Today is the final day of March, Women’s History Month. The month has been designated for noting the contributions that women have made in our country. This year celebrates 100 years since women were given the right to vote.
We remember the suffragettes. Their accomplishment is important, but there are other women who deserve our interest and respect.
Throughout history many women have used their God given abilities and talents for the benefits of others. It is inspiring to know about them.
Eric Metaxis wrote succinct biographies of women who used their abilities in remarkable ways. In the book, Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness, Metaxis devotes a chapter to each of these women: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa.
The names of some of these women are familiar, others not so much. I learned new facts about each of these women. I found the chapters about Hannah More and Saint Maria of Paris to be fascinating.
The book reminds me that every age has its challenges. The unique skills and abilities of women are needed. The University of Michigan’s School of Nursing Magazine has a page dedicated to 2020 The Year of the Nurse and Midwife. The timing of this designation is amazing. Nurses are on the frontlines of the pandemic all around the world.
Nurses have had huge roles at other times. Florence Nightingale was very influential during the Crimean War, saving lives. Edith Cavell was a nurse and a heroine during World War I. I wrote about these two nurses in a previous blog post. Read the post here, along with references.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
God’s amazing design is before us in the birth of Jesus. Jesus did not enter our world as an adult. He came as an infant, fully human and also God.
He wasn’t born in a palace or a hospital equipped with modern technology. His birth was dependent on the natural physical ability of a young woman to give birth.
God didn’t need human intervention to carry out his plan for our good. This fills me with joy and trust. We can rest, knowing God is sovereign over our world.
Luke, the physician wrote in his gospel: And while they [Joseph and Mary] were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in manger because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2: 6-7
There are times and circumstances that overwhelm with fear. Remember the Bible account of the sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee?
A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping! They roused him saying, “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?”
Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, “Quiet! Settle down!” The wind ran out of breath, the sea became as smooth as glass. Mark 4:37-39 MSG
When a woman is in labor and gets close to giving birth she may experience a rush of hormones that cause the strong contractions of transition. Some women feel completely out of control. The waves of contraction rush over her. This is the point at which women, whom I have attended in labor, ask for prayer. Sometimes it is a husband or a friend that prays. Sometimes I have prayed.
Throughout life we encounter situations where the stress of a situation may overwhelm us. God provides a place to bring our fears and concerns. We can pray. It is calming to pray with another believer. Jesus said:
Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them. Matthew 18: 19-20
When I meet with women for Bible study on Wednesday mornings we end our meetings with group prayer. Together we bring our concerns to the Lord. We are refreshed and ready to meet the challenges ahead.
When I read the prompt for Five Minute Friday today, I immediately thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote the book, The Cost of Discipleship. His life portrayed the cost of his convictions.
I have read Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas and more recently My Dearest Dietrich by Amanda Barratt. Both books describe Bonhoeffer’s steadfast adherence to the truth of the Bible as Hitler ascended to power in Germany. He had the opportunity to remain in the United States as WWII was about to begin, but he chose to return to Germany, hoping to have an influence for good.
It is hard to be steadfast in convictions when you are going against the current. When I saw the number of interventions in childbirth continuing to grow, I chose to take a position with a home birth group with a drop in wages. I was able to see the normal progression of labor with the support of doula, nurse and physician. We were careful to observe for problems, transferring 10% of patients to the hospital. I learned important lessons.
When I returned to the hospital, my goal was to be an advocate for women who desired fewer interventions. Labor is a natural physiologic process that can be negatively affected by interventions. As it turned out,I didn’t always get along with the doctors. It is a lifelong challenge for me to learn to speak up with grace.
My heart goes out to the nurses and doctors who have concerns about the vaccine schedule for children. They believe that too many vaccines are being given at one time, not all of them are necessary for all children, some vaccines could be delayed. But mandates are being passed in a number of states. Doctors, nurses and parents don’t have a choice.
Yet some are steadfastly speaking up, going against the current—and being penalized financially.
As a Christian I need God’s word as a guide for my convictions. I need to read it, study it, and make it my way of life. And I need to continue to grow in my ability to speak truth with grace.
