The Pull of the Stars: Reflections on the Perinatal Experience from Pandemic (1918) to Pandemic (2019)


  • Joan Margaret Humphries University of Victoria
  • Lenora Marcellus University of Victoria



Global pandemics have been increasing in frequency over the past several decades, with infectious diseases constituting the third leading cause of death worldwide. Emma Donoghue, in her novel The Pull of the Stars, tells the story of Nurse Julia Power, working in an Irish maternity ward at the height of the 1918 influenza pandemic. During a period of three days, she is responsible for caring for expectant women with influenza who are quarantined together. In this paper, we draw on themes from this novel, employing Heideggerian and Gadamerian hermeneutic tenets as a central approach for analysis and interpretation. The perinatal experience for those described in the novel, as well as a century of experience for women and nurses, underscore the profile of the perinatal realm, and its implied meaning for Dasein.  We describe experiences of maternity care as described in the Canadian Nurse journal (1905 to 2019), which contribute to a context of both evolving and unchanging conditions. We identify themes relating to practices of infection control, privacy, dignity, and holistic care and integrate these ideas in the discussion.  The historical and contemporary ethical and practice tensions bear consideration for emerging and future impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic on nurses, families, and perinatal nursing practice.

Author Biography

Joan Margaret Humphries, University of Victoria

Assistant Professor, University of Victoria

Coordinator of Uvic and College Partners BSN Program