A Brief Overview
Centuries ago hospitals as we know them did not exist. The sick and the infirm could travel to a ‘hospital’ but it was a temple or church staffed by monks, nuns, and volunteers rather than doctors and nurses. Without doctors in white lab coats women faced one of their most difficult ordeals, giving birth to a child, often with no educated assistance. The only help a woman in labor could reasonably expect was the presence of a midwife. While predominantly female, a few men were also midwives. This person would assist the mother in labor if the natural birthing process ran into a problem. This presence and help improved both the child and mother’s chances of surviving the birth.
Our Sister Maverian Lutgardis
Sister Lutgardis never intended to join any faction of the Faithful, as she was fond of pretty clothing and the social adventures of the nobility. After her father lost her wedding dowry speculating on wheat prices, she had no choice but to become a nun at a Trinitine convent. It was that or become a prostitute, which her father forbade at great detail. Her first years as a nun were unremarkable as she was one of many young girls cloistered away by the demands of tradition and lack of dowries.
Lutgardis did not find her calling until seven years after her unhappy induction to the Convent at Dakmar. The truculent Lutgardis was called upon to assist a woman in labor. To her horror, both the mother and the infant died during the ordeal. Days later, a much road worn midwife reached the convent and was greatly dismayed at the woman’s death and that of the infant. Lutgardis took special leave of the convent and became an apprentice, a doula, to the midwife.
Fired by her experiences, Sister Lutgardis became a highly skilled and competent midwife and took other sisters at the convent as temporary midwives. Soon, the convent became a shrine for expectant mothers, and mothers close to labor. The presence of women in labor and the blood and other fluids involved became a point of contention between Lutgardis and his supporters and the leaders of the convent.
The Cloister of Lutgardis
Taking her students on pilgrimage, Sister Lutgardis relocated from her original convent. The entourage toured through some of the poorest regions of the kingdom, providing aid and succor to those in need of their midwifing skills and calming presence. It just happened that the entourage encountered a woman in a royal carriage in the throws of labor. Seeing the child coming feet first, Lutgardis was able to save not only the infant boy but his mother as well. The tale says that the infant giggled rather than squalled when he was born into Lutgardis’ arms. It was not until later that she discovered that the child was the long awaited male heir to the King and that she had saved the Prince, but the Queen as well.
The King granted Lutgardis a great boon, anything she could think to ask for. She asked for a piece of land to build a new convent on, one where she would be able to train midwives and help birth babies in settings better than carriages and in back allies and corn cribs. Seeing her noble purpose, the King granted her a parcel of valuable land along a main trade road. There, the convent would be able to sustain itself with good harvests from fertile soil, collect tolls from road traffic as well as be reached easily from several major towns and the capital.
Midwives and Magic
To a degree there has always been a bit of magic and mystery to the position of midwife. Some of that stems from the simple miracle of a woman bringing a new life into this world, and some comes from the fact that their works are down with pomp and circumstance. Midwifing is a skill that is learned like any other, thought it is one that respects the natural processes and only intervenes when the natural process is obstructed. There is no reason that a midwife couldn’t know magic or even use it during child birth. On the other hand, what magics affect the mother, affect the child and vice verse. Much like the use of medication and drugs, the use of magic is limited due to the risk of unforseen consequences to mother and child.
Midwives and the Faith
Patriarchal faiths have always kept a distance between themselves and the act of birth. If chastity is a vow to be taken, than the physical act of a woman pushing a bloody infant from her loins is something to be definitely avoided. Often coming from rural and often pagan backgrounds midwives are barely tolerated by the faith and often not even tolerated when a good witch hunt flares up.
An Inconvenient Schism
Lutgardis and her cloister were not technically part of the Faith and were not recognized as such. When she founded her cloister, Lutgardis did so without permission of the Faith, without charter from the local diocese, only with the secular authority of the King. Though the Faith lacked the authority to shut down the Cloister, they did officially remove it’s blessing from the grounds and expelled Lutgardis from the clergy for her assumed arrogance and self interest.
Though this would not affect the donations received by the Cloister, revenues generated by the valuable farmland and road tolls, or even the applications for midwife apprentices, it did force the Cloister to operate entirely without oversight or assistance from the administrative body of the Church. This standoff would last a number of years before being reversed. The Bishop of Ozea eventually stepped in and offered an elderly Lutgardis readmission into the fold, along with an apology for the actions of his hot-headed and hide-bound predecessor. Tearfully, she accepted and the Cloister of Lutgardis was sanctioned and blessed by the Faith.
