Women’s History Month: The Female Council of Health

March 7, 2016 in Book, Church History, LDS History, Midwives, Priesthood, Relief Society, Robyn, Uncategorized


Has anyone else found this treasure?  I had been eyeing this new book, The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, and recently found out that there are portions of it already online with plans for the entire book to be available online within the year (source).  The timing of the release of this book is perfect with March being Women in History month.  It is another source to glean from our heritage of Relief Society sisters.  I love learning from my sisters of the past.  It points us to our future.  Heather has blogged about the history of midwives within the LDS church , in this post, “Midwifery as a Calling.” I recommend reading it if you haven’t yet. I found this excerpt from this new book that reaches a little deeper about the beginnings of organizing health care for women in the early church,

The hardships of the westward trek and isolated frontier settlement brought health concerns, including distinctly female concerns, to the forefront. Midwives and other women began attending meetings of the Council of Health with male practitioners when the group was formed in 1849.6 Some women, however, were uncomfortable discussing medical matters in the Council of Health, which caused “a slackness of attendence of the females, which was suposed to be caused by there being present male members.” As a result, the Female Council of Health was organized by July 1851.7 Midwife Phoebe Angell, mother of Brigham Young’s wife Mary Ann Angell, was designated president of the women’s council, and she chose two midwives as counselors. The women’s council met about twice a month, initially in Angell’s home. As membership expanded, the group later held some meetings in the newly erected tabernacle on the south end of the temple block.8 On November 13, 1852, the council selected one woman each from most of the city’s nineteen wards “to look after the poor.”9 After Angell died in November 1854, her counselor Martha “Patty” Sessions became president of the Female Council of Health, though by then Sessions was also serving as president of the newly organized Relief Society of Salt Lake City’s Sixteenth Ward.10

This council was separate from the reorganization of the Relief Society and took place before Brigham Young asked sisters to “get a classical education and then get a degree for Medicine” in 1873 (Daughters in My Kingdom, 54). This Female Council of Health was a precursor to the trainings that Dr. Ellis Shipp established for sisters in the Salt Lake Valley in the 1880s.  Midwife Patty Sessions often refers to attending these meetings in her journal (Mormon Midwife: The 1846-1888 Diaries of Patty Sessions).  Richard L. Jensen offers insight on what these meetings were like:

They heard lectures by local physicians, “discussed faith and herbs in healing, attempted to design more healthful female fashions, spoke and sang in tongues, and enjoyed a social and spiritual interchange” (see Richard L. Jensen, “Forgotten Relief Societies, 1844-67,” Dialogue 16, no.1 [Spring 1883]:107).

Our circumstances today are not exactly the same as our sisters of the past.  This council was organized to fill a specific need of their time.  I feel that it does reflect a desire of the priesthood leaders of the early church to meet the needs of women.  They knew there were needs specific to women that needed women. They wanted women to be a part of their councils and when they became aware that the women needed their own forum to better meet each other’s needs they formed the Female Council of Health.

I do feel that God does still care greatly for the health of women. We have recently witnessed a rediscovery of the divine nature of pregnancy and childbirth.  Many women have felt called to the work in one way or another.  I felt called to it over 12 years ago.  The spirit compelled me to become a childbirth educator. It has been a great treasure and blessing to me through the years.  I have come to a place where I am pondering my next steps forward.  I have loved being a childbirth educator and have found myself doing more and more doula work instead of classes.  And the promptings keep coming that I need to move forward with midwifery and health care training.  I have pondered different paths and at times feel confused about which one to take.  Studying the history of health care within our church is helping me find the path that God has prepared for me.  I don’t know all the details of it yet. It is different than what I expected but it is nonetheless His and inspired and I’m choosing to go forward and let faith instead of fear lead me there.


Believe, Obey, Endure: A Guest Post by Donna Ryan

May 9, 2012 in Breastfeeding, Cesarean, Dads, Faith, Fear, Free Agency, Guest Post, home birth, hospital birth, Midwives, Relief Society, Robyn, Thoughts, Uncategorized

 I have not met Donna in person but I can tell that she is someone I would invite to my baby shower.  I love this Southern gal who doesn’t shy away from telling it like it is. -Robyn

As the author of Banned From Baby Showers, I’ve often commented on how difficult it is for me to be “vanilla” or neutral.  I have strong opinions on many topics, but natural birth and breastfeeding top the list.


Allow me to tell you a bit about myself before diving into my topic.  I was raised in the Baptist church, but religion wasn’t terribly important to me.  I was kicked out of my house when I was 16, smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day for many years, and was about the last person you’d ever think would join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!  I met a sweet Mormon boy when I was 21 and he was 18.  It was love at first sight – at least for me!


He served a mission in Montreal and we were married in the Salt Lake Temple two days after he got home.  That was over 17 years ago now.  We have 4 beautiful children that keep us on our toes.  We live in the Fort Worth, Texas area and are incredibly blessed with an amazing life together.


I graduated from college in 1993 with a degree in Broadcasting and never gave one thought to childbirth, except that it must be terribly painful because that was all I had seen on TV!  When I became pregnant with our first baby, I saw a very busy OB in Provo.  My husband wanted me to see a midwife, but I wanted nothing to do with any “witchdoctor”!  I wanted the drugs because I was scared of the pain.  I didn’t care how the baby got here.


