“Zebel and Salome, the Virgin Mary’s Midwives: Doubt, Faith, and the Miraculous in a Medieval Legend” by Jane Beal

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My article, “Zebel and Salome, the Virgin Mary’s Midwives: Doubt, Faith, and the Miraculous in a Medieval Legend,” now appears in Midwifery Today 131 (Autumn 2019), 44-46.

EXCERPT: 

“The birth of Jesus is perhaps the most famous birth in the world. It is called the Nativity (meaning “the Birth”) and represented in homes, churches, and communities by iconic Nativity scenes at Christmastime, when it is celebrated by Christians (and many non-Christians) worldwide. Nativity scenes recall figures from the birth and infancy stories of Jesus preserved in the gospels of Matthew and Luke as well as extra-biblical sources, including Christmas carols: a stable with a star shining over it; domesticated animals like the ox, ass, and sheep; angels, shepherds, and Magi (also known as the Wise Men or Three Kings); and Joseph and Mary, come from Galilee to Bethlehem to participate in a Roman census, and of course, the baby Jesus lying in a hay-filled manger.

            “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed –

            the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head;

            the stars in the sky look down where he lay –

            the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”

          “Away in a Manger” (late 19thc.)

Figures that we almost never see depicted in Nativity scenes today are Zebel and Salome, the midwives who were long believed to have attended Mary when she gave birth to Jesus. That’s because no midwives are named, or even mentioned, in the Nativity accounts in the biblical Gospels of Matthew and Luke. But in the late-antique and medieval periods, several well-known written documents and visual sources depict two midwives with Mary when Jesus was born. These midwives, Zebel and Salome, play a vitally important role in such depictions: their doubt and faith, their practical knowledge and spiritual authority, are used to verify the miraculous nature of the virgin birth.”

“Jane Hawkins: A Colonial American Midwife and a Complicated Birth” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 2.53.52 PMMy essay, “Jane Hawkins: A Colonial American Midwife and a Complicated Birth,” appears in Midwifery Today 128 (Winter 2018), 28-29.

EXCERPT: 

“Jane Hawkins came from St. Ives, Cornwall, to America with other Puritan Christians in 1635. She settled in Boston with her husband, Richard Hawkins, where she served as a midwife. She was an older woman at this time, a Christian, but not a member of a Puritan church (McGregor 1996, 186). She shared the practice of midwifery with Anne Hutchinson, another colonial midwife who served the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which was under the leadership of Governor John Winthrop. During a period of great religious upheaval in the community, she attended a complicated birth, which led to suspicions of her involvement with witchcraft, though she was not formally charged (Hall 1991, 19). She was subsequently forbidden to practice midwifery and banished from her home. As a result, she moved to Rhode Island with her family. The extraordinary circumstances that affected the life of the midwife Jane Hawkins deserve close attention … “

“In Memory of Ann Eliot: Colonial American Midwife” by Jane Beal

BEAL-AnnEliot-MT127 CVRMy essay, “In Memory of Ann Eliot: Colonial American Midwife,” appears in Midwifery Today 127 (Fall 2018): 20-22, in print and online.

EXCERPT: 

“Ann Eliot (born Hannah Mumford or Mountford) was a midwife in Roxbury, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, during the Colonial era in America. After she died on March 22, 1687, her family, friends, and neighbors commemorated her life by erecting a special monument for her. In a unanimous resolution, they voted to do so: “Mrs. Eliot, for the great service that she hath done this town, will be honored with a burial there.” (qtd. in Gregory). At the time of her death, she had attended more than 3,000 births …

… No scandal ever attached to her or her practice of midwifery. In fact, her work as a midwife and healthcare provider expanded into the area of fiduciary responsibility: eight families from the town of Roxbury trusted her to be the executor of their estates (Packard, qtd. in Whaley). So in addition to having attended the births of more than 3,000 babies, she also helped ensure for some of them their provision and future inheritance. When she died, at about the age of eighty-three, Ann Eliot’s loss was deeply felt and widely mourned. Her memory, however, was cherished.”