Being steadfast is not always financially rewarding, but it is spiritually rewarding.
I just finished a study of the book of Joshua. Here is the encouragement that threads all the way through this book.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
Our pastor has begun a series of messages from the book of Exodus and he pointed out the strong women mentioned in the first two chapters of this book.
When the Egyptian King decreed that the Hebrew midwives should kill all Hebrew male babies Shiprah and Puah did not obey the decree.
But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. Exodus 1:17
So they were called before Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and questioned.
The midwives explained that the male babies survived,“because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” Exodus 1:19
Were the midwives lying? They were circumventing the king’s command. Their answer indicated that they had experience attending Egyptian and Hebrew women.
Women that are physically active—the Hebrew women worked hard as slaves— are in better physical condition, more likely to have a labor that progresses well—more likely to walk, squat and change position throughout labor. The Hebrew women may have given birth with the assistance of relatives that had learned basic skills from the midwives.
And then Pharaoh made a new decree. He asked the Egyptians to be on the alert and to throw any Hebrew male babies into the Nile.
One Hebrew woman (Jochebed) realized that her three month old baby boy was becoming increasingly hard to hide. So she made a little basket sea worthy, and asked Miriam (the baby boy’s sister) to place him in the river.
Jochebed instructed the Miriam to watch him.
Pharaoh’s daughter saw the unusual floating basket and asked her maid to bring it to her. The Princess realized that the baby was a Hebrew boy whom her father had ordered to be drowned. She ignored her father’s decree.
When Miriam saw the Princess holding her baby brother she offered to get a nurse from the Hebrew women to breastfeed the child. She offered to bring the baby’s mother, and Pharaoh’s daughter agreed.
The five women (midwives, Jochabed, Miriam, King’s daughter) were disobeying the King’s order. They were defending life! Despite the possibility that harm might come to themselves, they nurtured the baby boy who would one day be a leader of Israel.
Women have been entrusted by God with the gift of bearing and nurturing life. These five women offer examples of faith and courage as they persevered, defending the life of a baby. They were gutsy women.
In our own time nine men, Supreme Court Justices, decided that a woman has the right to abort (kill) her unborn baby based on a right to privacy. Roe v. Wade was decided on January 22, 1973. The law opened the opportunity for boyfriends and family members to urge a confused and panicked woman to end an unplanned pregnancy with abortion.
Exactly one year after the Roe v. Wade decision 20,000 people showed up in Washington D.C. for a March for Life. Nellie Gray, another gutsy woman, organized this first March for Life that took place on January 22, 1974. The protest of Roe v. Wade has taken place every January since then. Icy cold weather, snow and wind, have not deterred thousands of men, women and teens from participating in the March for Life.
The moms in California fighting for the health of their children are also gutsy women. Who are the strong women that you know?
The Lamaze method of birth has been known for breathing patterns that help a woman to relax and keep pace with labor contractions. I taught breathing patterns to my students. Some women reported that they used the technique during labor. Others said the hospital procedures interfered with their ability to maintain paced breathing.
When I made the transition from hospital to home birth I learned about the value of a calm supportive environment. The menu on my website has pages under the category of Healthy Birth Practices. On one page I wrote about the benefit of a calm, encouraging environment during labor.
After thirteen years as a labor/delivery nurse, three cesarean sections and 17 years of teaching Lamaze, I saw birth from a new and holistic perspective when I attended home births.
While present with women from early labor through birth I was able to observe the natural positions women assumed to assist the progress of labor. My knowledge of comfort measures increased, and I realized the value of adequate nourishment. I also became aware of the spiritual nature of labor and birth.
Sometimes the laboring woman’s husband prayed for her during labor. Sometimes I was asked to pray. It was a blessing to feel free to pray and ask for God’s help.
When I returned to the hospital setting, I found myself between two philosophies of birth. Women in labor need to be nourished and well hydrated. Recently a young woman came to the hospital with a birth plan. We provided the environment for her to walk and change position, as she desired. I monitored the baby intermittently.
