Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction. -James 1:27
When I was about ten years old, my stepmom, eager to share her love of literature, gave me a copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1959 Newbery Medal winner). It has remained one of my favorite books ever since. Something about the story and its characters has always called to me on a deep level.
Hannah Tupper, one of the book’s main characters, is an elderly Quaker widow who has been ostracized and rumored to be a witch by the Puritan community she lives among. Toward the end of the book, the townspeople, looking for someone to blame for a fever outbreak, come after Hannah, intent on harm. I won’t spoil any more details, but it’s a beautiful book that I highly recommend.
Around the same time I received the book, we went with my stepmom and dad to visit the Salem Witch Museum. I remember standing in a dark room with period-costumed mannequins where a loud speaker told the stories of some of the women and girls who had been killed for supposed witchcraft. All of this talk about “real” witches was new to me.
Several weeks ago I learned something about my family history that helped me understand perhaps why The Witch of Blackbird Pond had struck a chord in my soul. I am a direct descendant of Margaret Stephenson Scott, hanged as a witch in the Salem Witch Trials on September 22, 1692. Margaret Scott was my 9th great-grandmother on my mother’s side.
In October I received a free review copy (from Cedar Fort Publishing) of the book Walking with the Women of the New Testament, by Heather Farrell ( beautiful art by Mandy Jane Williams). I knew right off the bat that my review would be biased. Heather Farrell and I, along with Felice Austin, Robyn Allgood, and Sheridan Ripley, co-wrote The Gift of Giving Life from 2009 until it was published in 2012.
I found Heather’s blog Women in the Scriptures back in 2009 doing an internet search about Eve. After clicking around on her blog and devouring a bunch of her posts, I told Felice, “We need her!” Not long after that, we invited her to join with us in writing The Gift of Giving Life. Over the course of the project, we eventually all met in person. I adore Heather Farrell.
I wish every laboring woman could have a doula’s support. Here are four great reasons why…
1) Doulas are nothing new.
A lot of people, when they first hear about doulas, think… oh, that’s new. But it’s not at all. For thousands and thousands of years women have been supported by other women during childbirth. We watched an awesome film at our doula training called “The Timeless Way” which showed the history of childbirth starting with ancient artifacts and moving to more modern depictions. I was struck how the very same image was represented through sculpture, wall carvings, pottery, and art over and over and over again. It is the “classic birth triad”—an upright laboring woman supported from behind by another woman, with a midwife in front ready to catch the baby. It has only been in the last century that this “classic birth triad” has all but disappeared. Doulas are not new. Modern obstetric practice is what has strayed (very far, I might add) from the time-tested norm.
Midwives have been saving mothers and babies for thousands of years. Long before the words “hospital” and “obstetrician” even existed, midwives were passing down the skills and wisdom of their wise women, nurturing mothers and babies into life.
In one of humanity’s oldest and most well-read stories, midwives were saving lives. The first chapter of Exodus tells of two midwives (Puah and Shiphrah) who saved countless lives through their courage and compassion. When Pharaoh demanded that they kill all the male babies born to the Hebrew women in slavery, Puah and Shiphrah saved the boys instead. It is likely thanks to them that anyone knows and reveres the name of Moses. Midwives save lives.
My own faith’s history claims many brave midwives. In the late 1800’s, Emma Andersen Liljenquist attended a course in midwifery after Mormon church president Brigham Young had urged many women to receive medical training to meet the needs of the Utah’s growing families. (You can read more about Utah’s midwifery history here.) Emma recorded these experiences from her years as a midwife among Utah’s early settlers:
“Some of the best birth footage out there–a must-see for anyone even remotely interested in the subject.” -Ceridwen Morris, CCE, childbirth educator, and co-author of From The Hips
When I received an email last week asking if I’d be interested in reviewing the film Birth Story on my blog, I immediately responded, “Yes!” I received my copy of the film over the weekend. My husband watched some of it with me, in between doing the dishes. I was impressed at how much it didn’t seem to freak him out. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. He’s been married to me for almost twelve years, after all.
Two Tuesdays a month, I have the honor of welcoming a bunch of nine- to ten-year-old girls from our church into my home to do various activities. Tomorrow we’ll be playing badminton in my backyard. Last time we did a get-to-know-you game. One of the questions in the game was, “What is your favorite scripture story?”
Of course I love the Nativity story and the Easter story and a lot of other stories. But the story I wrote down for my answer was “Puah and Shiphrah.” The girls didn’t recognize those names, so I was happy to tell them about two of my favorite people in the Bible. Whether you’re religious or not, I think there is so much we can learn from the story of Puah and Shiphrah.
