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Chapter 21 - Call the Midwife

May 5th was International Midwife's Day and as I was creating a Facebook post to commemorate it I realized there are a lot of books about midwives. Throughout history these women have been remarkable for their ability to take care of pregnant women and deliver healthy babies in horrendous conditions and under difficult circumstances.

While midwifery has been around for centuries as women have been helping other women have babies since the beginning of time, no doubt, New York state was the first state to require the licensing of midwives in 1716. As many doctors had no formal education at all, midwives were relied on for childbirth due to a greater knowledge base. Doctors began delivering babies in the mid-1800s and by the 1950s 88% of all births in the US took place in hospitals.

A resurgence in the profession began in the 1980's and today midwives are highly educated providers of health care. Here then are some terrific books about midwives.

The Kept by James Scott - In the winter of 1897, killers attack a farm in upstate New York. Midwife Elspeth Howell returns home to find her husband, and four of her children murdered. Before she can discover her remaining son Caleb, alive and hiding in the kitchen pantry, another shot finds Elspeth. Twelve-year-old Caleb must tend to his mother until she recovers enough for them to take to the frozen wilderness in search of the men responsible.

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian - On a winter night in rural Vermont, a skilled midwife performs a c-section on a patient she believes has already died of a stroke to save the patient's baby. Her assistant asserts that the patient was still alive and was killed by Sibyl's act. A sort of witch hunt pursues with the hostility of doctors and the antagonism of the law in play, not to mention Sibyl's own conscience. This is a terrific book club book.

The Midwife's Confession by Diane Chamberlain - An unfinished letter is the only clue Tara and Emerson have to their close friend Noelle's suicide. Always thinking of her as a woman who embraced life, midwife Noelle held onto a secret that had a devastating effect on the friends she loved.

Call The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth - In her early 20's Jennifer Worth left her comfortable life to become a midwife in the London East End slums after World War II. The cast of characters she meets and the events she witnesses are funny, heartbreaking, and ultimately, joyous. This first book of the nonfiction trilogy is the basis of the PBS series, Meet the Midwife.

The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich - Robert Rich tells a story of 16th century Venice, a Jewish midwife who is forbidden to render medical treatment to a Christian, and a count who will pay her anything to attend his dying wife and save his child. This is a wonderful story that takes the reader right back to the time period.

Have you read any good books about midwives? Please share them!


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