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Welcome to Dupage Mamas! This blog is a place for Mamas to connect, share their experiences, and recommend great finds and ideas (or let us learn from your mistakes!) If you are raising kids in Dupage County, then we'd love to have you along for the adventure!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Book Corner: The Midwife

Ever since I entered this journey of pregnancy, birth, and parenting over three years ago, I've spent a lot of time contemplating Mothers. I've contemplated what is required of Mothers; I've contemplated the wisdom that Mothers have the potential to cultivate as a result of what is required. But more than anything else, I've contemplated the fact that my experience as a modern day Mother is very, very different from that of the average Mother around the world since time began.

When I consider the experience of the women who have brought forth each generation of life on this earth it blows my mind. For the most part, they have married young, likely without a say in the matter, and had no access to birth control. This means a life of being pregnant, or nursing, or both, for the majority of your years. And caring for your expanding family without today's technological assistance - simply providing clean water might take more effort and forethought than I need in a whole day of child care. But more than anything I think of the dangers inherent in each of the many pregnancies a woman might have - the risk of losing the child was high, and the chance of dying herself was as high as 50-50.

I've reflected on this frequently in the past three years. They've been challenging enough, but I entered into them freely, and without fear that I might die just as likely as live to see my child. I worry about my childrens' safety, but the odds are high that they'll be just fine. And I've pondered at the strength of my sisters and mothers from times past - and in some places, still today.

So when a copy of The Midwife: A memoir of birth, joy, and hard times by Jennifer Worth arrived at my door, I was excited. The memoir is that of a young woman, not yet a mother herself, who practices midwifery in the slums of 1950's post-war London. Her clients are startlingly poor, and have no other access to medical care outside of the faithful women in their community who are trained to attend births - and save lives in the process.

From the preface:

In January 1998, the Midwives Journal published an article by Terri Coates entitled "Impressions of a Midwife in Literature. " After careful research right across European and English-language writing, Terri was forced to conclude that midwives are virtually non-existent in literature.

Why, in heaven's name? Fictional doctors grace the pages of books in droves, scattering pearls of wisdom as they pass. Nurses, good and bad, are by no means absent. But midwives? Whoever heard of a midwife as a literary heroine? Yet midwifery is the very stuff of drama. Every child is conceived either in love or lust, is born in pain, followed by joy or sometimes remorse. A midwife is in the thick of it, she sees it all. Why then does she remain a shadowy figure, hidden behind the delivery room door?

Terri Coates finished her article with a lament for the neglect of such an important professions. I read her words, accepted the challenge, and took up my pen.
I am grateful that she did pick up her pen, for what she wrote is very eye opening. Though only fifty years in our past, the stories that she tells sound to my ears as though they were far removed - and they echo the stories of women throughout the ages. I am amazed both at the love and the burden they carried. I am inspired by their perseverance, and humbled by the painful, difficult roads they walked.

Reading this book I continue to question, not only from the perspective of midwives but from that of mothers: Why are these stories untold? Why is the heroic act of bringing new life into the world not sung more loudly and more often than all the epic tales of history? Why do we memorialize acts of war and death while relegating the every-day miracle of a woman in labor to that-which-must-not-be-discussed? Why is a Mother's story not considered the most lovely and desirable story?

There is much joy in The Midwife, but there is much hard times as well. I put it down with a renewed understanding both of the love of parent for child as well as the reality of loss, devastating loss.

But in both cases, I recommend this book highly. Birth may be a beautiful story or a hard story, but it is the story of life.

Catherine is one of the co-founders of DupageMamas. This post is cross-posted from her personal site, everyday life as lyric poetry. Have you read a book you'd like to recommend? Send us a post and we'll put it up!


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