My husband and I spent a week in Upper Michigan, off the grid. During the day I worked on projects around the old farmhouse. In the evenings we shared dinner with my sisters. After dinner I read books. I was shifting between two books. Do you do that? have two or three books going at the same time?
One of the books was about a midwife who was commissioned by the king of France to teach midwifery skills throughout the country. The mortality rate of mothers and infants was high and King Louis XV was concerned about the prospect of a diminishing population.
Nina Gelbart wrote the book, The King’s Midwife: A History and Mystery of Madame du Coudray. The book has a picture of “the machine” Madame du Coudray used to demonstrate the skillful assistance of birth. Madame du Coudray devised a model of a female pelvis from cloth and wicker, along with a model of a baby. She also wrote a book of instructions that was published.
The midwife was commissioned to travel to distant villages with her assistants. She spent weeks at a time holding classes, demonstrating the movements of birth, watching the students work with her “machine”.
The common problems of human nature peeps out throughout the pages. Madame du Coudray taught surgeons and doctors—but some felt it was beneath them to learn from a midwife. Matrons that had been the village midwife for years felt they needed no further help. Catholic priests felt that any young woman who was not a member of the Catholic church should not be certified as a midwife—she wouldn’t be able to baptize the infant if its life was in danger.
Madame du Coudray was skillful in relating to women and men. She was able to hold doctors and surgeons in respect, while teaching midwifery skills. She kept her focus on saving the lives of women and children. It is a testament to her abilities that she held classes all across France for more than thirty years (1751 -1783)
When I think of the Civil War I am saddened by the great battle between the states and the huge loss of life. I am glad that the slaves were finally free. I have never thought much about the years after, the Reconstruction. What happened to the slaves that were freed from the plantations?
After extensive research, Charlotte Hinger has written a novel about a group of former slaves that migrated from Kentucky to Kansas to establish an all-black town. The novel, The Healer’s Daughter, paints a picture of tremendous hardship and perseverance.
The main character, Bethany, is a strong willed young woman who has some skills in healing but her real passion is teaching. Her mother, Queen Bess, has learned healing arts from doctors whom she assisted on the plantation. I was fascinated by her observation and knowledge of people, her quest to gather medicinal herbs.
Medical care was chaotic in the years following the war. There was no licensing or certification process for doctors. A man might learn as an apprentice and then with limited experience put a shingle out, offering his services.
The story includes instances of normal childbirth, as well as complicated births and tragic situations. The book has intense scenes that caused me to pause and put the book down for a while. It has helped me see how the black family was crushed and torn apart during slavery. Establishing a living as free people was a great challenge.
Hinger’s book is based on the true story of Nicodemus, Kansas. From the author’s notes: It was the first all-black town established on the High Plains.
Today I took the Metra train to downtown Chicago. I had plans to do some research at the Harold Washington Library. The library is about a mile walk from the the train station.
Because it was warm and sunny the streets were crowded with pedestrians: people in business clothes carrying attache cases, teenagers in shorts and t-shirts, couples holding hands and elderly folk with walkers.
I watched the street names as I walked. Many of them have a historical reference—La Salle, Madison, Monroe, Adams, and Jackson.
At the library I spent time looking through newspaper microfilm, until I was literally dizzy! I was searching for more information about the Chicago Midwifery Institute that existed for about nine years (1889 to 1898).
Chicago was a center of growth and competing medical philosophies at the end of the 19th century. Dr. Paoli, at one time the president of the Chicago Medical Society, was behind the certification requirements for midwives in Illinois. He was also on the board of directors for the Linnean Hospital that hosted the Chicago Midwifery Institute.
A Finnish midwife attended this school and received a diploma. In 1905 she was at the center of a legal battle in Massachusetts that dragged on for four years. After practicing midwifery for eight years she was accused of practicing medicine without a license. Her court case had an impact on the gradual diminishment of midwifery in the United States.
After a lunch break I visited the 9th floor that had an exhibit in honor of Harold Washington, the former mayor of Chicago that put plans for this library in motion. Sadly, he passed away before he could begin his second term. He didn’t see the completed library that was named after him.