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Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  490 Ratings  ·  86 Reviews
A midwife’s memoir of living free and naturally against all odds

In her first, highly praised memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown, Patricia Harman recounted the stories that patients brought into her exam room, and her own story of struggling to help women as a nurse-midwife. In Arms Wide Open, a prequel to that acclaimed book, Patsy tells the story of growing up during one of th
Hardcover, 287 pages
Published April 12th 2011 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,532)
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i had a really tough time getting into this book. i sped through the first fifty pages & then found myself completely wiped out. because the first two-thirds of the book really just document the author's life as an enormous hippie. there was no real narrative thread, as far as i could discern. characters, settings, & choices are presented with very little context & it was difficult for me to find my bearings enough to care about the author's next big hippie adventure. not that there ...more
Jun 04, 2011 Catherine rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011
There's a great deal about this book that didn't make sense to me. The structure - three sections, with long years between each one - gives the book a disjointed feel that it never really overcomes. How Patricia and her family members get from one moment to the other is never really explained, a situation that's particular jarring when it comes to the third section. Patricia is an out-and-out hippy for parts one and two of the book, but by part three she's living in a gated community in a large, ...more
Chris Spiegel
Oct 16, 2012 Chris Spiegel rated it it was amazing
Having just finished, and enjoyed, Harman's novel, The Midwife of Hope River, I was anxious to read her memoir, Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey. The memoir begins when Harman, unable to sleep and wandering the house, uncovers her dusty journals. She begins to look back upon her decades as a rural, and later hospital-based, midwife and Cerified Nurse Midwife. Interlaced throughout is Patricia's lyrical, nature-centered voice. Whether she is describing her encounters with curious bears, tape w ...more
Mar 16, 2011 Katie rated it really liked it
I was really fascinated by this book, although I have not read her previous title yet. The descriptions of her primitive, pioneer-type life as a hippie in the North Woods of Minnesota was at once absorbing and somewhat horrifying. Harman never articulates a really clear rationale for why they have gone to such extremes (I mean there's saving on fossil fuel and then there's grinding your own wheat with a mortar and pestel in a shack miles from a road) so it's a bit arresting, like we've just been ...more
Apr 08, 2013 Kathy rated it really liked it
It wasn't supposed to happen. I never meant it to happen.

I've had other lovers, beautiful and exciting men, but this one makes me so happy.

Sometimes when there's nothing special to be happy about, except that you have your friends around you and no one's lost in a blizzard, you just have to celebrate... They are my family and I want to stop life right now, hold it just as it is.

TV and movies portray hippies and protestors as kids going crazy with love and drugs, but in reality there was
Jun 08, 2011 Teeniemisfeldt rated it it was ok
I was hoping this book would be about the author's experiences as a midwife. It was NOT. The birth stories in this book were very few. If you are looking for a boring book about hippies living in communes in the 60's, this is your book. If you are looking for a great book with a lot of birth stories, try Baby Catcher.
Apr 19, 2016 Superheltemor rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2016
Jeg kunne ret godt lide hendes to fiktive romaner, men denne selvbiografi er kluntet skrevet, og hun fremstår klynkende, egocentreret og hippieirriterende en stor del af tiden.
Viviane Crystal
Jul 08, 2011 Viviane Crystal rated it it was amazing
Patricia Harman's second memoir tells the story of her hippie years and later her years as a married woman developing and practicing the science and art of midwifery. For those old enough to remember, we recognize in her character a true hippie who protests the Vietnam war, rejects everything about living a wealthy lifestyle that destroys the environment, and protests any forum that would be considered traditional or conservative. It's a time when draft-dodgers are running to Canada or sticking ...more
Mar 02, 2012 Samantha rated it liked it
This was an interesting read for my generation as it follows a single family's account of how they progressed from their hippie lifestyle to a more conventional existence. Given the numbers of flower children at the height of the movement and the seeming depth of their belief, I have always wondered why there aren't more communes in the US. While this book cannot speak for the entire movement, its tracing of the evolution of one family (through the eyes of one woman in particular) does provide s ...more
Dec 31, 2012 Julie rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, signed-copy, memoir
I am in a unique position to review a book by a woman who has become my friend, and it was fascinating getting to know her through her memoir. Harman writes with confidence about her unique life, first as a hippie activist attempting to live a sustainable life in rural Minnesota, then as a part of a commune in Ohio as a young mother with a growing family, and finally as an empty-nester dealing with the drama of working within the medical establishment. This memoir is really Harman’s reflection o ...more
McGuffy Morris
Jun 24, 2011 McGuffy Morris rated it it was amazing
A Midwife’s Journey

By Patricia Harman

In Patricia Harman’s second book she draws on her journals of many years as a midwife. This is actually the prequel to her memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown. In this book she reveals what brought her into midwifery. She tells of her early years, living in the wilds of Minnesota in a log cabin that she helped to build. After several years of living this way, she longs for a human connection.

