Maternal death is the term used for the death of a woman through any pregnancy complications during or just shortly, usually up to a month, after child birth or a terminated pregnancy. Holding a child to full term and going into labor was, and in some places around the globe still is, problematic and even dangerous. Also, if a healthy child is born, the parents are now responsible for taking care of the child, raising the child, and paying for the child’s expenses. In agricultural societies, children are sometimes worth their cost as they can be used as extra laborers around the farm. However, these instances are becoming rare as machines can do the work in place of multiple laborers. Ever since humans knew the cause of pregnancy, and thus children, were caused by coitus, they were wanting a way to “have the fun” without having the numerous troubles.
Barriers are probably the most well known birth control technique as a person simply has to carry one around until it is needed. Today, most sexually active people have used a condom. Before the development of latex and easily produced rubber, we can see examples of condoms being made from animal intestines (lamb seems to be the favored animal for these devices). These types of condoms were very popular and seen throughout Asia before the fifteenth century, with the exception of Japan as they mainly used animal horns or even turtle shells. Yet, during the European Renaissance, condoms made from these animal organs became widespread enough to get the condemnation of the Catholic church. The notable Italian lover Casanova was known to have preferred half of a lemon though rather than cover his entire organ with these skin-condoms. The shape of the lemon acted as a cervical cap and the citric acid in the juice was a very effective spermicide.
Most cultures though felt that birth control was a woman’s issue and responsibility. The use of pessaries (a dome-shaped cervical cap that was held in place by the muscles of the pelvic floor which keep sperm from entering the cervix) is as ancient as the idea of birth control itself. These early devices were not the “made to fit and seal” kind that we know today though. Most of them were considered “one size fits all” and would therefore sometimes cause pregnancy as the device may not have pressed tightly enough against the vaginal walls to prevent leakage. Cervical caps made of beeswax were popular throughout continental Europe. The quality of beeswax to mold itself to fit was helpful, but multiple usages made them degrade quickly. In the Orient, if a animal-organ condom was not used, the “family planning minded” woman would generally use a cervical cap of oiled paper. The use of seed wool (cotton that has not been cleansed of its seeds yet) was common as well since it tended to be one of the more comfortable female handled barrier methods. The simple creatures known as sea sponges (especially if soaked in lemon juice first) were used a great deal during the height of power in Constantinople.
Yet, the ancient peoples of Europe and northern Africa greatly preferred a tuft of wool soaked in the juice of the silphium plant. Silphium is a giant fennel plant that was part of the parsley family which only grew on a narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean coast of what is now present-day Libya. It went extinct during the time of the Romans due to over harvesting and the plant’s lack of adaptability to other growing environments. It was used for countless diseases, but its success as a contraceptive made it one of the most important plants in prehistory. The historian Pliny the Elder raved about its ability to prevent pregnancy. Ancient Egyptians used it a great deal as well since the shape of the seed is actually where we get our modern heart shape as a symbol for love instead of the actual upside-down pear shape of a real human heart. The juice of this plant’s seeds soaked into a piece of wool was one of the most favored barrier methods of historic peoples as it would act as a barrier to the cervix and the entire vaginal canal very unwelcoming to any living sperm. In Egypt, the tip of the acadia shrub with ground dates and a mixture of cotton and honey was a very well known way make the vaginal canal inhospitable to any invading sperm. This method was actually tested scientifically and it turns out that the acadia can become fermented in the body to create lactic acid, which is a well known, effective spermicide.