“O give yee thanks unto the Lord
because that good is hee;
because his loving kindness lasts
to perpetuitee.”

~ Psalm 107:1
(from The Bay Psalm Book,
trans. John Eliot, et al.)

“Remembering _The Forgetting Room_” by Jane Beal

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My essay, “Remembering The Forgetting Room,” now appears in The Remembered Arts Journal (Fall 2018) along with my original art collage, “Memory.”

EXCERPT:

“We often say in English, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” We don’t often realize that bridges come to us. We think we are moving, and bridges are stationary. But we carry our bridges in our hearts. Where we go, they go, and they are always with us—even if they are hidden under layers of paint or forgetfulness. In a spiritual sense, we stand on a bridge, over a high place, waiting for our destiny.”

New Essays in Midwifery Today

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My essays, “Supporting Sexual Abuse Survivors in Childbirth” and “Mary Hobry: A Midwife and a Murder Mystery in 17th C. London,” now appear in Midwifery Today 126 (Summer 2018), 24-24-25 and 48-50.

EXCERPT #1: 

“Not every woman can or will experience a birth that helps to facilitate the healing of past abuse. But as midwives, we can do our best to listen to women’s stories, respect their free will, and share the wisdom we have. Healing can come from the care we provide even when things do not go the way that women hoped. It takes a lot of love and patience in the process, and the work can be exhausting. But if the women are not giving up, then neither should we.”

EXCERPT #2:

“L’Estrange titled his short book, A Hellish Murder Committed by a French Midwife on the Body of her Husband, Jan. 27, 1688, for which she was arraigned at the Old Bailey, Feb. 22, 1687, and pleaded GUILTY, and the Day Following Received Sentence to be BURNT.It became the basis of other writings about Mary Hobry, including one poem by E. Settle and another by an anonymous poet. The latter poem versified all the details from the case in rhyming couplets; it was called “A Warning-Piece to All Married Men and Women, Being the Full Confession of Mary Hobry, the French Midwife, Who Murdered her Husband on the 17thof January, 1688 (as also the Cause Thereof).” The poem treats the tragedy as a moral parable, beginning with the lines:

All you that married men and women be
Give ear unto this woeful tragedy,
That now befell a Frenchman and his wife,
Who lived together in continual strife (lines 1-4).

The poem ends: “She now is burned, and begs of all mankind / And women too, Wisdom by her to find” (lines 164-65).”

 

“Jane Wright: A Newly Certified Midwife in London (ca. 1798)”

MT124 (Winter2017) - CVRMy biographical essay, “Jane Wright: A Newly Certified Midwife in London (ca. 1798),” now appears in Midwifery Today 124 (Winter 2017): 24-26.

EXCERPT:

In 1798, the same year that renowned English Romantic poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge published their Lyrical Ballads, Jane Wright published her own unique and valuable work: “An essay to instruct women how to protect themselves in a state of pregnancy from the disorders incident to that period or how to cure them. Also some observations on the treatment of children which, if attended to, may ward off dangerous diseases and prevent future evils” (London, 1798). As her title suggests, Wright wanted to empower women to prevent or treat their diseases themselves when needed in pregnancy, and she wanted to teach them to better care well for their children when those children were ill …

In the fifth section of her “Essay,” Wright includes her thoughts on the essential equality of men and women in their social roles. In so doing, she adds, “Authors of the most eminent abilities, after a comparative review of both sexes, have candidly declared, upon the whole, we [women] are by no means inferior or rather we are superior in acting our parts in all the concerns of life” (31). Wright appears to be thinking of one author in particular here:  Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Right of Woman, which was published just six years earlier in 1792.

