I freely admit to being a wimp – “Midwives” by Chris Bohjalian

February 11, 2012 at 8:00 pm 3 comments

Cover of "Midwives: A Novel"

Cover of Midwives: A Novel

“Midwives” by Chris Bohjalian, Published in 1998

I understand and remember that when this book was published it was very popular. I also understand that Oprah loved it – I mean it was on her book club list. I am sorry to say I didn’t love it. Don’t get me wrong, this book was fine. But this is no “To Kill A Mockingbird” as the book jacket suggests. As an aside: I would like to beg book reviewers to stop comparing every courtroom drama novel with “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Lee did not just write a really good courtroom story.  It is infuriating.

Anyway, this book begins with a terrible incident in 1981 that occurred during an ice storm in the countryside of Vermont.  Sibyl Danford is a midwife at what should have been a routine birth at her patient’s home. But as Charlotte, Sibyl’s patient, enters into her tenth hour of pushing something happens and she appears to have a stroke.  After numerous attempts at CPR, Sibyl determines that Charlotte has died and she decides to perform a cesarean section to save the baby.  As she cuts, both Charlotte’s husband and Sibyl’s assistant believe that they see a spurt of blood indicating that Charlotte was still alive.  And of course after all is said and done, the coroner finds no sign of a stroke but determines the case of death to be blood loss from the cesarean. Sibyl is charged and must sit thorough an excruciating trial to determine if she killed Charlotte.Perhaps most interestingly the narrator of this story is Connie, Sibyl’s 14-year-old daughter. As Connie goes through the awkward transition from child to teenager she must also grapple with a terrible tragedy that is very quickly ruining the lives of her family.

What I disliked about this book is how the narration goes forward and then backward and then recaps to add a little piece here and there. It makes it feel slow at times and redundant. The writing is fine but not good enough to redeem the repetition.

Bohjalian addresses the issue of home birth vs. hospital births as well as midwives vs. doctors or nurse practitioners. It is an interesting debate to some extent.  I loved having an epidural when I gave birth to my first child. I am pregnant now and plan on having an epidural for my second as well.  But here is the thing, I embrace the fact that this is just who I am. I am no tough lady.

But, and let me be very clear, I have no judgment for those women who choose to give birth without drugs in the hospital or at home in the comfort of their own bed. It is an amazing, life-changing experience and, as long as safety precautions are taken when necessary, each woman should get to control her own labor and how she brings her child into the world.   So what I find tough, as always, is that when it comes to a woman and her body it is always a debate of some kind with a lot of judgments and harsh expectations.  So maybe that is why everyone liked this book – because, in part, it tries to address this. I am sure that is why the beloved Oprah thought this book was important enough to put on her book club list. Right?

(But really “To Kill A Mockingbird” is much, much better.)


Entry filed under: February 2012. Tags: , , .

Another reason to not add sugar to your fruit – “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson The ole’ painful hint and wink – “The Scent of Rain and Lightning” by Nancy Pickard

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Diane  |  February 11, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    I had natural childbirth with both of my children. That did not affect my feelings towards other women who choose to have their children in other ways. In the 50’s, they used to drug women to the max! My mom had to wake up afterward not knowing if she had a girl or a boy! We have come a long way.

    To each woman, her own choice. The important thing is giving life, not necessarily how you get there.

    Thanks for the great review of this book. I like your honesty.

    • 2. Emily C  |  February 11, 2012 at 10:41 pm

      Yes, I am very grateful the days of twilight sleep during labor are over. And I agree the end goal for labor must be having a healthy baby and a healthy, though very tired, mother.
      Thank you for your comment and for reading my review.

  • […] kudos to Bohajalian for his writing – like I said in my review of “Midwives” this guy does a lot of research for his characters and really writes admirably. But this novel, […]


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