delivery” in reference to the birth of a child. I just hate it. I didn’t used to think this way, and I commonly used it like everyone else. But when I gave birth to my first child, I had such a feeling of empowerment that I just couldn’t bear to think that I had been “delivered.” Nor did it ever seem like my baby was in danger, and needing “deliverance” from my body.

From the OneLook Dictionary Search, here are the “quick definitions” of the word deliver:

verb: carry out or perform (“Deliver an attack, deliver a blow”)
verb: save from sins
verb: deliver (a speech, oration, or idea)
verb: utter (an exclamation, noise, etc.) (“The students delivered a cry of joy”)
verb: bring to a destination, make a delivery (“Our local super market delivers”)
verb: throw or hurl from the mound to the batter, as in baseball (“The pitcher delivered the ball”)
verb: hand over to the authorities of another country
verb: free from harm or evil
verb: give birth (to a newborn)
verb: pass down (“Deliver a judgment”)
verb: relinquish possession or control over
verb: to surrender someone or something to another (“The guard delivered the criminal to the police”)

In general, the word deliver means to take from yourself or your possession or your control and give it to another (such as a pizza delivery guy), or else it means to save from a negative outcome (as in God saving you from your sins). Even in “deliver a speech” the thought is that you have an idea in your head that you take from your brain and give it to the people in your audience. But did you notice that not one of those “quick definitions” says that “deliver” means the act of catching a baby at his or her birth. Yet isn’t that one of the most common usages?

When I had my second baby, I didn’t call the midwife in time, so my sister caught the baby. I can’t tell you how it grated on my nerves to hear my mother and everyone else say, “You know that Lisa delivered him!?!” Oh, she did, did she?? And what did *I* do, sit on my thumbs all day?? All the focus was on my sister who showed up just a few minutes before the birth, and who simply did not drop the baby. Where is “delivery” or “deliverance” in that?

In the old days, as you can see from reading the King James Version of the Bible, which was first published in 1611, it was said when Mary gave birth to Jesus, that she “brought forth her first-born son.”

In Jane Austen’s book Sense and Sensibility (written exactly two centuries later), one minor character gives birth, and the birth announcement in the newspaper said that she “…was delivered of a healthy son…” While this shows that the verbiage was changed — deliver is in the passive sense, rather than the active “bring forth” — it still has much of the focus on the woman or the birth-passage itself, in using the word.

Fast-forward yet another two centuries, and we see that when we say that someone “delivers” a baby, we refer almost exclusively to the person who catches the baby — it may be a doctor, nurse, midwife, passerby, or someone else, but the woman is not even in consideration at all, except if she catches her own baby, in which case it is usually said with much surprise — “Did you know that she delivered her own baby??” How did we get to this point — to go from all women delivering their babies to no women doing so?

This is not just a matter of semantics. Words are powerful! I don’t like “deliver” because of the passivity it currently implies — at least in the area of birth — as well as the emphasis it places on the birth attendant, to the exclusion of the women who do the work of birth. How many women look to their doctors for salvation, unnecessarily? How many women look to their doctors to bring their babies out of their own bodies and into their own hands (perhaps by way of forceps, and almost always by way of the hands of several other strangers, and many times with an enforced separation of hours in those first precious hours after birth). Of course, sometimes doctors do actually deliver mothers and/or babies from harm — they save them; and they do deliver the baby from the woman’s body to her arms by way of a beneficial C-section. How much better it would be, though, if women could harness their own power, and feel their own ability in giving birth, rather than looking to those who are outside their bodies to see how to do it. What a change occurs when women give birth, rather than are delivered!

So, as long as the word “deliver” means the one who receives the baby at birth, I do not use it to describe the act of giving birth (with rare exceptions). Yes, I have it as a tag sometimes; and it is implicit in “Labor and Delivery”; but for the most part, I simply refuse to use the word. Which makes it difficult when talking about when the placenta follows the baby, because it sounds weird to say that “the placenta is born.” I suppose that’s what it is, but the typical clinical term is the “delivery of the placenta” which I don’t like. However, I do occasionally use that phrase, simply because it’s easy, and as long as the mother births* the baby, I’m okay with the placenta being delivered.

[Yeah, I know “birth” is technically not a verb, but that is a discussion for a future post.]

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