Wright’s thoughts on the education of women bear a striking resemblance to those of Mary Wollstonecraft expressed in the Vindication. Although Wright appreciates accomplished young ladies who can sing and dance and who inevitably have good fashion sense, she says:

“I am sometimes sorry to find that these accomplished young ladies are ignorant of the grammar of their own language, they are deficient in understanding the first principles of virtue, and that they have no instruction on the holy Scriptures …If I dared, as a female writer, I would venture to recommend to young ladies of fashion some attention to history, geography, botany, natural history, moral and natural philosophy, etc..” (33)

The benefits of such learning to young women would include mental occupation, agreeable conversations on any subject, the admiration of their acquaintances, and the adoration of their husbands as well as more graceful actions, pleasing beauty and rational religion because it would open their eyes “to the power and goodness of the Almighty in all his works” (33). So Wright’s “Essay,” written to help pregnant women ease their discomforts and find a good midwife, ends with a somewhat surprising emphasis on the importance of a broad general education for all women.

In addition to her familiarity with Wollstonecraft’s argument in her Vindication, Wright later may have become aware of Wollstonecraft’s personal obstetrical history as well. For interestingly, Wright’s predecessor in the position of matron at the Westminster Lying-In Hospital, Mrs. Blenkinsop, had been a midwife-caregiver who made several prenatal visits to Wollstonecraft during her pregnancy with her second daughter, Mary Shelley, the famous author of the novel Frankenstein and the wife of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Mrs. Blenkinsop and Dr. Poignand cared for Wollstonecraft in the postpartum period when she suffered a retained placenta after the birth her daughter. The necessary manual extraction led to hemorrhage and infection, and Wollstonecraft died in 1797, just eleven days after giving birth (Badger 91-92n).

Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas, however, did not die, but apparently lived on in the midwife Jane Wright, who subsequently encouraged the holistic education of women as part of her midwifery practice.

“Judith Wilks: The Queen’s Trusty Midwife” by Jane Beal

MT123My biographical essay on Judith Wilks, royal midwife to Queen Mary of Modena, now appears in Midwifery Today 123 (Fall 2017), 48-51.

EXCERPT:

“When the Catholic Queen Mary of Modena, wife of King James II of England, gave birth on June 10, 1688 to a son, James Francis Edward, the Prince of Wales and heir presumptive to the throne, a vicious rumor sped throughout predominantly Protestant England: that Queen Mary’s own child was stillborn and that the boy presented to the public was a spurious changeling child who had been brought to the birthing room in a warming pan (Haile 190; cf. Corp 184, 190, 200).

This accusation outraged the Queen’s midwife, Judith Wilks, who had delivered the prince. She wrote a letter to her cousin, Mrs. Winifred Wilks, which was later published, that provides a historical document attesting to the legitimate birth and the midwife’s own strong feelings of loyalty to the queen, love for the newborn baby, and fury at the wide-spread slander (Wilks 1-2).

To better understand this letter, it is important first to understand the life of the queen whom Judith Wilks served as a midwife and the historical tensions between Catholics and Protestants that were so exacerbated in England in the seventeenth century.”

“‘The Sainted Ann Hutchinson’: Midwife of Grace (1591-1643)” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 5.03.09 PMMy biographical essay, “‘The Sainted Ann Hutchinson’: Midwife of Grace (1591-1643)” now appears in Midwifery Today 122 (Summer 2017): 29-31.

EXCERPT: 

” … After the banishment, the Hutchinson family moved to Rhode Island. While there, Anne Hutchinson gave birth for the fifteenth time not long after the trial—which suggests she had been pregnant during the trial itself (Schutte 85ff). Extant descriptions—one written by her doctor, John Clark—suggest that Hutchinson birthed a hydatidiform mole, which looked like a handful of transparent grapes (Battis). Some of Hutchinson’s detractors saw her pregnancy loss as proof of God’s punishment or of the midwife’s league with Lucifer (Schutte). This sort of thinking had already been evident during the controversy over the relationship between grace and works, when it had been discovered that the midwife, years before, had attended a Quaker woman, Mary Dyer, who had given birth to a deformed baby. At the recommendation of the minister, John Cotton, the family had buried the stillborn quietly, for no one wished the birth to be interpreted as a sign of God’s displeasure.