Here is their story as told in the Bible, starting in verse 7 of the first chapter of Exodus (KJV):
And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.
My mother-in-law was born in New Zealand, the daughter of a transplanted cockney naval sailor, the son of a London midwife named Ann.
When I learned a few days ago that my children’s great-great-grandmother was a midwife, I was giddy. I’ve long harbored a wish that I would find a midwife in my own ancestral line. This isn’t quite the same, but it’s the closest I’ve come (besides having a registered nurse grandmother who attended births). And it makes me feel more than compensated for the fact that my children also have the blood of a turn of the century rapist running through their veins. (That’s another story.) A midwife’s blood so totally overpowers that. So much. Yay.
I love that one of the most celebrated events in earth’s history is a birth.
I’ve posted before (Away in a Manger) about what that miraculous event might have been like, based on Jewish laws and customs from Biblical times. Of course we don’t know exactly what happened when Mary gave mortal life to her Son. Sometimes laws and customs are laid aside when circumstances require. But how wonderful it would have been to witness that birth! I fantasize about it often.
I love the following new videos depicting the events surrounding Christ’s birth. One of my only laments is that we aren’t privileged to see Mary laboring or giving birth. Below you’ll find links to the videos and a few of the things I loved about them. Each one is only a few minutes long. If you like them, you can download them to share with your friends and family too. Enjoy!
Angel Foretells Christ’s Birth to Mary- I love the casting of Mary. I love how she seems to live and move and breathe on a higher plane. I love her humility.
A picture of Sarah Josepha Hale is hanging in my living room. This is because Sarah is one of my heroines. Here’s why…
First of all, she wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and that is certainly something. But that’s not really why she’s so cool, it’s just an interesting little tidbit.
Sarah Josepha Hale was born in 1788 in New Hampshire, the daughter of a Revolutionary War veteran. As an adult, she became a writer and editor, and she used those talents to bring about wonderful things. I think that is the main reason I admire her, because I am a writer/editor who wants to do that too.
Sarah was the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book (a women’s magazine) for forty years. It was the most popular and highest circulating magazine for women during its time. Through the magazine, she promoted women’s education and advocated for women in their roles as wives and mothers. She did not retire from her work as an editor until she was 90 years old. And she wrote and wrote! By the time she died, Sarah had published nearly fifty volumes of her written work.
I was pondering my ancestors recently and got wondering about their birthing experiences. How cool would it be to go back in a time machine and watch our ancestral mothers giving birth?! The closest I could get, however, was to look through some of the histories I have in my family history file. Most of them are sparse on birthing details, but it was still fascinating to imagine-in what the stories lacked. Much of what I found was heartache and loss, but I also found so much courage and strength as well. Here are a few snip-its…
My great-great-great grandmother, Inger, came to America aboard a ship with her husband and her three (living) children from Denmark in 1866. At the time, Inger, was pregnant with her fifth child. Here is the account of that child’s birth:
On board the ship coming to America a baby boy was born, 26 May 1866 to Inger and Andrew. He was given the name John B. after the captain of the ship. The baby died the following day and was buried at sea. . . . They had left one little grave in Denmark and now to lose their baby and not even be able to give it the burial they wanted to was very hard to bear. Conditions on the ship were not at all good. They came as steerage passengers, it was cheaper but more unsanitary and the trip took from 8-12 weeks
The way I mother my children is unusual in mainstream American culture (but common among my readers). I share my bed with my babies, I could never endure “cry-it-out” (even for a few minutes), I breastfeed on-demand for an extended period of time, I practice “nighttime parenting” by soothing or nursing my babies and toddlers back to sleep every time they awaken, I hold and carry my wee ones as much as possible (often in slings/wraps), I respond as quickly as possible to their cries of distress, and I rarely leave them with anyone besides my husband. Some might say I take Attachment Parenting to an extreme. There are probably those who would even say I take it to an unhealthy extreme. I certainly haven’t had a decent night of sleep for, well… years, and date nights with my husband are very rare. Some might assume I am driven to these extremes because I believe other parenting styles to be unethical (or evil), because I’m trying to be better than everyone else, or because I’m pursuing an unrealistic vision of “perfect” motherhood. But they would be wrong. Understandably…. because they don’t know my history (or my gene pool).
Originally posted November 2009:
We had a fun little family night last December. We sang some Christmas songs around the piano, made a Christmas ornament, and then watched The Nativity–a short depiction of the birth of Jesus. Here’s a YouTube version (this one has been put to music, but the original actually has the actor’s voices and animal sound effects).