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During a childbirth scene in The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, I had a choice: Should the baby be born alive or dead? The mother had a rare condition that endangered her life and put the baby’s chances of survival at 50 percent.

The deciding factor was the fate of the newborn’s soul. Medieval Christians believed everyone needed to be baptized to enter heaven, but did that belief extend to infants who died before birth?

That question bothered me so much I didn’t want to know. For an innocent to be denied paradise for all eternity was just too cruel, especially when the lack of baptism was beyond the parents’ control. So I researched what would happen if the midwife feared for a newborn’s survival and wrote the following:

“I have the child,” the midwife said. When she leaned back, blood covered her arms and chest. She cradled a listless newborn and the afterbirth.

“Another son,” the midwife said in a monotone.

“Good,” Gerhilda whispered.

The babe is not crying! Sunwynn stared at the infant. He was quiet when the midwife wiped his nose and mouth. A slap to the bottom was met with barely a whimper. Sunwynn winced. A few other women groaned.

“Daughter, hold the jasper amulet to the countess’s belly until it’s warm,” the midwife told an assistant.

The midwife cut the cord and placed the child in the basin she used to wash her hands. Three times, she used her cupped hand to pour water on the child’s head and muttered a Latin prayer. Sunwynn shuddered. There was only one reason a midwife would baptize a newborn.

Fast forward a few months after Ashes is published, and I am working on a script for my contribution to a midwifery panel discussion during the 2015 Historical Novel Society Conference, June 26-28. Since my talk will focus on the early medieval midwife’s spiritual duties, I could no longer avoid that question I so dreaded. For the answer, see my post on English Historical Fiction Authors.


Dante meets the unbaptised in Inferno, illustrated by Gustave Doré 1861-1865 (public domain via Wikimedia Commons).