Nevertheless, the story of the birth became known during the controversy, and it was taken as a sign against Anne Hutchinson. To those for whom good works were directly connected with God’s blessing, and all kinds of human suffering was the result of God’s wrath, it was difficult to imagine that God’s grace might work through an accident in nature. But they had forgotten the lessons of Job.”

“Managing GBS” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 5.03.09 PMMy essay, “Managing GBS,” now appears in Midwifery Today 122 (Summer 2017): 50-52.

FROM THE INTRODUCTION:

“The goal of managing Group B streptococcus (GBS) is prevention of maternal chorioamnionitis and neonatal infection (such as respiratory disease, general sepsis or meningitis). Careful management helps to protect life and health. There are various ways to manage GBS, which we can consider and apply appropriately in midwifery practice.”

“Explaining the Placenta” by Jane Beal

cropped-cropped-cropped-Gilbertson_1-e1457541831757-1-1My poem, “Explaining the Placenta,” now appears in the anthology All We Can Hold: Poems of Motherhood, eds. Elise Gregory and Emily Gwinn (Spokane, WA: Sage Hill Press, 10 May 2017).

POEM:

This is the house your baby lived in
before she was born,
I say –

and I hold up the membranes
of amnion and chorion
(words like notes sung
by cherubim and seraphim)
to show the mother
who now is breastfeeding her newborn babe.

This shiny side was the baby’s side,
and the cord in the center
was connected to the center of her!

I turn the placenta over
in the bowl, and say:
This side was your side, attached
to the inside of the uterus,
and the blood that perfused it
brought life and food to your baby.

The mama knows this was part of her.
Now that she has seen it,
she will remember.
She has understood something about herself
and life when it is first beginning:
unseen, unheard, inside.

She says she will
bury it in the ground.
What will grow from it then?

Jane Beal

Also available in …
Transfiguration: A Midwife’s Birth Poems
(Raleigh, NC: Lulu Press, 2016), 43.

“Joana Torrellas and the Spanish Inquisition”

MT121-Mothering-Spring2017My essay, “Joana Torrellas and the Spanish Inquisition,” now appears in Midwifery Today 121 (Spring 2017), 42-43.

EXCERPT:

Joana Torrellas was not a witch. She was a Catholic midwife from Valencia, Spain, who lived during the fifteenth century. She married and had five children, three sons and two daughters. After being widowed, she moved to Teruel to live with her daughter, who was married to the town jailer, Joan Gil.

As part of her normal practice of midwifery, Joana recited prayers, such as the Prayer of St. Cyprian, which were contained in a small book that had been given to her by her mother-in-law (who was also a midwife). Joana usually placed nómina (literally, “the names”), a necklace with a pendant on it or in which were written the names of Christ, around the necks of laboring mothers, and she asked for the blessing of the Virgin Mary during the birth. When a woman was about to birth the placenta, she would place a book with a crucifix in it under the woman’s feet in order to help facilitate delivery.

This kind of “spiritual midwifery” was apparently welcome in Valencia, where Joana was from, for it occasioned no scandal. But in Teruel, where Joana was an outsider, her normal practice might have been unusual …”

 

“Floreta d’Ays” by Jane Beal

mt120-winter-2016My biographical essay, “Floreta d’Ays:  The Trial of a Medieval Jewish Midwife of Marseille, France” now appears in Midwifery Today 120 (Winter 2016), 46-48.

Abstract:

Floreta d’Ays was a 15th c. Jewish midwife who lived in Marseille, France. After a maternal death caused by a massive post-partum hemorrhage (PPH), at which Floreta had been present, an anti-Semitic prosecutor accused Floreta of deliberately killing the mother. This is the first known case of “medical malpractice” brought against a midwife. However, careful study of the extant trial record suggests that Floreta was actually attempting the manual extraction of a retained placenta, after which she tried to stop the PPH with bi-manual compression of the uterus. Rather than trying to kill the mother, Floreta was actually trying to save her. However, because the court showed virtually no understanding of the art and science of midwifery, and because the attempt to save the mother had not been successful, Floreta was forced to defend herself by simply denying the charges rather than by explaining the science behind her actions. While the final outcome is unknown, it is clear that Floreta d’Ays actively resisted the accusations brought against her with the help of six lawyers, three Jews and three Christians, and objected to the court’s plan to torture her bodily in order to elicit a confession.

