I first read Labor of Love: A Midwife's Memoir by Cara Muhlhahn. Cara was the home birth CNM featured in The Business of Being Born. It was a quick read, but not because it was particularly well-written or interesting. I found the book flat, rambling, and disjointed. The memoir was mostly about Cara's background and upbringing and not that much about her work as a midwife. I don't think it would have been published had she not already gained national recognition in the documentary.
I just finished Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years With a Midwife in Mali by Kris Holloway. I really liked it. Kris served in the Peace Corps and worked alongside Monique for two years. Monique served as her village's midwife/health care provider and faced incredible obstacles in her effort to improve health and save lives. Malians have one of the lowest per-capita income and highest maternal mortality rates in the world. The book devotes a portion to Monique's midwifery work, but the bulk of the memoir is about all of the other aspects of life in a rural Malian village: poverty, lack of education, malnutrition, living and housing conditions, village politics and community traditions, gender relations, etc. It's one of those books that makes me grateful for what I have and a little...well...sheepish at the complaints and concerns I have surrounding birth culture in the U.S. I still think birth reform in this country is important, but I also realize that we have it so easy in the grand scheme of things. We have the luxury of arguing about informed consent and refusal, about the politics of VBAC and ERCS, about the relative merits of pharmacological versus physiological methods of pain relief...while the women in Monique's village had no access to cesarean section at all. Eight years after Kris' Peace Corps service, Monique herself died in childbirth. She was giving birth in a hospital in a nearby larger town and wasn't even seen by a physician until two hours after her death.
If you want a good midwife's memoir, my all-time favorite is Peggy Vincent's Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife. I've read it probably 10+ times (I used to teach it as part of my freshman rhetoric classes at the University of Iowa) and it still makes me break out laughing. Other midwife memoirs I've read include:
- Vaginal Politics: A Midwife Story by Judy Lee,
- A Midwife's Story by Penny Armstrong (I would have liked a true first-person narrative, rather than a ghost-written autobiography)
- Diary of a Midwife by Juliana van Olphen-Fehr
- Motherwit: An Alabama Midwife's Story
- Hard Labor: Reflections of an Obstetrical Nurse by Susan Diamond (okay, not technically a midwife's memoir, but still a good read).
Midwife memoirs I haven't yet read:
- The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth
- The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir by Patricia Harman
- Lady's Hands, Lion's Heart- A Midwife's Saga by Carol Leonard
- Playing Catch: A Midwife's Memoirs by Sally Urang
- Listen To Me Good: The Story of an Alabama Midwife
- Why Not Me?: The Story of Gladys Milton, Midwife
- Orlean Puckett: The Life of a Mountain Midwife
- The Archeology of Mothering: An African-American Midwife's Tale by Laurie A. Wilkie (a scholarly historical examination of one Southern family)
I pulled two books off the breastfeeding section: Spilled Milk: Breastfeeding Adventures and Advice from Less-Than Perfect Moms by Andy Steiner and Unbuttoned: Women Open Up About the Pleasures, Pains, and Politics of Breastfeeding. I enjoyed both books but I think I prefer Spilled Milk over Unbuttoned.
Supposedly a collection of essays about breastfeeding, Unbuttoned seems to have a high concentration of uber-competitive, glad-to-be-weaning, supplementing, and/or formula feeding writers. You'll come away from reading this book thinking that breastfeeding is the world's ugliest, most competitive sport; that LLL members are Nazi ideologues bent on making all mothers feel guilty; that breastfeeding always entails excruciating pain, bloody nipples, and terrible inconvenience. Does the fact that most of the contributors come from New York City play a role in the tone of this book? Hmmmm...
I checked out another book because I needed to look up a reference for an article I'm writing: The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence by Judith Lothian. I had the pleasure of meeting Judith at the Lamaze Conference in October. I talked with her about the history of Lamaze's position on home birth (also for the article in progress).
The last book I checked out was Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death, Revisited. It kept me occupied all during our 8-hour drive to Minnesota yesterday. A great read and makes a good companion book to Stiff by Mary Roach. I had another long talk with my dad about burial practices and am even more resolved to avoid traditional American funeral practices. The whole embalming/open casket/viewing/funeral home/airtight vault thing is really silly. I mean--if you're dead, who cares about a hermetically sealed coffin or the airbrushed makeup or the velvet-lined coffin? I'd like to either donate my body to science, be cremated (without embalming/casket/funeral home service as is increasingly common), or have a green home funeral & burial in a simple wood coffin or simply wrapped a shroud.
Any good books you've read recently?