Born to a Changing World

Born to a Changing World

Childbirth in Nineteenth-Century New Zealand

Emerging from diaries, letters and memoirs, the voices of this charming narrative tell of new life arriving amidst a turbulent world.

Women in the nineteenth century gave birth in widely varying circumstances: Māori women of noble families might be lovingly cared for within the whare kōhanga; wealthy colonial wives employed doctors and monthly nurses; rural women relied on local midwives and neighbours to deliver their babies. The poor or unmarried might need to turn to charitable institutions for support. These very different histories from the years before the Plunket Society, ‘safe’ Caesarean sections, and registered midwives are brought together for the first time.

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Table of contents

1. Open Air and the Whare Kōhanga: Māori Birth Ways
2.  Lying In: Pākehā Birth Ways
3. ‘Destitute and Ailing’: Giving Birth in Hospital
4.  ‘What Beautiful Children These Are!’: Clothing the Baby
5.  From Wet Nursing to Condensed Milk: Changes in Infant Feeding
6.  Christening, Churching and Circumcision: The Religious Rituals of Childbirth
7. ‘The Angel of Death Was Waiting for Them’: Maternal Illness and Death
8. ‘She Has No Baby Now to Call Her Mother’: Infant Death

Appendix: Court cases

Print publication:
Ebook publication: Dec 2015
Pages: 312
RRP: $39.99
ISBN: 9781927131428
ISTC: A0220120000214DD
DOI: 10.7810/9781927131428

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Hear Alison Clarke talk to Kathryn Ryan about her book on Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon.

Read Landfall's review of Born to a Changing World

Listen to Alison Clarke discuss her book on Radio NZ's Sounds Historical with Jim Sullivan.

Read about the book in the Medical History Newsletter (PDF), the news bulletin of the Australian and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine.



‘Wise and richly informative … The strengths of this history lie in the wide and careful research, the medical expertise employed in reading case histories and court reports, the interpretative wisdom and the humanity. … It deserves to be read widely beyond New Zealand and Australia’, Janet McCalman, University of Melbourne, in Australian Historical Studies

"The book is full of real stories of New Zealand families... it is a fascinating and informative history that has broad appeal to anyone interested in 'the way things were'" Midwifery News, March 2013

"A most illuminating, humane and comprehensive book about childbirth as those woman experienced it... This is a book everyone should read..." Nola Leov, New Zealand Society of Genealogists Nelson Branch Newsletter, February 2013

"A fascinating combination of social and personal history." Ngaire Atmore, New Zealand Herald on Sunday, 16 December 2012

"This is a fascinating, and sometimes very sad account of a time, not long ago, when our grandmothers and great grandmothers accepted the very high risk of infant mortality, and even their own early deaths, bringing their children into the world … A very sobering but important historical account and tribute to pioneering women. " Tom O'Connor, Waikato Times, 26 January 2013


The Ian Wards Prize, Archives and Records Association of New Zealand (ARANZ), 2013