First Son has read two or three other books from the Encounter the Saints series and we've found them to be interesting and enjoyable. I think they're generally recommended for 9 to 12 year olds, but the reading level seems to be a little lower than that to me, perhaps second or third grade.
Gianna Beretta Molla was a physician in Italy in the 1950s, a time when women physicians were rare. Then she married and had children but continued to practice medicine, most remarkably. In the course of her fourth pregnancy, she was diagnosed with a uterine tumor and chose in the most generous way to proceed with an operation to remove the tumor that would give her baby the best chance of survival. The operation was successful, but complications after the birth of her healthy daughter led to Gianna's death.
She is a model of love and sacrifice. She is the only working mother to be named a saint in the Catholic church. St. Gianna is the saint and patroness of mothers and the unborn.
This book is a wonderful introduction for children to this amazing modern saint. St. Gianna's dedication to her patients and family and her love for the Mass are clearly shown.
Daily, numerous patients waited in her office. The doctor knew that many were anxious and worried. She greeted each one with concern and compassion. I must never appear rushed or tired, she thought. My patients deserve my time and my total attention. I want to treat each person as I would treat Jesus himself.Many times, the saints own words from her letters and papers are used in the book.
I was pleased at how clearly this book explained that Gianna and her husband had three medical options to treat her tumor during the fourth pregnancy. Two of them were acceptable morally, even though one of those would have resulted in the death of her unborn child.
St. Gianna is a particularly good role model for young girls. She struggled with her education, but persevered even through a World War to receive a medical degree. She waited a long time before meeting and marrying her husband, a time when she was always open to a religious vocation but waited patiently to learn God's plan for her life. A loving wife and mother, she continued to work, to provide medical care to those who depended on her.
First Son could easily read this book now, but I hesitate to share it with him. First, my children do not yet understand that pregnancy does carry risks for a mother and her child. We have read many books where mothers die, even where mothers die after childbirth, but this book explicitly discusses St. Gianna's risks in her fourth pregnancy. Gianna's health problems are always described delicately, without revealing too much information for a young reader, and certainly health care during and after pregnancy has improved in many ways, but I still want to protect my little ones from worrying that I might be in danger if I were to become pregnant.
The real problem is that my children do not know what an abortion is. They know that unborn children can be miscarried and go to heaven without being born, but they have never been told that a mother may choose to abort a baby. Honestly, it is not a conversation I plan to have any earlier than necessary. Once First Son asks about abortion, I will explain it to him. Then I will share this book with him, precisely as a way to discuss the beauty and blessing of children and the sacrifice that St. Gianna made for the life of her unborn child. The last chapter especially invites that kind of discussion, prompting the reader to consider how St. Gianna's example can lead us to recognize the value of all life.
There is one scene that seemed contrived to me, one in which Gianna consoles a young unmarried pregnant woman in her office. I understand what the authors were sharing in the scene, but I felt it almost trivialized such a woman's predicament. There is no doubt that choosing life is the moral obligation in such a situation, but I think it imperative we recognize the courage and sacrifice such choices mean, even when a mother's life is not physically in danger.
You can learn more about St. Gianna many places online, like this site.
This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. I received a free copy of this book in return for an objective review. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Saint Gianna Beretta Molla - The Gift of Life. They are also a great source for a baptism gifts or first communion gifts.