Writing Lost Lives: Medieval Women and Stillbirth


A woman suffers a complicated labour and gives birth to a stillborn child. This tragedy must have been the experience of countless medieval women; it is still a common story today. But how can we write about the lives and losses of medieval women, who left vanishingly few first-person accounts of pregnancy, let alone pregnancy loss?

Dr Lucy Allen-Goss's project explores this question with reference to the material culture of medieval childbirth, above all, the spiritual medicine of ‘birth girdles,’ made of inscribed parchment and paper, that were pressed to pregnant women’s skin. Examining this material, she seeks to fill some of the silences that surround medieval and – all too often – modern pregnancy loss.

This event is chaired by Dr Tamarin Norwood, a researcher at OCLW, where she convenes the Lives in Medicine research network. She is a visiting early career research fellow at the Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath, and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Drawing Research Group, Loughborough University where she is writing a book on drawing, metaphor and the maternal experience of neonatal loss.