Ante-Natal Impressions

Elizabeth Lyle Saxon, “Ante-Natal Impressions,” Brittan’s Journal, October 1873: 531-533

I have been told by some modest people that ideas on such a subject as I have chosen should not be generally expressed, and that observations in this direction should only be made by medical men.  I deny this assumption.  Women are the builders and creators, under Providence, of the human frame; and until men and women alike learn the laws of Nature and Life—boldly and freely learn, with reverent hearts and a desire for all good, they will continue to send forth monstrosities of mind and body to fill prisons and asylums.  Every deep abiding grief; every angry emotion, is in a degree daguerreotyped on the minds of our unborn children.  Many a man and woman have sent into the world a thief or a murderer, and all after efforts to fashion a better character have proved futile, and will hereafter until woman’s power is known and understood.  I go back of the “Line upon line and precept upon precept,” and say that the evil begins in the hour a mortal body and an immortal soul are conceived.  We dare not longer excuse ourselves under the plea that a just, over-ruling Providence orders all the details of human conduct, and hence that the most terrible crimes are but the reflections of his will.  We will find hereafter that crimes proceed, in many instances, from ante-natal causes, and that individual character is only influenced in some limited measure by the subsequent training.

For over twenty years I have paid close attention to what are denominated “birth marks,” and I hold that if a woman is capable of marking her child physically she has the same power to influence and determine its mental and moral peculiarities.  It is absurd to admit that she can mark the body, and yet assume that she has no similar power over the mind and character.  In this particular direction we should look for the most comprehensive reform.  Here is the opportunity to achieve the greatest success.  Here lies the power of woman for causing her seed to “bruise the serpent’s head”—a figurative and scriptural representation of sin, which is another name for ignorance.  Here we discover the meaning of those fearful words—“Visiting the sins of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me and will not keep my commandments.”  The careless look on the surface, but the thoughtful comprehend the deeper meaning of these words.

I knew intimately a cultivated woman who married a man of equal culture and refinement.  He was gay and convivial, but not then more dissipated than two-thirds of the men we meet.  Their first three children were well-nigh perfect in body and mind; the fourth had a deformity of the cheek.  This child was conceived and born after the husband became intemperate, had delirium tremens and was beastly in his habits.  The fifth child had no mouth, and lived only two days; the sixth was hideously deformed, and fortunately was still-born; the seventh was blind, but it lived.  The time must come when women will discover that the obligation they owe to the children they bear is not less important than fidelity to their marriage vows, and then they will refuse to bring into the world the offspring of drunken fathers.

Whilst our scientific men are studying the habits of fishes and reptiles, and inquiring where these deposit their eggs, and how those produce their young, the grand drama of human conception, birth, life and death is played out unregarded.  They spend months and years in finding the age of the remains of organized bodies—shells and bones unearthed or cast up by the sea—while the proofs of infinite realities—the boundless capacity and limitless life of the soul—are lightly treated, and the subject classified with idle vagaries and popular superstitions.  While they sneer at the rights of woman, and overlook her power for good or evil, she is opening her receptive soul either to divine or hellish influences, which must flow from her nature down the stream of life.  We now regard lunacy with but little more horror than the measels or whooping cough, it has become so common!  Is it asserted that children begotten in drunkenness, and conceived and gestated in the delirium of ungovernable lust, are not more liable to be thus afflicted than are the offspring of parents who are pure in feeling and temperate in their habits?  Such an assumption contradicts our reason.  Can we wonder at the rapid increase of nervous diseases, when boys of six years smoke and chew, and like veteran topers call for a “brandy smash;” and even gentlemen walk the streets with ladies holding a cigar in their lips?  Twenty-five years ago such a sight would have shocked the common sense of propriety.

One can almost excuse the maddened and desperate women, who have turned so defiantly to face and expose the hideous wrongs done under cover of marriage and respectability.  Indeed, this very respectability may have sealed their lips, and bade them suffer a living death.  Let only the pure, spiritualized nature of woman be free to develop itself, and she will educate men up from the low plane of their carnal life, and thus help to usher in the millennial dawn, of which we hear so much from priests and poets.

New Orleans, La.


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