Fast forward 9 months.  I narrowly escaped a c-section after a typical epidural birth, but I had a baby boy in my arms.  A few months later, a close friend gave birth without drugs and I was in complete shock!  I had never known anyone to give birth naturally, and I had been convinced throughout her pregnancy that she couldn’t do it.  Between that one experience, reading a few birth stories and a bit about the history of childbirth in America, I knew I’d do things differently the next pregnancy.


I had my 2nd baby in a hospital with a CNM and it was an amazing life-changing experience!  I knew when I did it, anyone could do it!  That, really, is my message to all women.  I am not special.  I do not have a high pain tolerance. I am just a woman that got educated on the process of birth and trusted my body.


My next two babies were born at home, one water birth, and one “on land”.


I taught The Bradley Method Of Natural Childbirth from 2003-2011, obtained another certification from ICEA (International Childbirth Educators Association) in 2009, and most recently, wrote my own curriculum called Birth Boot Camp, a 10-week program for couples wanting a natural birth.  Classes are online and we are also training women to become Birth Boot Camp Instructors.


Enough about me!  When Robyn asked me to write this post, I must admit I was a bit apprehensive.  I have written about my religion and birth on my blog before, and while many women agreed with me, plenty were offended.  If you are interested, here it is again.  The Brigham Young quote really riles people up!  For the record, I believe Brigham Young was an inspired prophet and I believe he really did see our day.


Simply put, Heavenly Father created our bodies.  He wants us to have joy and replenish the earth.  He loves His daughters as much as He loves His sons.  I don’t think any of us would dispute any of these statements.


I have spent nearly a decade (almost 16 years if I include my own births) teaching about and witnessing how women’s bodies functions in labor and birth.  It is an amazing and remarkable system that works because He designed it that way:

  • In most cases, mom gets breaks between contractions.
  • When she does not have drugs in her body (pain-relieving or augmenting drugs), her body will release endorphins to help her cope.
  • After her baby is born, a woman’s oxytocin levels are the highest they will ever be in her life.  This helps her bond with her baby.
  • Her breasts, when labor starts on its own, are prepared to and designed to nourish her baby.


The system works because Heavenly Father made it that way.


I have no interest in taking away anyone’s free agency to decide how or where to give birth.  My goal is to help women believe in themselves and in this process.  Birth is amazing and I’d love to see all women embracing this experience instead of fearing it, like I did with my first.  Repeatedly over the years I have heard lessons in Relief Society that fear is from Satan, not Heavenly Father.  I believe that is absolutely true.


I was at a Stake Young Women’s meeting yesterday morning and the theme was “Believe, Obey, and Endure”.  If you have a Young Woman living in your home or are a Young Women leader, you likely attended the Young Women’s broadcast the week before General Conference.  This was also the title of President Monson’s talk.  While we can see and abide by this counsel in reference to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we can also believe in our bodies to function the way Heavenly Father created them using these same guidelines.  I mean no disrespect to this powerful talk given by our Prophet.  Please indulge me:


Believe:  Either you believe that Heavenly Father created a way for you to grow a baby and for the baby to get out, or you believe that doctors and epidurals are blessings from God.  I’ve heard this statement many times from my Sisters.  I admit that it makes me sad, for I believe that Heavenly Father wants us to experience labor and birth the way He created it.  Have faith in your body and your baby.


Obey: To quote President Monson, “Obey the laws of God.  They are given to us by a loving Heavenly Father.  When they are obeyed, our lives will be more fulfilling, less complicated.  Our challenges and problems will be easier to bear.”  Sisters, women all around us are going against the laws of nature as created by God, being induced, forcing their babies out before it is time.  The cesarean rate is 34% in the US.  More complications arise with breastfeeding when a woman is induced or has a cesarean.  Our bodies do not work as they were designed when these laws of nature are broken. True, there are times when medical intervention is necessary and is a blessing in childbirth, but this should be the exception rather than the accepted standard of care.


Midwife Ina May Gaskin is an example of a care provider that trusts the process.  She does not intervene unless absolutely necessary, and as a result, her cesarean rate is less than 2%!  Dr. Robert Bradley was another example.  He did not induce labor and he gave women the time they needed to labor and birth their babies.  In over 24,000 births, his cesarean rate was 4%.  They both respected and obeyed the laws of nature.


Endure:  President Monson used this definition for endure — “to withstand with courage”.   Labor, for many women, might be the hardest thing they are ever faced with, but the reward at the end is so great!  You find that you are strong and capable, not succumbing to the pain.  When you overcome the challenge of labor, both you and your baby benefit.  Think of the promises made to us by our Father in Heaven if we will but endure to the end.  They are rich and so worth any sacrifice we may make here on Earth to return to live with Him someday.


I prefer to use the word “embrace” instead of “endure”, especially in reference to labor and birth.  Remember, fear is from Satan.  Embrace your labor.  Enjoy it!  These are the last hours before your baby comes Earth-side and you meet him/her for the very first time.


Labor and birth serve as a bridge between pregnancy and becoming your baby’s mother and father.  Dad’s role in labor is important for him too in becoming a father.  I guess that is a topic for another day, however.


I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect on the wonderful God-given privilege of bearing children. I hope what I have written has touched your heart.  I have a tendency of getting people riled up, but that truly is not my intent.  I do not wish to make others feel defensive.  I simply want them to believe in themselves and trust their bodies to do the work that Heavenly Father created them to do.   I am proud to be a daughter of God and for that sacred “Gift of Giving Life”.