A Woman’s Biology: Risk and Guilt

A Woman’s Biology: Risk and Guilt

Because of their ability to conceive a child, give birth, perpetuate the species, women have for centuries been honored, sometimes considered saintly, but often buried too soon to live a full and creative life. But precisely because of this biological endowment, this ability to help perpetuate the species, women have also been treated cruelly, taken for granted, sometimes considered evil witches with powers that require control and abuse.

As a former Labor and Delivery nurse, I was fascinated by a recent article that appeared in the New York Times. It’s a personal recounting by writer Leslie Jamison of her C-Section experience, and the research she did concerning this medical procedure. (Posting this after the unethical decisions being made in Texas, only underlines the importance of healthcare for women in any situation related to their reproductive rights.)


Jamison starts her piece by recalling the words she used to discuss the birth of her daughter. “When they got her out…”

Jamison writes: “…the day after my daughter’s birth, I found myself emphasizing how much I held her, how I never wanted to put her down. It was as if I felt the need to compensate narratively for that first hour, when I wasn’t able to hold her at all—to insist that we bonded just as much anyway. I found myself exaggerating the part about the not caring if I was numb before they cut me open, when in fact I did care. I told the doctors that I would actually love some more anesthesia in my epidural…as if I were trying to make up for other kinds of pain I didn’t experience – unwittingly obeying the cultural script that insisted on suffering and sacrifice as the primary measure of maternal love.”

Jamison states that even now, 3 years later, when women describe pushing out their babies or having 40 hours of labor, she feels a pang of guilt, a kind of shame, as if her own birth story “wasn’t one that merited pride or celebration, but was instead a kind of blemish, a beginning from which my daughter and I must recover.” She then provides a fascinating history of the Caesarian section. A few excerpts: French obstetrician Jean Louis Baudelocque wrote: “That operation is called Caesarean by which any way is opened for the child other than that destined for it bye nature.”


There is an apocryphal story that Julius Caesar was born by cesarean, as his mother survived the birth and went on to bear more children—at a time when it was impossible to survive a C-section. She tells us that in 1925 Herbert Spencer, a professor of obstetrics at the University College London, speculates that it “was called Caesarean as being too grand to have been first performed on ordinary mortals.” He also calls it: “the greatest of all operations, in that it affects two lives.”

But Jamison knows and we know, that for most of history, the procedure saved only one life. The mother did not routinely survive, until the 20th century, because before then, the procedure was usually deployed as a last-ditch effort to save the child, the mother dying, bleeding out, or already dead.


Historically and in literature, the C-section was often associated with the imperial, with the divinity. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the cesarean-born Macduff experiences a birth that is an answer to a riddle: The witches have promised “that none of women born shall harm Macbeth” but in Shakespeare’s creativity, Macduff is exempt from such a foretelling as he “was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.”

Jamison, a modern woman looking back on the history of a procedure she has experienced, makes the comment that Macduff’s exceptional birth might grant him some singular power, but such a birth also relates monstrosity. “Untimely ripped doesn’t exactly summon the epidural and the blue tarp.” Jamison knows, she’s been there.


Of course, the early history of the Caesarean, a little used and experimental procedure, did not insure life for either the infant or the mother. But neither did natural childbirth. The baby was often fortunate if he or she survived. But in the graveyards of Boston and other parts of the New England states, where our early settlers are buried, you can often find a series of graves for a family. First is the grave of the husband, his dates, which always extend his time of life. Then alongside him are his wives—sometimes two or three. No, he wasn’t a bigamist, but when the first wife died in childbirth or from puerperal fever (see below), he married again, and if that wife died, he married again—eventually not for sex or more children, but for someone to raise his progeny, feed and clothe them, tend his garden.


Jamison also discusses how the advent of the C-section has been used by some to shame mothers. In his book, Childbirth Without Fear, Grantly Dick-Reed inferred that pain during delivery was a lesson women needed to learn. “Children will always mean hard work and will always demand self-control.” Easy for him to say when he’s standing by the delivery table and not lying on it. 


Jamison’s article is pivotal and for her, she worked through the angst of her fears and regrets. But the end of the article speaks truth for all mothers, no matter how we have brought our children into this world. Jamison writes: Why do we want so much from our birth stories? It’s tempting to understand life in terms of pivotal moments, when it is actually composed of ongoing processes:not the single day of birth but the daily care that follows…diapers and midnight crying, playground tears and homework, tantrums…If we are lucky, birth is just the beginning. The labor isn’t done. It’s has only just begun. 

For more information on Puerperal fever that caused the deaths of post-partum women, go here https://boomerhighway.org/living-in-the-body-part-2/

Bridget Reyes / A Little Muse Photography

Memories of Celebrating Labor Day & Considering It’s Purpose

Memories of Celebrating Labor Day & Considering It's Purpose

On Labor day, many people do not work. Instead, we are to celebrate those forces in society that create and supply us with goods and services.

A quick definition: Labor Day is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It’s a tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.


I do love the definition and the purpose of the day. But let’s go back a bit.

