Since childbirth was a common experience for many Victorian and Edwardian women, it would stand to reason that it would have influenced the adoption of the corset as a social and physical institution. As previously discussed the corset and conception are not very good friends, actually more like foes. Same applies to pregnancy itself. But the corset would be an appreciated clothing apparatus postpartum.
Pregnancy pillages a woman’s abdominal muscles. Beyond the obvious stretching and immobilization, they can separate, leaving a gap in the middle of the stomach that is muscle-less and requiring time and attention to close postpartum. Some women never close it, particularly those with repeated pregnancies and/or multiples. What this does to the core strength of the body can be surmised. And, in such circumstances and in a time when posture and noble bearing were the clearest indicators of wealth and status, a rigid structure of ropes and whalebones tightly tied around the core would be an aid in image recovery.
Beyond muscle loss and gaps, there is the postpartum issue of excess skin, an expanded womb, water retention, and for those less lucky additional weight gain. Since all of this is squishy stuff, the corset could reign it in easily, allowing the new mother when she moves around and looks in the mirror to take a significant sigh of relief, albeit one limited to the upper portion of the lungs.
There would be benefits to the back, both lower and upper, that had taken on strain due to expansion of the womb and the bosom. Labor, too, is hard on the spine and back muscles, particularly those unlucky enough to have it be back and/or lengthy. The corset is useful for here as well, and can provide support to the engourged bosom.
Coming from a woman with rather nice pre-pregnancy abs, recovery does come with discipline and time. But we know more about the body then we did before, certainly more than our counterparts one hundred-plus years ago. They didn’t have the same benefits of physiological and gynecological knowledge and networks of support: no good doctors, yoga classes, free pamphlets from health insurance companies etc. When the woman of old feared her body would never be the same in that week after birth, one can only imagine how relieved she would be the first time she could lace herself back up, and enjoy the support of bones and heavy cotton fabric.
I noticed a band available in a local baby store of 2010 for the bellies of postpartum females. The purpose was to provide support and suck the tummy in, to serve the function of the old fashioned corset (no, I didn’t buy it). The lack of boning allowed mobility for the stroller-toting, laundry doing, car-driving typical mom, without the benefits to posture and back support. It was pricey for a piece of elastic, so the assumption can be made that the woman who would be image conscious and resource-rich enough to purchase such an item would probably take the accompanying pilates classes. But this elicits a contemplative pause for comparison: this is how we deal with the effects of childbirth, a natural personal, societal, and physical event that is as necessary for the survival of our race as the food we eat and the air we breathe. Childbirth is just as uncontrollable and as variable as nature, and we are left shooting around, though never quite hitting the target universal solution to make it controllable, efficient and rational. One can imagine mother nature (or aliens, whichever you buy into) having a jolly laugh at our attempts, just as we can snicker at our predecessors.
But on the whole, childbirth is amazingly efficient – given the materials it has to work with – if one admits that the purpose of it is the birth and surivival of offspring, not the preservation of the mother’s hot abs. That is an area that must be sacrificed, with nature’s assumption that the regular skinning of the downed mastadon and evasive maneuvers from the saber tooth tiger will bring about a reformation of former muscular tautness and control. Since the industrial Western World had no saber tooth tigers and ideal was to avoid dirtiness and labor, the corset was a creative solution.