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The Midwife of Hope River

Posted Nov 25 2012 9:26pm

These days my reading tends to be along the lines of Where is Baby's Belly Button or on research in midwifery, pregnancy, labor, or birth by reading my latest copy of  Essentially MIDIRS .  Tall is the pile of books I will read when I have time, though I do snatch chapters of them here and there.  When I was offered a chance to review  The Midwife of Hope River  for my blog, however, I wavered, before I gleefully agreed. Lured by the author (I loved  The Blue Cotton Gown , though friends found it depressing, I found it full of universal hope and thirst for life that trods slowly yet miraculously forward) and by West Virginia, I eagerly awaited the book’s arrival and plotted how I would occupy my four dear ones while I plunged into the first chapter. West Virginia? There will be more on that in the coming months on this blog, but for now let me say that my time spent on the mountain at  Sacred Mountain Midwifery  have left me deeply in love with the state.

I promised myself I would write a quick review, and get it out there, or it would take me until next year to publish this post, but I didn’t want to wait that long, I wanted you to go out and buy or borrow a copy of the Midwife of Hope River and love it as much as I did!  The birth stories come back to me, when I am waiting for the bus stop, on a cold rainy night. This book pulses with artfully told birth stories that will equally entrain moms and their midwives.  This book is also a good dose of reality.  In "progressive" 2012 we can pretend that the days of the Klu Klux Clan are long behind us.  Patience, the main character, reminds us that they are not, and I think that if we remember this, we will not get too comfortable with how things are but rather press courageously forward to create a world where racism can one day become a thing of the past. In the same way it reminds us of how far we have come as women.  It can be easy to take our current freedoms for granted but Patience's poignant story as an unwed mother reminds us not to forget our roots.

Was there anything I didn't like about the novel?  Occasionally I felt that Patience's bad luck was almost unbelievable.  But then, I think part of that has to do with the fact that I do have a privileged life. If my grandparents were alive, this story would urge me to sit down with them, and hear their hard stories again, so as not to forget them.  I love that when things get rough, as with The Blue Cotton Gown, there is always a silver thread of hope.

As a reader interested in history, I would have appreciated a key to the historical events mentioned in the novel, for example the events at Blair Mountain or the Monongah mine explosion: a brief explanation of the event and whether or not factual details were changed for the book.  

The first question in the Discussion Section was misleading.  I maybe nit picky but the question sounds too much like a Discovery Channel's portrayal of birth as a disaster waiting to happen: "The opening scene in The Midwife of Hope River presents a dark and scary view of birth..."  OK, maybe I am playing the midwife, but to me the opening scene wasn’t dark and scary, just sad, and a good snap shot of the real work of a midwife.

It would be fascinating to learn more about Patricia’s research into midwifery in the early 1900s.  I wonder if, when she was younger, she talked to some of the older midwives in West Virginia who might have been alive at the time Patience was midwifing.  Patience's use of vinegar and ice to stop a hemorrhage, or the use of pennyroyal tea was interesting trivia. This book reminds me of the importance of sharing birth stories, as well as the stories of the midwives.  Patricia shared her own story inThe Blue Cotton Gown) and I would imagine that The Midwife of Hope River will encourage women to share their stories as well.  We need more birth story telling in our culture.



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