When I was a kid, there was always a late afternoon picnic, and we could have orange or grape “pop” and eat hamburgers. But that celebration was lacking–it was not as exciting as the summer’s 4th of July, with its fireworks and red, white and blue decorations.

Labor Day was always too intwined with the heaviness of the next day, the Tuesday coming after–the first DAY OF SCHOOL.

  • As a kid, that meant no more jeans and bikes or swimming in the iron bathtub next door which was painted blue and fondly known as our neighborhood swimming pool. It meant wearing a uniform every day and doing homework.
  • As a teenager, Labor Day meant a pile of textbooks and next day meeting a bunch of new teachers. Would they like me? Could I pass my math classes? Would I make new friends? And the uniform thing again.
  • As a college student, Labor Day usually meant a planned break-up with my boyfriend, John. I think we did this for two years, but by Thanksgiving we were always back together. The purpose was to date other people. We’ve been married now for 47 years. The planned break-up didn’t work!!
  • As a young adult, Labor Day also meant school–but this time I was nervous, would be meeting five classes of young people and hoping they would like me. I taught high school. It meant homework and grading papers. It meant I could no longer read a new novel “just for fun.” Instead, I would be grading papers every weekend and rereading or reading for the first time literature that I would be teaching.
  • When a parent, the “going back to school” thing again applied. Did my children have all their notebooks and pencils, books and a backpack? Were they happy? Often they were both excited and scared. New teachers, new things to learn and people to meet. Some children thrive on the unknown, others back away. I raised both.
  • Later, when I worked in Labor and Delivery as a nurse, the entire weekend of Labor Day became a hassle for the staff: patients crowded the unit with false labor. So strange but factual. The very mention of the word brought them in and if there was a full moon, it was even worse. RN’s like their holidays off–but if you are trading with someone to get say New Year’s Eve off, don’t trade for Labor Day. It’s worse.

Quotes: Work, Zealots, Purpose

I no longer work in L&D or teach. I write. And my children are grown and school now starts, in most cases, BEFORE Labor Day. I do enjoy remembering. And there will be hamburgers tonight, but today I’d like to emphasize the importance of yes, the holiday and celebrating what true, honest labor does to keep the United States moving and flourishing. But more than that, could we discuss the purpose of labor, of work?

Being able to get a job, have a place of employment, pursue a career gives meaning to life.

  • Let the beauty of what you love be what you do. Rumi 
  •  Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. Confucius
  • In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it. Marianne Williamson

Today it would be amazing if people wanted a job–not just for the economic benefit, but for the benefit of furthering their own knowledge of people and of the world. Take medicine for example. Men and women who spend years in school to become proficient in healthcare: doctor, nurses, physical therapists, first responders–statistically they not only take their work seriously, but they give of their hearts also. In many cases dealing with the public and everything “that comes through the door” you have to.

But there are downsides. The nurse in Germany now in prison for using his healthcare powers to kill patients. Wacko? Evil? Who knows. Or the policeman who joins the force because he or she wants power over a minority. Again, wacko, evil or carrying a belief so far that preventing crime devolves into creating a crime.

The following could be said of the Arizona sheriff. Quotes listed under zealotry:

  • You have to quit confusing a madness with a mission. Flannery O’Connor
  • “Zealots: Wild eyed persons afflicted with incurable certainty about the workings of the world, a certainty that can lead to violence when the world doesn’t fit.” Jonathan Stroud

These days the world doesn’t always fit and yet if we think through the origin of our task, to always keep it in mind: to heal, to teach, to protect, to produce–then maybe the CLEAR PURPOSE of our WORK will stick with us. We won’t wander off, use our talents to debase others, cripple their dreams or even end their lives.

On this day when we honor labor, let’s hope for good work, meaningful work for all Americans. So much can be achieved with labor that provides a positive and beneficial end for all citizens.

  • We are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. Barack Obama
  • Loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it. Mark Twain
  • Unemployment insurance, abolishing child labor, the 40-hour work week, collective bargaining, strong banking regulations, deposit insurance, and job programs that put millions of people to work were all described, in one way or another, as ‘socialist.’ Yet, these programs have become the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class. Bernie Sanders

Whatever work you and your family members engage in, I hope it is purposeful and brings you peace and satisfaction. Work can and should bring you to the top of Maslow’s Pyramid.

PHOTO: the Pyramid: Psychologist Abraham Maslow researched human motivation and action. His work lead to the Hierarchy of Needs, often shown as a pyramid.

Thanks to Pinterest










That Job Is Totally Stressful–But the Best!

That Job Is Totally Stressful--But the Best!


Can stress be a good thing? Can it heighten experience, help bring individual creativity to our work?  “Stress illuminates our values,” says Dr. Larina Kase psychologist and author. “If we didn’t care about something, we wouldn’t worry about it.” And Daniela Kaufer, doctor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley states: “You always think about stress as a really bad thing, but it’s not. Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance.” These researchers provide a logical explanation as to why the most stressful job I ever had—was also the best. You might feel the same way.

