Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Review: The Midwife

Hello folks!  I had to take a couple months off from the blog as I had a temporary job with a lot of overtime.  But I'm back now, and happy to share this book with you!

The Midwife, by Jennifer Worth, is the first of a trilogy about her days as a midwife in the dock areas of London in the fifties while living in a convent.  It's recently been made into a popular BBC TV series, which is how I heard about the books.  I enjoyed the first episode of the series, and decided I wanted to try the books.

I've noticed over the years that when birth is portrayed in movies or on television, the overwhelming emphasis is on the pain involved.  The whole process is perceived as alien (indeed, very similar to *that* scene in Alien) and bizarre.  The TV series Call the Midwife didn't do that, the emphasis was on the mother and the family situation.  The midwives are a calming presence in the room and connect with the family in a way not shown in modern medical dramas, and I found that fascinating.

But there's another thread going on in the book that is much more applicable to this blog- the setting of the story is in a convent, which comes as a surprise to the main character, who calls herself Methodist at the beginning but doesn't claim to believe in much.  As the book continues and she gets to know the nuns at the convent (also midwives) and hears their stories, she sees faith in a new light.  She comes to understand more about what Christianity can really mean through watching the midwives' ministry in the area and talking to them about why they're doing the work.  And unwittingly, she enters a faith journey of her own along the way.  It's a well-done, subtle subplot- but since this book is autobiographical, it's also the true story of a person's journey to faith.

I recommend this book enthusiastically to anyone with an interest in history, in autobiographies, or in real-life medical practice, and I think it would make a fascinating choice for a church women's group.  There are occasional graphic descriptions, but nothing worse than you'd find in any normal paperback this days.  This is nothing less than a true-to-life description of what life was like in urban poverty in the days when the Pill didn't exist, feminism was still in the first wave, and women didn't have a lot of options.  It may disturb you, but it will move you.

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