My mum/older sister's copy of Our Bodies Ourselves circa 1988

I’ve been holed up in my parents’ house the last two days, and here I always find something from the past to read, whether it’s an early 1980s Agatha Christie edition (the ones with the super-scary covers) or one of my spiritual sister’s books about past lives.

Which is how I ended up engrossed In, and irritated by, the 1970s women’s health classic Our Bodies Ourselves. Actually, the edition at my parents’ house came out in 1988, but from a modern woman’s perspective – wow – even the late 80s seem seriously outdated and not-in-a-good-way weird.

This was a superseller of its time, and it’s made me realise how much nicer modern women have it. Here are some of the oddities, as I see them.

– I can’t find a chapter or even section on fertility or how to get pregnant, while there’s a vast amount on birth control, with even an extraordinary section on how to use astrology (yes, astrology) to know when you’re ‘safe’. When the book finally gets onto pregnancy, it assumes a woman’s first thought will be whether she wants the baby or not. I can’t find much on the subject of miscarriage. Goodness how life has changed. These days the worries in most women’s minds are all about infertility or how to conceive – while if you want birth control you just use a condom or go on the pill. In fact it’s because my generation weren’t educated about fertility by books like this in the 1980s that we are now worrying about infertility…go figure.

– Pregnancy testing. In those days there were no reliable home tests! The book says you can be tested only two weeks after the missed period, and even then a GP might take weeks to come back with the result. How did women manage?

– Labour advice in the 70s/80s, as far as this book goes, is still very preachy about the benefits of not accepting pain relief – it also goes on and on about home birthing. It says labour ‘reminds some women of the rising, breaking and falling of waves on the shore’. Hmm. To me it felt somewhat less romantic, more like being cleaved open by a giant nutcracker, but hey ho.

There are lots of pictures of hippyish long-haired, naked women in the book and on labour, one woman is quoted: ‘I was surprised by the strength of sensations…had I not been prepared I would have interpreted them as being painful.’ Which made me want to shout: ‘That’s because they ARE painful, for God’s sake!’

– Antenatal care. In the 70s you had to eat liver once a week (today it’s prohibited), you were meant to ‘eat well and gain weight’ (today pregnant women are ordered not to eat too much or gain too much), folic acid was not to be taken before the 15th week (‘all drugs should be avoided’) and women had to undergo breast examinations at their pregnancy check-ups (thank goodness something I was never subjected to during my pregnancy more recently).

I’ll stop there but paging through this has made me feel very lucky to be a modern woman.


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