We’re delighted to be back today with the second in a two part interview series between Patricia Harman and Sally Hepworth. Both of these wonderful authors have new books that feature midwives and they agreed to interview one another about this fascinating and challenging subject. If you missed the first part in our series you can read it here. Up today, Sally Hepworth interviews Patricia Harman about THE RELUCTANT MIDWIFE.
Sally: Your bio says that you’ve been a midwife for over thirty years. How did you decide to become an author?
Patricia: I didn’t exactly decide to be an author. Here’s how it happened. It was the year my husband (OB/Gyn, Tom Harman) and I gave up Obstetrics because of the expense of medical liability insurance in the United States. After 30 years of delivering babies this was a lost to the community, and to us, but we soldiered on doing surgery, gynecology and well woman care.
Two things happened that year that, inadvertently, started my writing career. First, I was going through menopause and couldn’t sleep and second, because I wasn’t delivering babies, I had more time to listen to my patients and I found that women were revealing to me so much more about their lives. Not every woman, of course, but several each day, told me incredible stories about their lives.
I would leave the exam room in awe and because of my insomnia, I found myself thinking of the patients at night. Finally, I just got up and started writing their stories down. Eventually those tales became the basis of my first memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown. And in the end, the book was written to honor the courage of the ordinary woman.
Sally: Do you use your own experiences as a midwife to inform your writing?
Patricia: Yes. Almost every birth in the novel is something I’ve experienced or something a midwife friend has told me about. I’ve delivered over 1000 babies in homes, in the hospital birthing rooms and in tertiary medical centers, so I have a lot of stories to tell.
I think the details and the richness of my writing comes from that. There’s something about birth that imprints in your mind. That’s probably why readers tell me they sometimes forget that the protagonist, Becky Myers, isn’t an actual person writing in her actual 1935 journal.
Sally: Since The Reluctant Midwife is a historical novel, set during the Great Depression, did you have to do a lot of research to write the book? Do you have a background in American History?
Patricia: I do not have a background in American History, nor did I realize how much research was going to be involved when I set the story in the past. Fortunately, most of the detailed research could be done online. Sometimes it was a simple as asking Google, “What was the price of bread in the 1930s?” Sometimes, it took hours. I would spend whole days reading first person accounts of surviving forest fires or living in a CCC camp.
Sally: Midwifery has recently become a popular subject in books. Why do you think people are so interested in midwives?
Patricia: The Midwife is a fascinating character because she walks the razor’s edge between life and death. Ninety percent of deliveries are low risk and need no intervention, but at every delivery, the midwife must guard both mother and child. Their lives are in her hands.
Many people know that birth is a miracle and would like to witness it, but few are willing to shoulder the responsibility of being the one in charge. It takes courage. Midwives are warriors with observant minds and gentle hands.
Sally: How does the popularity of midwifery in current literature affect women’s perceptions of childbirth in the United States?
Patricia: In the last few years, there’s been a minor explosion in books in the US about midwives, from memoirs to contemporary novels, mysteries, romances, historical fiction and even kid’s books. Not all of them are great works of art, but they do have interesting protagonists.
Only a few years ago, the only people reading books about midwives were midwives themselves, doulas, childbirth educators and pregnant or nursing mothers. The general public still thought of the midwife as a little old lady who delivered babies in log cabins in the pioneer days. Now, women know that the midwife is a modern health care provider and they seek her out.
Sally: What about the current BBC series, Call The Midwife, set in London in the 1950s? Has it had a cultural impact in the United States?
Patricia: I think so. Frequently when I meet someone and tell him or her I’m a midwife, the first thing they say is “Oh! Have you seen that show…Call The Midwife? What do you think of it?”
“Love it.” I say. “Wouldn’t miss is for the world.” (Between you and me, I study the birth scenes to see if they’re realistic and you know what? They are!)
* * *
The Great Depression has hit West Virginia hard. Men are out of work; women struggle to feed hungry children. Luckily, Nurse Becky Myers has returned to care for them. While she can handle most situations, Becky is still uneasy helping women deliver their babies. For these mothers-to-be, she relies on an experienced midwife, her dear friend Patience Murphy.
Though she is happy to be back in Hope River, time and experience have tempered Becky’s cheerfulness-as tragedy has destroyed the vibrant spirit of her former employer Dr Isaac Blum, who has accompanied her. Patience too has changed. Married and expecting a baby herself, she is relying on Becky to keep the mothers of Hope River safe.
But becoming a midwife and ushering precious new life into the world is not Becky’s only challenge. Her skills and courage will be tested when a calamitous forest fire blazes through a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. And she must find a way to bring Isaac back to life and rediscover the hope they both need to go on.
Full of humor and compassion, The Reluctant Midwife is a moving tribute to the power of optimism and love to overcome the most trying circumstances and times, and is sure to please fans of the poignantCall the Midwife series.