Jane Beal, PhD, is a writer, educator, and midwife. She has served with homebirth practices in the Chicago, Denver, and San Francisco metro areas and in birth centers in the US, Uganda, and the Philippines. She is the author of Epiphany: Birth Poems, Transfiguration: A Midwife’s Birth Poems, and The Lives of Midwives from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment (in progress). She currently serves as the educational director for BirthWorks International and teaches at the University of La Verne in southern California. To learn more, please visit sanctuarypoet.net and christianmidwife.wordpress.com.
“The Birth of St. John the Baptist” (c. 1655) by Bartolomé-Esteban Murillo
Photo credit: Jane Beal
Not long before the outbreak of the coronavirus and Governor Newsom’s order to Californians to shelter in place, I visited the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. It is a small museum with an extraordinary collection, which includes a seventeenth-century oil painting by Bartolomé-Esteban Murillo, entitled “The Birth of St. John the Baptist” (ca. 1655). The canvas, strikingly large at more than four foot by six foot (146.7 x 188.3 cm), caught my attention as a midwife.
Read more…. “The Birth of St. John the Baptist”
Photo by Larry Costales
A midwife, a cattle-herder, a cross-country pioneer, a slave set free, a landowner in Los Angeles, a founder of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles, and a wealthy woman and socially prominent philanthropist: Bridget “Biddy” Mason was all of these and much more.
Read more…. Bridget “Biddy” Mason: A Black Pioneer Midwife of Nineteenth-century Los Angeles
Photo by Julien Pouplard
Looking out of the door of my hut in Acholiland, northern Uganda, I could see a tree spreading its branches out underneath a cloudy sky. The red earth was wet, everything was green and growing, and cheeping chicks were trailing around after mother hens as roosters crowed. It was the rainy season.
Read more…. Resolving Shoulder Dystocia with the Gaskin Maneuver or McRoberts Maneuver
Photo by Annemiek Smegen
Voice of the Womb: A Woman’s Inner Strength – Poetry – Issue 136
Read more…. Voice of the Womb: A Woman’s Inner Strength
Photo by Debby Hudson
When I was a little girl, I used to watch my mother. She was a calligrapher. My father made a light table for her where she laid down her pages and, bent attentively over the light, she wrote. The light table illuminated a lined page behind an unlined parchment page so that my mother could write a straight script across the parchment without marking lines on the parchment itself. She would write fancy scripts and make lovely flowers, gilded with silver or gold from her tiny paint pots, and create something beautiful: a wedding invitation, a birth announcement, a wall hanging, a bookmark. Her pens had special, pointed nibs that she dipped in black inkwells, from which flowed many precious words, often from scripture and sometimes from poetry. From my mother, I learned that mothers are artists.
Read more…. Mothers as Artists
I started watching the BBC television series “Call the Midwife” after everyone and her mother had recommended it to me. In the first episode, set in 1957, Jenny Lee arrives at Nonnatus House, a nursing convent in London, as the new midwife on staff. I was intrigued.
Read more…. “Call the Midwife”: Jennifer Worth, a Twentieth Century British Midwife, and the Birth of Conchita Warren’s 24th Baby on TV vs. in Real Life
Bas Relief of Scribonia Attica Attending a Woman in Childbirth
Midwifery Today, Issue 133, Spring 2020.Join Midwifery Today Online Membership Sometimes the history of midwifery is hidden in a tomb. This statement is not a metaphor for lost history; it’s reality. In the Isola Sacra necropolis in Ostia, a seaport of ancient Rome (originally situated at the mouth of the Tiber River but today located about four miles upstream) in Italy, lies the tomb of Scribonia Attica, a second-century Roman midwife. Her funeral monument is striking because it depicts the midwife herself, squatting on a low stool in front of a naked pregnant woman who is seated in a chair and supported by another woman from behind. The midwife looks out directly at the viewer of her memorial, while her right hand reaches between the laboring woman’s legs, perhaps to check the woman’s progress or to deliver her baby. The name of this midwife, Scribonia Attica, reveals a little bit about her. She shared her first name with the Scribonia family of ancient Rome as well as two famous women: the wife of Octavian, later the Emperor Augustus, who ruled during the first century CE (when Jesus was born); and the wife of Crassus, who was a first century CE… Read more…. Scribonia Attica: A Second-century Roman Midwife
Read more…. Scribonia Attica: A Second-century Roman Midwife
Photo by Anna Gru
Drawing from extra-Biblical texts, Jane Beal writes about the Virgin Mary’s midwives and other details regarding the birth of Jesus.
Read more…. Zebel and Salome, the Virgin Mary’s Midwives: Doubt, Faith, and the Miraculous in a Medieval Legend
Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel
Poetry – The Crowned One by Jane Beal
Read more…. The Crowned One
Photo by Micheile Henderson
Almost everyone has heard of Hercules—famous for his strength—who performed 12 great labors and many other feats, including holding up the sky for Atlas and bringing Alcestis back from Hades (death) to her husband (life). Once there is a Disney-animated feature film about a hero like Hercules (Disney 1997), the hero’s name becomes familiar to many children and their parents worldwide. But few people know the name of Hercules’ mother, Alcmene, and even fewer know about Alcmene’s friend and midwife, Galanthis, who used her wits to defeat the goddess who was holding back the birth of Hercules.
Read more…. Galanthis, Alcmene’s Midwife: A Childbirth Myth of Ancient Greece and Rome
Lithograph | Joseph E. Baker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Being a midwife in the early days of the US was a risky proposition—if you were considered to be on the wrong side of the church and had the bad luck to help deliver a baby with birth defects.
Read more…. Jane Hawkins: A Colonial American Midwife and a Complicated Birth
Painting | John Singleton Copley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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 1857, 27). At the time of her death, she had attended more than 3000 births.
Read more…. In Memory of Ann Eliot, Colonial American Midwife