The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife by Patricia Harman, CNM, is the first piece of midwife fiction I have ever read. On the day I blew through the pages at rapid speed, my parter looked over at me through my laughter and my tears and asked if I was okay. I responded: “It’s fantastic midwife fiction! Does it get any better!?!” Enough said.
This account of midwife Patience Murphy’s life in West Virginia during the Depression details the tough world of birth and life in Appalachia. This is Patricia Harman’s third book: she is also the author of two memoirs, Arms Wide Open: A Midwife’s Journey and The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife’s Memoir. What a wonderful addition to her publication list!
Patience Murphy is timid and assertive, unsure yet intuitive, and has a heart of hearts. Her dogs are named for a radical anarchist and her lover. Her tenacity at births in the mining communities had me fired up while reading. She has wild sex in a barn lit by moonlight. Cauls, cords, and malpresentations are handled with ease. She has gets her sanitized gloves from the pharmacy wrapped in newspapers. And she is a midwife.
A few favorite quotes:
“What makes me think I can be a midwife with only a few years’ apprenticeship…?”
“This child will be stronger than any of us.”
“Push with all your heart!”
“I’m trying to have a baby here!”
I had been waiting for the perfect review language to come to me, to let you all know how amazing I found this book. Instead, I realized that was foolish and I should open this giveaway ASAP. Check out the brief interview with Patricia Harman below, and read to the bottom to find out how to enter to win one of three signed copies of The Midwife of Hope River that she is graciously giving away!
How does Patience’s story parallel a new midwife’s integration into the provision of women’s healthcare?
In the early days in this country and even in the 1920s and 1930s there were no educational programs for midwives, no certification. Women became midwives because they had seen a few babies born or had a few and were chosen by their community.
Now there are different pathways, you can become an RN and then get your masters in midwifery and be a CNM, Certified Nurse Midwife. You can become a doula and after awhile become a midwife. You can seek an apprenticeship and then take your certification exam and become a CPM or Certified Professional Midwife.
The trouble is the laws are different in all states.
What barriers do midwives continue to face in their work toward providing healthcare? How are those the same or different from the ups and downs of Patience’s story?
The AMA, American Medical Association, was not powerful in 1930s and there were few physicians in rural areas and the slums of cities, so midwives like Patience were really needed. Even the local family doc in Union County, Dr. Blum, was ok with Patience and Mrs. Kelly doing deliveries so long as they took care of the poor and the blacks, people he didn’t really care to serve. It is easier to get training and education as a midwife now, but there are still many barriers in many states.
What do Patience’s experiences with loneliness in her midwifery work teach midwives currently struggling with those feelings?
Oh, I hate to think of midwives being lonely. (Is it true?) Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org I guess what I would say to those people is….find community…as Patience did in the end.
What similarities with race, class, finances, and support discussed in Midwife of Hope River do women still experience today in their access to healthcare?
Impoverished patients, the working poor without health insurance, immigrants and people of color are at the fringe of the health care system in one of the richest countries in the world. People still make choices not to go to the doctor, the midwife, or hospital when they really need to, because they don’t have the money. This is really wrong and needs to change, but politics, big business and misunderstanding stand in the way of a universal health care system where everyone has a right to be healthy.
What problems do midwives continue to have with compensation and accreditation in their work?
Even though midwifery is better accepted and established than in the 1970s and 80s, there are still places in the USA where midwives are not welcomed. The established physicians see them as competitors and make it difficult for nurse midwives to get privileges in hospitals. Many, if not most, insurance companies don’t compensate for home births. On the other hand, there are communities, like Morgantown WV, where I live, where nurse midwives are part of the healthcare system and where most women know someone, a friend or relative, that was assisted in birth by a midwife.
What lessons of midwifery and care of women are at the core of Patience’s story?
You don’t get to choose your labor, just like you don’t get to choose your life. You just do the best you can.
Think of all the things that happened to Patience… She was orphaned at twelve, lost a baby at sixteen, was widowed twice, lost her mentor and surrogate mother, Mrs. Kelly, yet still she went on, trying to help others. Sometimes she felt like giving up, but she didn’t, and labor is like that. You just take one contraction at a time and pretty soon, you have a baby. It doesn’t help to tense up in labor or in life. It just makes the contractions more painful.
What words of support would you share with recent graduates or new midwives?
Keep the faith. You know why you chose to do this. If you haven’t written it down, do it now, so that when you feel discouraged you can get your journal out and remember.
Who is your favorite character in the book, besides midwife Patience?
Bitsy! I love her spunk!
What keeps sustains you in your midwifery work?
I love being around women. I love my patients. Everyday I have the opportunity to make someone’s life better in a little or big way. I don’t deliver babies anymore; I do early OB and lots and lots of Gyn, but I still do what every midwife does…I empower women, teach women, give hope and give love. Then I get to write about it…How great is that?
Patricia Harman is giving away three signed copies of her latest novel, The Midwife of Hope River! To enter into the drawing, leave a comment here or on Facebook, answering the question, “What have you learned about life through being a midwife, doula, women’s health provider, or women’s advocate?” Ms. Harman will select the winners from her favorite comments. Entry closes next Wednesday, April 24th at 5:00pm CST-USA.
We look forward to reading your responses! And many thanks to Patricia Harman for this generous giveaway!