The Reluctant Midwife by Patricia Harman

u34+1F!EVWH7ngw7NLVXIcKIKW2pmYA+Gl!w8rbMsYH!BRIAG5OUet9tcq9F2XjffXkZsjELHH1dotzfe59Az1jyGM+mB65M9iSYJGxO3RSWsW1OYzkgsRAdZgmVYczu The Reluctant Midwife: A Hope River Novel

by Patricia Harman

I was really looking forward to reading this follow-up to Harman’s The Midwife of Hope River, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Sadly, The Reluctant Midwife proved to be a disappointment.

This latest novel has Nurse Becky Meyers in the starring role; she was a minor character in the first novel.  It’s 1934 and America is in the throes of the Great Depression, and Becky has unwittingly become the sole caretaker of her boss, Dr. Isaac Blum, who has fallen into a mysterious, near-catatonic state.  Out of money, owing back rent at a boardinghouse, the two hightail it out of town in the middle of the night and head back to Hope River, where Dr. Blum still owns a house.  However, when they arrive, Becky discovers that the doctor’s property was sold to pay back taxes.  Having nowhere to go, she takes Dr. Blum to the midwife Patience Murphy’s house, which they find vacant, and soon learn that the midwife married the town’s veterinarian and now lives at his house.

Almost everyone is out of work, and Becky’s search for a job is difficult.  She works for a short time delivering groceries, and then finds work as a nurse at a CCC camp.  Meanwhile, she also assists Patience Murphy at births, although midwifery is not what she would prefer to do – hence the title of the book.

I wish the characters had been more well-developed.  I wish the dialogue didn’t contain so many exclamation marks! as their proliferation took away from what could have been a more serious story, I felt.  There are some good birth scenes, but a lot of the drama in the story tipped into melodrama.  Unfortunately, the editing is also shoddy, as there are typos throughout the story.  Probably my number one complaint, though, is the character of Dr. Blum.  I think the story would be much improved by the elimination of his entire character.  I just could not take him seriously at all – a man who supposedly falls into a catatonic state in response to the deaths of two people (his wife, who was a total bitch, and her lover), so disabled is he, apparently, that he loses the power of speech, he drools, “poops in his pants,” has to be hand-fed, and helped with his toileting.  But then it turns out he’s (sort of) faking it!  And then he and Becky fall in love, and … blah blah blah.  I just couldn’t buy it, and frankly found it a little repugnant.

It’s been a couple of years since I read The Midwife of Hope River, and I no longer have the book so I can’t go back and skim through it, but I seem to remember the characters and the storyline just being a lot more believable.  The characters populating this latest novel seem more like caricatures, and not real people to be taken very seriously.  Thus, it was also difficult to become invested in any of them.

If you’re looking for an okay, light read, this’ll do.

The Midwife by Jolina Petersheim

Unknown The Midwife

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.

Anyway.

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.

The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman

Midwife-of-Hope-River-Barnes The Midwife of Hope River: A Novel of an American Midwife (P.S.)
by Patricia Harman

I’m drawn to stories of midwives, both real and fictional.  They appeal to my reverence for pregnancy and birth, and the passionate feelings I have about home birth and midwifery.

Patricia Harman worked as a direct entry home birth midwife for many years before becoming a nurse midwife who helped women deliver their babies in hospital and birth center settings.  Her first book, a memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife’s Memoir (which I have not read) was published in 2008; this is her third book, and her first novel.

In it, Harman tells the story of Patience Murphy, a woman who stumbled into midwifery quite by accident.  Patience – whose real name is Elizabeth, but she goes by the pseudonym – has been on the run from her past and the law for almost as long as she can remember.  She never intended to wind up living on the outskirts of Liberty, West Virginia, delivering babies, but she’s become accustomed to the twists and turns that life has doled out to her.  Spunky and smart-alecky on the surface, inside she holds grief powerful enough to destroy her if she lets it.  Set during the Depression, Patience risks her life by openly befriending and living with a young black woman, putting her on the local KKK’s most wanted list.

There are joyous depictions of birth in this story, as well as stories tragic enough to make it all feel very realistic.  As the saying goes, I laughed and I cried – numerous times.  When Patience meets the town’s veterinarian, what eventually occurs is somewhat predictable: a very sweet romance that fortunately doesn’t overtake the story.

How authors choose to end their novels is always intriguing to me.  Some wrap things up neatly, and others, like Harman in this novel, leave the ending open for the reader to imagine for themselves.  That’s a special talent, I think.

I really enjoyed this book and was sorry when I closed it after reading the last page.