Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Midwives - Chris Bohjalian

Title: Midwives
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Year: 1997
Country: USA
Pages: 372
Rating: 3 out of 5

First sentence: Throughout the long summer before my mother's trial began, and then during those crisp days in the fall when her life was paraded publicly before the county--her character lynched, her wisdom impugned--I overheard much more than my parents realized, and I understood more than they would have liked.

Midwives is the story of a homebirth gone terribly wrong. Midwife Sibyl Danforth does everything she can to save the life of one of her mothers during labor. When the mother passes away, she performs an emergency c-section to save the baby's life. When her actions are questioned, she faces the hostility of those who oppose homebirth, especially physicians and the state attorney's office. 

When I started reading Midwives, I was worried the subject matter would hit a bit too close to home. When I was pregnant, we seriously considered homebirth, however our apartment's small bathtub and thin walls did not promise a comfortable experience. Instead, I opted for the care of the Special Beginnings birth center midwives. By the time my labor rolled around, I completely trusted all four midwives. Which is why, 23 hours into my 24 hours of non-medicated labor (and 4+ hours of pushing!), when my midwife told me he (and yes, a midwife can be a he) thought I should transfer to the hospital for an emergency c-section, I didn't hesitate. He was confirming what my instinct was telling me--if not the fetalscope--that something was wrong. Maya came out 45 minutes later, with a shorter umbilical cord that was wrapped around her neck. She had also turned into the posterior position, which explained the almost two hours of almost unbearable back labor I had been dealing with.

If we would have been unable to go to a hospital, would Maya have eventually been in distress because of the umbilical cord? What about me? Thankfully, we'll never know. But with her birth still fresh in my mind, it was emotionally difficult to read the beginning of this book.

Other than that, it's a fairly enjoyable read. Right away, I could tell the author had read Ina May Gaskin, a well-known midwife, and her book Spiritual Midwifery is mentioned in the acknowledgments. I didn't particularly like the story written from the perspective of the midwife's daughter, and some of the character development fell flat. The style of writing - and topic choice - reminds me a lot of Jodi Picoult. Overall I enjoyed the story, but I'm not extremely motivated to pick up another one of his books.

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Andrea said...

What an interesting subject matter for the book. I'm also not sure I will read it since I am considering using a midwife for my future pregnancy. I'm still not sure about homebirth though! A birthing center sounds like a great option for me though.

I'm so glad you and your daughter were ok after such a long and stressful labor! I greatly admire you for choosing to have a non-medicated delivery.

Antonette said...

Your daughter's birth sounds much like my son's. Posterior, 36 hours, natural, then an emergency c-section. I had a midwife at the hospital, no birth center nearby. Our apartment wasn't the place for a homebirth either.

I read this book as well, and agree with you.
Have you read Peggy Vincent's Baby Catcher? You might like that one more.


Teddy Rose said...

Thanks for the excellent review. This one is on my TBR.

Joy said...

I still haven't gotten around to reading this one. Thanks for sharing.

Danielle said...

I read this a few years ago and found it pretty engrossing but sort of difficult reading as well. However, like you, I've not picked up any of his other books since (maybe something will appeal in the future, though).

Bookfool said...

I've yet to read any of Bohjalian's fiction, but I enjoyed the collection of his newspaper columns -- they tend to be pretty light-hearted. I'm not a Picoult fan, so you're not giving me a lot of hope, here! :)