I was born in Michigan, and so was my mother. My grandmother was born in Finland.
My grandmother gave birth to her children at home. My mother gave birth in the hospital during the obstetric practice of twilight sleep and delivery with forceps. I gave birth by cesarean section.
As a nurse I worked in labor and delivery and neonatal intensive care. Hoping to help women avoid unnecessary interventions, I taught Lamaze classes.
Finally after many years in the hospital I worked with a home birth practice alongside doctors and midwives. I learned new ways to assist a woman during labor and birth. I gained new perspectives, able to see the spiritual side of childbirth more clearly. Sometimes, while caring for a woman during labor, she asked me to pray for her. Sometimes I observed the husband praying.
Every birth is unique. Every baby is a gift of God. I have been blessed with seeing the birth of my grandchildren at home and in the hospital.
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.
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?
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)
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.