My Work In Labor and Delivery 

In my forties I became an RN. My first position was in labor and delivery in a tertiary care hospital in downtown Chicago. I worked with the experts, true nursing professionals who could insert an IV on a writhing woman, access fetal health in minutes, and if no doctor showed, deliver the baby calmly and always safely. We are talking stress.

L&D can be like the ER—a place I did not want to work. They are similar because of pace. Women can arrive on the unit pushing or near to delivery. Prioritizing is a needed skill—you get vitals, fetal heart tones, blood draws, start an IV—if there’s time. (And this doesn’t even begin to address what you need to do if there are medical complications.) But if the baby is crowning, it’s all about preparing for the birth. There might be another nurse to help with those less immediate needs, but there might not be. And when the baby arrives, though you might be racing to complete everything after that, great satisfaction fills you. It’s that optimal alertness, that cognitive performance that Dr. Kaufer refers to.

Studies About Bursts of Stress

Kaufer and her associate Elizabeth Kirby found in their studies with rats, that brief stressful events caused stem cells in the rats’ brains to proliferate into new nerve cells that, when mature two weeks later, improved mental performance. They concluded: acute stress – short-lived, not chronic – primes the brain for improved performance. “I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert,” Dr. Kaufer states. That would certainly apply to nursing skills in L&D.

So Why Did I Add Skills to My Already Stressful Position?  

L&D required that I be alert, use my mental and technical skills. Clientele were often teens delivering a first or even a second child. They needed medical care but also a lot of teaching, encouragement and support. It’s hard to deliver a baby if the mother can’t focus on the work required. After delivery, if I had any time, I quietly encouraged these clients to focus on their child and postpone future pregnancies. I presented the wisdom of finishing high school, providing a better future for themselves and their child. Often, I GOT NOWHERE. I even joined a not-for-profit organization called Rising Star so that I could meet with groups of pregnant teens. We discussed everything, focussing on nutrition and how to have a positive pregnancy, deliver a healthy baby. And we toured the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NIC-U) so they would be aware of the additional stress a sick baby and all that entails can bring to their lives.

Decompressing After a Stressful Night

I worked the 3-11 shift. Some nights racing along the Dan Ryan Expressway to home, I could do nothing but go over my charting–did I remember to do this? Did I remember to do that? Once off that roadway, I often pulled out my phone and called the unit to check with the night staff. Then, when I finally got into bed, I could feel my body vibrating, like a string on an instrument that refuses to settle.

But I was fortunate to work part time. Yes, there were Monday mornings after a working weekend when I could hardly get out of bed. But days off gave me time to care for my family, plan babysitting and meals and spend more time with my daughter and son–one in high school and one in grade school. I wanted to “have it all” — family, home, amazing career. And I did. But I also learned about the stress of it all. The glamour of working and parenting–well, it isn’t always that glamourous.

So How Much Stress Is Too Much?

Dr. Kaufer: “I think the ultimate message is an optimistic one. Stress can be something that makes you better, but it is a question of how much, how long and how you interpret or perceive it.”  Paul J. Rosch MD, president of the American Institute of Stress compares stress to the tension in a violin string. “Not enough produces a dull, raspy noise and too much results in an annoying shrill or snaps the string. However, just the right amount of stress creates pleasing sounds.”  

Being addicted to stress isn’t good for overall health, but used correctly, it can help you achieve a goal—as long as you train your body to relax in the achievement of that goal and give yourself some downtime. “Stress is a burst of energy,” says psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Tan of Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “It’s our body telling us what we need to do.”

So Do You Love a Job With Stress?

You probably do if it encompasses moderate amounts of stress, that sudden burst described above. You get the cascade of hormones that helps your mind and body rise to the occasion, perform the needed task efficiently. And your brain remembers. During this stress you are emotionally challenged, but you are also mostly in control–and when it’s over, you have a sense of accomplishment. Some experts even say that this kind of stress improves heart function and makes the body resistant to infection. And of course it stimulates us–in a good way, not like a street drug. “Focus the energy like a laser beam on what you need to do,” says Dr. Tan. “Very successful people, rather than feeling disempowered, take the extra stress energy … and make it into a high-energy, positive situation.” I think that’s why many ER doctors and nurses, firefighters and other people employed in stressful jobs stay healthy and love the work they do.

Healthy Take-Away

Constant exposure from stress hormones, the fight or flight response, can cause high blood pressure, depression, mental fogginess, frequent colds, autoimmune diseases like arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. It’s necessary to be aware of stressful periods and to learn from them. What are your symptoms, your stress telling you?

Dr. Kase reminds us of the importance of balance in life: “Research shows that we tend to be happiest when we go with our gut. It’s hard to hear your intuition when you’re in a cycle of worry and stress, so give yourself a break—take a long walk, get a good night’s sleep or go out for a bite to eat.” Great advice. And though your job might have periods of total stress, you handle them, you learn from them, you love your job–it’s the best.

Thanks to Google Images

That Job Is Totally Stressful--But the Best!