Midwives and Herbalists
Healer, apothecaries and herbalists have not always gotten along with midwives though their roles are often complementary. Natural herbs are usually safer than magic potions and often erratic spells. The Healer, a contemporary to a doctor, would take a proactive hand in the birth administering a C-section if needed. This clashes with the midwife tradition of only interfering if there is a problem. Apothecaries and herbalists have an herb for every occassion, but sometimes not every occassion calls for the use of an herb.
The Cloister Grounds
The Cloister is a large building consisting of two wings and a central hall. The central hall is subdivided into a large foyer for meetings and gatherings and a dozen rooms for the sole use of birthing quarters. Accessed by two hallways, these quarters have an inclined seat for the mother to sit in as well as being stocked with the supplies to birth a child and tend the mother and infant afterwards. The second floor of the main hall is the administrative center of the cloister where the ledgers are kept for the revenues of the tolls and fields as well as percentages donated to the mother church, alms, and the various taxes and grants. Unlike many cloisters that subsist on stipends from the Faith and subsistence farming, the Cloister of Lutgardis actually is very profitable.
The East Wing is partitioned into a large number of private rooms. Mothers expecting can stay in these rooms until they enter labor, and many after birthing their child will often stay on for a bit before leaving. Doula‘s make the rounds to these rooms, acting partly as servant staff doing the cleaning, and partly to check on the occupants. The East wing has two common areas where the mothers congregate for prayer, meals, and other functions.
The West Wing is reserved for the Sisters of Lutgardis, usually about two dozen fully initiated in midwifery as well as twice to three times that number of doulas. The quarters are sparse as would be expected of a convent of the faith, but they are not meager or threadworn. Like the East Wing, the West Wing has two common areas, one for eating, the other for clerical exercises and prayer.
Technically known as Hilthurst township, everyone at the Cloister knows it and calls it the Village. Certainly larger than any village, the township holds roughly 3,500 people not counting the farming families that work the large swath of acreage around the cloister. The Village is a stop-over point between two large cities and has a good deal of revenue itself, generated from it’s merchant inns and roadside taverns. There isn’t a brothel in the Village, and finding a prostitute will be like finding hen’s teeth. Unlike other townships, the Village lacks a defensible wall, fortified structures, or a garrison of significant size.
Covering several hundred acres, the Grange is part of the Falhathian wheat belt. While not a glorious or exciting crop, the Cloister produces a large amount of wheat every year. Most of this is ground into flour and used to bake loaves of wheat bread. The rest is rendered for animal feed and stock for pottage. Roughly a third of the wheat produced is sold on the market with the king receiving a tax from the profits as well as the church taking it’s share as well. Located in the Dakmar region, the Grange is also host to a dozen large cattle herds. Beef is quite common on the menu at the cloister, as is cheese and milk. The hides of the animals are sold to tanners in the Village, and some of the cattle are also sold though this is usually uncommon.
Operated by a guild from a nearby city proper, the Gristmill is powered by wind and turns the wheatcorns into wheat flour for the cloister. The guild families have long supported the Cloister and take half of what other mills are required to pay. It is rare when this isn’t returned plus interest to the cloister in donations from the guild for services for it’s members.
The Beaten Path
The Cloister and it’s amenities are all well and good for the women who are able to afford travel from their homes to the cloister. While many a noblewoman, wife of a guildsman, or even local farmer’s wife is able to make a short trip, most peasants are not so lucky. The Itinerant Sisters travel from village to village tending to the pregnant women along the way and helping with births. Assisted by a doula apprentice, the Sister is often considered a sign of good luck and are often asked for blessings ranging from a good birth to blessing a woman in want of a child. This movement at first might seem random and it’s value less than it actually is.
When a Sister passes through a village she is able to make a note of the women who are pregnant and when they might be ready to give birth. Since pregnancy lasts 9 months, there is usually a bit of time for a second sister to follow up on the first’s recommendation. Thus the wanderings of the Sisters is more follow the leader than heading in a random direction.
Of Sister Lutgardis
Eventually Sister Lutgardis, at the advanced age of 82, passed away and was buried at the cemetery at the Cloister. It is guessed that it will not be long before she is sainted in the name of the Faith. Her legacy is a large convent with many sisters and a valuable swath of land. It is now tradition that a Sister of Lutgardis be on hand for the Queen when she has a child.