by Jolina Petersheim
I liked it. I didn’t like it. I liked it. I didn’t like it.
I’m drawn to stories dealing with birth, and especially midwifery, as three of my own kids were born at home attended by a midwife. So when I was browsing at Barnes & Noble recently, as I am wont to do, this book caught my eye. It wasn’t quite what I expected. In fact, I think a better title would have been “The Surrogate.”
The Midwife tells the story of Beth Winslow and Rhoda Mummau – who turn out to be the same person. Going back and forth in time, Beth/Rhoda narrates the story of how she became pregnant as a teenager and ran away and gave her son up for adoption, feeling she had no choice, and how, several years later, still pining for the baby she gave away, she agrees to be a gestational surrogate for one of her college professors and his wife. Although she mentions having gone through the usual battery of psychological screenings in order to become a surrogate, she didn’t seem at all suited to being a surrogate, seeing that she was still pining for her lost baby, and she had misplaced romantic feelings for the professor with whom she entered into the surrogacy contract. The professor’s wife and genetic mother to the child Beth is carrying is a cold, distant woman who puts everyone and everything second to her career, and she’s unsure she even wants a child (and she apparently went through the usual psychological screenings associated with surrogacy agreements, as well). Not quite halfway through the pregnancy, an ultrasound reveals possible problems with the fetus, so amnioscentisis is undertaken. Now the story really departs from reality: the amnio shows the possibility of a chromosomal abnormality in the fetus, but the doctor can’t seem to figure out what the possible chromosomal abnormality is, and he can’t say for sure whether there actually is anything wrong with the fetus, all the doctor can say is that there probably is, but he doesn’t know what, and the only thing to do is have another amnio. I was rolling my eyes until they hurt at this point. While I know an amnio isn’t quite 100% accurate, it’s the closest thing to 100% accurate there is in prenatal testing. Amnio is not a screening – it’s a diagnostic tool, because it looks at actual cells from the actual fetus. So unless I don’t know my prenatal testing shit (and I think I do), it’s highly, highly unlikely that an amnio wouldn’t reveal exactly what chromosomal condition a fetus had.
Details like that, that don’t line up? They bug me.
So the professor and his wife decide that Beth should have another amnio, and if the second amnio also shows that something might not be kosher with the baby, the baby shall be aborted post-haste. Beth freaks her freak and runs. She hightails it out of town and heads out to a Mennonite home for unwed mothers way out in the boonies. She is not going to let this baby be aborted. She loves this baby, even though she has no biological ties to it (which I can understand; it’s hard for me to imagine having a baby grow inside you and not develop an attachment to it). Which now makes her a kidnapper. The Mennonites take her in, and she ends up converting to Mennonite . . . ism? She has the baby – which turns out to have absolutely no chromosomal abnormalities whatsoever (come on! Not only was the most accurate prenatal test available unable to identify the specific condition the baby might have, but it was also just dead wrong?), and for five months she is this child’s mother. She nurtures the girl, nurses her, carries her everywhere, etc., etc.
But alas, somehow the professor and his wife get wind of the whole thing and they show up at the Mennonite home one day and take the baby that is rightfully theirs. So now Beth has lost two babies (plus her mother abandoned her when she was a girl, and that’s always hanging there in the background as well. Beth has some serious baggage), and the only way she can go on is to harden her heart and refuse to let anyone get close to her ever again. So she chooses to become a midwife, because that’s what wounded people who don’t want to have intimate relationships with other people do, right?
So, now she’s a middle-aged Mennonite midwife running a falling down home for unwed mothers. One day a teenaged girl shows up and. She’s a tiny bit pregnant and has run away from her wealthy, elitist parents who wanted her to have an abortion. Somehow this Amelia girl burrows her way into Rhoda’s hard heart, and, well . . . I don’t want to spoil it.
The story did manage to evoke a few tears from me, mainly in a few passages that dealt with the unique love mothers have for their children. All in all, the book is very readable and will appeal to Lifetime movie lovers. There were too many implausible scenarios and unlikely intersections for my liking, and the author is apparently hardcore Christian, which definitely informs her writing, so that was a bit of a turnoff to me, as well.
In the end, didn’t love it, didn’t hate it.