Not knowing the time destined for your expected indisposition, I am anxious on your account. you are prepared to meet it with courage I hope. some female friend of your Mama’s (I forget who) used to say it was no more than a knock of the elbow. the material thing is to have scientific aid in readiness, that if any thing uncommon takes place, it may be redressed on the spot, and not be made serious by delay. it is a case which least of all will wait for Doctors to be sent for. therefore, with this single precaution, nothing is ever to be feared.
To Mary Jefferson Eppes, December 26, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Confident leaders can still be anxious fathers.
Mary Eppes, known as Maria, was the President’s younger daughter. She was one of two Jefferson children who survived childhood, which had claimed four others.
The “expected indisposition” referenced was the upcoming delivery of her third child. Her first son, born in 1800, lived only a few days. Her second son, Francis, was now 27 months old. Like her mother who died of childbirth complications in 1782, Maria was not a strong, healthy woman. She had suffered considerably after the birth of her first two children.
Very rarely did Jefferson refer to his long deceased wife Martha, but he did so here. No doubt wanting to lesson Maria’s anxiety, and probably his own, he relayed a comment of a friend of his wife’s that childbirth “was no more than a knock of the elbow.” Even so, he urged his daughter “to have scientific aid in readiness,” i.e. a doctor. The onset of labor would provide time to summon the doctor so any help could be rendered immediately. A knock or not, with this precaution, Maria had nothing to fear.
Time would tell that both daughter and father had plenty to fear.