“Stop Cutting: The Right to Bodily Integrity” by Jane Beal

mt120-winter-2016My essay, “Stop Cutting: The Right to Bodily Integrity,” now appears in Midwifery Today 120 (Winter 2016), 38-39.

Abstract:

In this essay, I begin by recalling a certified nurse-midwife who had the responsibility for suturing 3o young girls who were ritually cut in West Africa. Following the World Heath Organization (WHO), I define the four recognized types of female genital mutilation and their complications, note that unnecessary episiotomies and cesareans could be considered types 5 and 6, and review the beliefs in developed and developing countries that lead to the physically and psychologically harmful practices of cutting / FGM. I then discuss effective means of preventing this practice as well as the value of cross-cultural partnerships that intervene when and where necessary. I conclude by giving an overview of the role midwives can play as educators and healers, noting that midwives who know how to suture all kinds of cuts and tears (not just 1st and 2nd degree tears) can be especially helpful when needed.

“Martha Mears: Nature’s Midwife” by Jane Beal

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-12-43-30-amMy essay on Martha Mears — a nature-loving, bird-watching, poetry-quoting, 18th c. English midwife — now appears in Midwifery Today (Fall 2016).

Excerpt:

“Mears places a high value on cultivating the emotional well-being of women during pregnancy. In her third essay, devoted entirely to this subject, she writes that the prayer of the wise is ‘the enjoyment of a sound mind in a sound body’ (26). She observes the connection between a woman’s emotional health and the first learning experiences of her unborn child. Drawing on the author Strabo, quoted in Chavalier Ramsay, she specifically adds the authority of the ancients to her argument:

‘In some of those valuable remains of eastern antiquities, which even the withering hand of time has delighted to spare, we are told that the Magi began, in some sort, the education of their children before their birth. While their wives were pregnant, they took care to keep them in tranquility and perpetual chearfulness, by sweet and innocent amusements, to the end, that, from the mother’s womb, the fruit might receive no impressions but what were pleasing, mild, and agreeable to order. The justness of the principle on which they proceeded is fully confirmed by the history of the whole human race, and certainly deserves the serious attention of parents …’ (26-27, italics in the original).

Mears goes on to attack the problem of ‘one of first and most prevailing passions in the breasts of pregnant women’ (27): fear. She observes that ‘the happiness of becoming mothers is sourly checked by preposterous ideas of danger. They take alarm at the change, at the novelty of their feelings, and the few instances they may have known of miscarriage, or of death, outweigh in the quivering scale of fancy the numbers not to be counted of persons in the like condition, who enjoy both then and afterwards a greater degree of health than they ever before experienced’ (27). Mears is all for rooting out fear by knowledge and hope, which she calls ‘the balm and life-blood of the soul’ (28), and with the help of a husband’s love. These are her answers to fear and melancholy.”

Transfiguration: A Midwife’s Birth Poems by Jane Beal

THE POETRY PLACE

Now available from Lulu Press,
JANE BEAL’s new poetry collection:

TRANSFIGURATION

BEAL-Transfiguration-Cvr2016r

“Jane’s perspective, from being an international midwife and a talented writer, gives rise to the absolutely beautiful poems contained in this little book. She incorporates sweetly the people she has served in her birth practice and travels. She also teaches us some midwifery along the way! Jane’s great faith in our Lord adds so much to this labor-of-love volume. I highly recommend this book. It should be in the possession of all midwives and mothers.”

Jan Tritten
Editor of Midwifery Today
Author of Birth Wisdom, Vol. 1 & 2

“Birth is sacred experience: a time when the formless takes form.  In Jane Beal’s new book, Transfiguration: A Midwife’s Birth Poems, we are taken through beautiful poetic form, closer to the spirit of birth. We feel both joy and grief. But who are we to question the ways…

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