The APGAR test, a standard newborn test developed in 1953 by Virginia Apgar, assesses an infant's health immediately after birth. At 1 and 5 minutes post birth, the infant is examined and given a score based on the following criteria: heart rate, respiration, color, muscle tone, and reflex irritability. The term APGAR score is a mnemonic learning aid based on its inventor’s last name which stands for Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity and Respiration. By the 1960’s, because of its readability and effectiveness, this score was used widely across the United States. Now, it is globally used and adopted by most doctors and midwives.
This pioneering anesthesiologist worked effortlessly throughout her career to save countless newborns. Born in New Jersey in 1909, she became passionate about medicine in High School. She completed an undergraduate degree at Mount Holyoke College in zoology with minors in physiology and chemistry. She also played on multiple sports teams, reported for the college newspaper, acted in local plays, and played violin in the orchestra. Her teachers were astounded at her capacity to succeed.
She went on to attend Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (CUCPS) as one of nine women in a class of ninety. She received her medical degree in 1933 and began a surgical residency. The chairman of surgery at CUCPS highly encouraged Apgar to switch to anesthesiology. Anesthesiology, at the time, was given by nurses but surgeries became more and more complicated. This procedure then became a doctor’s specialty. Because the field was relatively new and unresearched, Apgar had the enthusiasm and grit to take it and run with it. And that is just what she did. In 1937, she received her anesthesiologist’s certificate and returned to CUCPS to become the director of the newly formed division of anesthesia and, in 1949, she became the first female full professor in CUCPS’ history.
This high position allowed her to research and study more in depth at Sloane Hospital for Women with laboring and new mothers. She soon realized that there was no developed way and standardized measure to asses the overall health of newborn babies. Mortality for children under a year old in the U.S. had been going down in this time, however, the rate of mortality for newborns remained the same. This was mostly due to the fact that doctors weren’t identifying the babies that were born at risk. Hence no necessary interventions could be put into play. This prompted the brilliant Virginia Apgar to develop the APGAR score in the 1950’s.
She went on, in 1959, to pursue a Masters of Public Health degree at Johns Hopkins University and soon after took a position at the March of Dimes Foundation directing its research into the prevention and treatment of birth defects. She was one of the first people to focus on the effects that premature birth has on an infant’s overall health. Today, the March of Dimes still works to prevent premature birth and is one of their top priorities because of the legacy Apgar left them with. Apgar published over 60 papers and continued to tirelessly work and research until her death in 1974.
David Rose wrote, on the 100th anniversary of her birth in 2009, “Virginia Apgar was an irrepressible and charismatic champion for babies whose wit and lively personality captivated everyone she encountered in her constant quest for improvements to maternal and infant health… it has been said that every baby is first seen through the eyes of Virginia Apgar.”
Today on the blog, we have an interview with Melanie St. Ours, an author and Baltimore clinical herbalist who specializes in women’s health and mental health.
How did your clinical herbalist passion ignite?
Even though I'd had a lifelong interest in natural healing, I didn't have the courage to turn to herbs until I ran head-first into the limitations of our current healthcare system. It was 2008, and by day I was working as a massage therapist at a busy physical therapy clinic in downtown DC where I was the go-to person for clients with chronic illnesses, trauma histories, and other complex cases. Even with weekly treatments, I could see that they needed more options and that pharmaceuticals often didn't work for their needs. Meanwhile, I was getting sicker and sicker with Ulcerative Colitis --- and was shut out of the system because my "pre-existing condition" made it possible for health insurance companies to deny me access to a policy in those days before The Affordable Car Act had passed.
Seeing the ways that the system can fail people --- both those with access and those without --- made me passionate about becoming an herbalist so that I could teach people how to care for themselves with the medicines the Earth herself provides. I think of herbal medicine as a powerful complement to the medical system. The combination of both approaches is incredibly powerful, and we all deserve access to the best of both worlds.
How has this professional journey helped you in pregnancy?
More than anything, my herbal knowledge allowed me to enter into pregnancy in great health. I'm convinced that being well-nourished and well-supported was a big part of what made it possible for me to conceive right away at age 35 and to have a pregnancy that's been pretty comfortable and uneventful. I'm at 34 weeks today and still feeling good!
What has been the most helpful natural remedies for you while facing typical pregnancy ailments? Inflammation? Constipation? Decreased energy levels? Leg cramping? (Feel free to add any others)
It was a shock when I started experiencing constipation since I'm a vegan and am fantastically regular outside of pregnancy, but my favorite flax seed stool softener has been a huge help! (And I plan to drink this during labor and early postpartum to help make that first BM after birth as easy as possible.) If you want to try it, here's the recipe:
Flaxseed Stool Softener
(from The Simple Guide to Natural Health by Melanie St. Ours)
1 heaping TBSP whole flax seeds
8oz room temperature (or cold) water
1. Combine flax seeds and water in a cup or jar. Stir until all of the seeds are wet.
2. Let the cup or jar sit undisturbed at room temperature or in the fridge for 6-12 hours.
3. After steeping it complete, strain the seeds from the water. (You'll notice that the flax water is thickened and gel-like, especially toward the bottom of the glass/jar. This is what you want!) Drink the water/gel. You can use the soaked flax seeds in a smoothie or on food, or simply discard/compost them.
4. To prevent constipation, drink 1 serving per day. To reverse constipation, drink at least 2 servings per day -- one in the morning and one in the evening. You can increase to up to 4 doses per day if needed, and/or use this remedy in combination with Magnesium to enhance results.
I hope this will help you get some relief in the near future! If you try it for 2-3 days and don't notice much change, I'd add some liquid Magnesium (or Natural Calm dissolved in water) to the equation until you're feeling better.
I understand you have written a book that compiles your professional journey as a clinical herbalist. What inspired you to write the book? What is your hope for the book after publishing?
Well, the book isn't really about my journey as much as it's a guide to help others who are starting out on their own. 🙂 It's called The Simple Guide to Natural Health and is designed to make it easy for beginners to get the most out of all kinds of natural remedies including essential oils, natural body care recipes, healing foods (these are some of my favorite recipes in the whole book!), and homemade herbal tea blends, tinctures, and treats. We've already sold over 10,000 copies and I've spotted the book "in the wild" at Whole Foods, so really my biggest hope at this point is just that it reaches people and helps them to start experiencing how amazing herbs are in their own lives. This medicine really does belong to all of us, and I hope that my work somehow makes it a little bit easier for people to get started.