Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert had nine children together. She was pregnant for around 80 months total in the 1840s and 1850s, over six years in total and this does not take any recovery into account. Queen Victoria knew all too well that childbirth could easily kill her – her cousin Charlotte of Wales was the perfect example. Victoria was understandably furious when she found herself pregnant just weeks after her wedding to Albert. She angrily wrote to her grandmother Augusta, “It is spoiling my happiness; I have always hated the idea, and I prayed God night and day for me to be left free for at least six months, but my prayers have not been answered, and I am really most unhappy. I cannot understand how one can wish for such a thing, especially at the beginning of a marriage.” She further added that if she had a “nasty girl”, she would drown it.
On 21 November 1840, Victoria gave birth to a daughter who would be known as Victoria, The Princess Royal. Luckily, Queen Victoria did not attempt to drown her. Queen Victoria was relieved to have survived the ordeal and spent two weeks in bed after giving birth, as was the custom. Just three months later, she found herself pregnant once more. She wept and raged and was miserable at the prospect. During the following hot summer, Victoria suffered constant headaches. She was often depressed, writing to her uncle King Leopold I of the Belgians that her “present heavy trial, the heaviest I have ever had to endure.”
On 9 November 1841, Victoria gave birth to the future King Edward VII. She was thrilled that she had given birth to a boy but felt very low after a painful labour. She wrote in her journal, “I will not say much, but my sufferings were really very severe, and I doubt that I should have died but for the great comfort and support of my beloved Albert… At last, at 12 minutes to 11, I gave birth to a fine, large boy! Oh, how happy, how grateful did I feel that Almighty Providence has so greatly blessed me and preserved me so mercifully through so many days and trials. Though tired I felt very well once the child was there.” When she held her new baby, she felt nothing, no love or affection. She would suffer from a postpartum depression for a year. In those early days, she felt weak and depressed and had trouble sleeping. Victoria began to see visions, “spots on people’s faces, which turned into worms”, and “coffins floated” before her eyes. Prince Albert told the obstetrician that Victoria was “afraid that she is about to lose her mind!” In April 1843, she wrote to King Leopold that her nerves “were so shattered” that “I suffered a whole year from it.” Prince Albert took Victoria to Scotland to help lift her depression.
On 25 April 1843, Victoria gave birth to her third child – a daughter named Alice. This time she only felt rather bored. She was quickly pregnant again and gave birth to her fourth child – a son named Alfred – on 6 August 1844. It was again a grueling labour and her suffering was “severe.” Her fifth child – a daughter named Helena – was born on 25 May 1846. Her sixth child – a daughter named Louise – was born on 18 March 1848. Just a few days after the birth of Louise, they were forced to leave London in fear of their lives as the Chartists has declared a massive meeting. Victoria was still recovering from the difficult labour lay on her bed and sobbed. Her seventh child – a son, named Arthur – was born on 1 May 1850. He was followed by her eight child – a son named Leopold – on 7 April 1853. This was also the first time she took chloroform during the labour, but this did not prevent another postpartum depression, which can occur at any time in the first year after giving birth. In May 1854, Victoria and Albert had a violent fight over an inconsequential problem with the royal catalogue and Albert was unable to calm her down. Her ninth and last child – a daughter named Beatrice – was born on 14 April 1857.
By her last pregnancy, Albert had grown tired of Victoria’s complaints about pregnancy. In the autumn of 1857, he accused her of being selfish and demanding. He wrote to her, “I, like everyone else in the house make the most ample allowance for your state… We cannot, unhappily, bear your bodily sufferings for you – you must struggle with them alone – the moral ones are probably caused by them, but if you were rather less occupied with yourself and your feelings and took more interest in the outside world, you would find that the greatest help of all.”
He struggled to comprehend the amount of hormones released by childbirth and thought Victoria simply lacked reason. Victoria came to understand that her depression came and went, but it affected her most during and after pregnancy. She even prepared the Princess Royal for “lowness and tendency to cry.. it is what every lady suffers with more or less and what I, during my first two confinements suffered dreadfully with.” 1