Monday, December 31, 2012

A Woman of Valour

It has been quite a while since I came across a story of a woman of immense power and conviction, someone who inspired me to aim higher and do better.

Rita Levi-Montalcini, born in 1909 to a Jewish Italian family leaves me in awe, jaw dropped all the way to the floor.  She died yesterday at the age of 103, and her obituary states that she was active physically, intellectually and professionally until close to her last breath.  Her impressive life resume includes:

At the age of 20, in defiance of her family and their belief that woman should not pursue an advanced education,  she became a doctor and a surgeon.

When the Nazis barred Jewish academics, she continued her studies in cell structures and genetics in secret, risking her life to obtain the supplies she needed and working out of her bedroom in a makeshift lab.

In 1943 her family fled went underground and fled, and after the war she worked as a doctor in a center for refugees.

She received a Nobel Prize in 1986 for research that increased the understanding of the body's repair and memory systems.

In 2001 Levi-Montalcini was honored by Italy, naming her a senator-for-life.

The one thing her obituary fails to mention is children and surviving family.  A preeminent biologist with intimate knowledge of the human body who never experienced pregnancy or the joys and trials of motherhood.  Did she achieve all this at the expense of a personal life?  It leaves me wondering if she was happy in the end, if her accomplishments, fame and longevity made that sacrifice worthwhile.

6 comments:

Midlife Singlemum said...

Apparently Henrietta Szold said in her later years: I would give everything back in exchange for one child of my own. Very sad. I also always wonder about these high achievers - I'd rather clean houses (which I may have to end up doing) and have my daughter than be childless with a Nobel Prize.

tesyaa said...

While I have no idea if this woman was satisfied or dissatisfied in her life without children, it's important to realize that not everyone has the same perspective. It's a mistake the we (all of us) often make, to assume that others feel the same way about things that we do.

Doc said...

Oh, I wasn't assuming anything about her! Just wondering really, since for much of my life into my late 20's I was extremely career focused, and only made the leap to become a parent at the age of 39...

Ruthie Levi said...

"tesyaa" has it right. when i read ur blog post, ur "wondering" left me feeling a wee bit annoyed about being judged in that manner, since i, too, fit the profile of Rita Levi-Montalcini(except that i married at 47). everyone's choices r their own, with their own rewards/consequences. happiness & fulfillment r an individual pursuit, not a group sport.

Doc said...

For the last time, I am NOT judging anyone, and NOT applying some universal standard to individual women and their choices. I have the right to wonder without being judged myself. I have a patient, a woman who married late. She married a wonderful man, a widower, who provided her with an instant family; children, grandchildren, a nice home and life-long emotional and financial security. They love each other very much and she loves her family and YET, every time she talks about the regrets in her life it comes down to one thing, that she never had a child other own. It makes her tear up almost every time she talks about it. So yes, I wonder, without judgement, if Dr Levi-

Doc said...

Montalcini had her own set of secret regrets. I wonder for any human whose life didn't turn out exactly the way they envisioned it. As far as you, my readers, make your choices, live a wonderful life and I will be happy for you. We all deserve a life of joy.