Tag Archives: Pregnancy

“a knock of the elbow,” but get the doctor, too.

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.

“Your presentation that night, your smooth ability …
was just uncanny.”
President, Centralia Historical Society
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak.
Call 573-657-2739
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Which is better, much knowledge or a little experience?

I am anxious to hear from you, lest you should have suffered in the same way now as on a former similar occasion. should any thing of that kind take place … I know nobody to whom I would so soon apply as mrs Suddarth. a little experience is worth a great deal of reading, and she has had great experience and a sound judgment to observe on it. I shall be glad to hear at the same time that the little boy is well.
To Mary Jefferson Eppes , October 26, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders value experience over vast knowledge alone.
Jefferson’s younger daughter (named Mary but commonly known as Maria or Polly) had a baby in early January,1800, who lived just three days. She had numerous health complications following that pregnancy.

She gave birth to a second son, Francis Wayles Eppes, five weeks before this letter was written. Grandfather Jefferson was at Monticello for the birth but had returned to Washington. Four weeks later, he was anxious for a first-hand report.
Jefferson highly recommended a local midwife, Martha Suddarth, to assist should any post-natal problems arise:
1. While doctors were available, many had only their reading to draw upon.
2. Even “a little experience” was worth “a great deal of reading.”
3. Mrs. Suddarth not a little but “great experience.”
4. Even better, she had sound judgment to complement her experience.

Jefferson also wanted confirmation “that the little boy is well.” That boy would be Maria’s only surviving child from three births. Maria herself would die several months after the third delivery in 1804. After his grandfather’s death, Eppes moved to Florida and became a prominent citizen in the Tallahassee area. In the 1850s, he would be the prime influence in the establishment of a seminary there. That school would evolve into Florida State University.

“Our city officials were mesmerized by your performance …”
Executive Director, Missouri Municipal League
Let Mr. Jefferson work his magic on your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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