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Over the centuries, pregnancy has appeared to be a dangerous and often even lethal period of life, with many diseases threatening both mother and child. In modern times these diseases are often well recognised and may be adequately treated, with sufficient medical expertise and the appropriate political situation.1 In ancient Mesopotamia, the source of pregnancy and childbirth associated pathology was sought in demonology. One specific demon, in particular, was held responsible for diseases of this sort, namely, Lamashtu (Akkadian): “she who erases”.2
Daughter of Anu, one of the greater gods, her appearance was as terrible as her work. Equipped with a hairy human body, the head of a lioness, teeth and ears of a donkey, and bird feet with sharp talons, she is often shown standing or kneeling on a donkey, nursing a pig and dog, and holding snakes. Her work included poisoning water with disease, killing plants, bringing nightmares, and causing tetanus in addition to persistent fevers.2
However, Lamashtu's principle victims were unborn. Slipping into the house of a pregnant woman, she tried to touch the woman's stomach seven times to kill the child. She would poison newborns by abducting the child from its wet nurse and feeding it with it her own toxic milk. Mothers could also be killed, and she sometimes ate the flesh and drank the blood of adult men,2 although it is not stated whether they were the fathers or just randomly picked individuals.
Recently, the long term mortality of mothers and fathers after pre-eclampsia was studied in a population based cohort.3 Although women with pre-eclampsia had a higher long term risk of death, the survival of fathers involved in pre-eclampsia complicated pregnancies was not shortened in any way compared with fathers not involved in this kind of pregnancy.3 This might be an illustration of Lamashtu specifically attacking the mothers of her young victims, with her adult male victims being random men crossing her path at the wrong time, in the wrong place.