Patricia moves into a commune with like-minded people of the counter-cultur
May 10, 2011 Fran rated it it was amazing
Arms Wide Open
Author: Patsy Harman
Reviewed by Fran Lewis

Living in the 60’s and 70’s were turbulent times. Imagine living in cabin without any electricity, devoid of many modern conveniences with a young child and your first life partner. Imagine being happy. Take a trip back to that time period along with author Patsy Harmon as she shares her life with the reader, takes us on a career and life journey a time when Woodstock came about, hippies were prominent, the music controversial, the times un
May 19, 2011 Megan rated it really liked it
I know it's cheesy, but I love her Author's Note: "Arms Wide Open is not just for those interested in midwifery or feminism. It's for anyone, of any gender, young or old, who cares about the earth and social justice. We each have our own song. This is mine and I sing it for you."

Other quotes I like so far:

"By 10:00 a.m. I was five centimeters, and Stacy joked that I might have the baby by noon. Then progress slowed. The nurses wouldn't let me walk, so I threw off my blue hospital gown and swayed
Apr 02, 2016 Melinda rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, usa
This is an engaging, thoughtful memoir, focusing primarily on the author’s life in hippie culture, living as off-grid as possible, first with her partner and later as part of a commune. Patricia Harman tells the story of her introduction into midwifery, starting with her first time giving birth, in one of the few hospitals that wouldn’t tie down a woman to the bed, and through her journey of helping other women give birth. Harman’s account of living a rural, low-energy life is engaging, and when ...more
Dec 29, 2014 Donia rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: no one
Anyone has the right to pen a memoir. It can be risky exposing ones life for others to judge. There are two issues with this book for me. First from a technical standpoint, the writing is disjointed and fractured. The story line is hard to follow except for within each little tale. Whole years are skipped and the book jumps around taking an immense amount of concentration to understand where the reader is in Harman's journey. The other issue for me is that I lived through the hippie years in Cal ...more
MaryJane Rings
May 26, 2014 MaryJane Rings rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
Growing up in the 60's and 70's was a pivotal time in history as well a noticeable change in culture. This book brings about the real life of a commune and the people who worked together to keep it sustainable. It's not the myth of the drugs,sex, rock and roll stereotype story, but a story about not being afraid to protest against a war which was unpopular, unnecessary and took many young lives. These young persons were very dedicated to what they believed and fed up with the complacency of peop ...more
Lisa Zink
Feb 20, 2015 Lisa Zink rated it it was amazing
This book was one of the finer memoirs I have read in the past year. As the world unfolds around us we it is hard to stay true to ourselves and what we believe. Although this book is billed as "a midwife's journey", I would have to say there is a lot more to it than that. Patsy finding and answering her calling to midwifery is paramount to much more - it's the celebration of finding one's passion and purpose in this world and all of the small steps we need to take to get where we would like to b ...more
May 15, 2015 Lauren rated it liked it
Still on my midwifery kick, I ended up just grabbing all of Patricia Harman's books. This one is a somewhat disjointed narrative which covers her early adulthood as a very hardcore hippie (living off the land with her "lover" and son in a remote cabin in Minnesota) and flashes forward to her later adulthood (sharing a women's medical practice with her doctor husband and living in a housing development in West Virginia). I really would have liked to learn more how she went from chopping wood and ...more
Nov 13, 2013 Kelly rated it did not like it
I gave up at the end of the first section. I just don't care enough to read any more whining about being a hippie.

I guess I thought it'd be more about midwifery and less about the backstory that leads up to it.
Jennifer Castellano
Oct 15, 2011 Jennifer Castellano rated it did not like it
I had a very hard time getting into this book. Her first book was wonderful! I was so disappointed with this book.
Apr 15, 2011 Carrie marked it as to-read
Shelves: first-reads
Thanks Goodreads for this win!! Excited to get this in the mail to read! Looks good :)
Cathryn Wellner
Apr 12, 2016 Cathryn Wellner rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
I read the Goodreads reviews after reading the book and was fascinated by what appears to be an age gap in responses to Arms Wide Open. As someone who lived an ordinary, middle-class life during a period of social turbulence, I loved the book. Few of my high school and university friends joined the back-to-the-land movement, but in my middle to older adult years I have met many who did. So for me the book was an insider's look at the young, idealistic people who eschewed consumer culture and dre ...more
Deborah Gray
Apr 06, 2012 Deborah Gray rated it liked it
I wasnt' sure what to think about this before I began. I love memoir when the life in question has enough action and drama in it to read like a novel. This wasn't one of those. This is a quiet account of a midwife's journey from free love flower power hippie living off the grid to a more conventional life of midwife married to an OB/GYN. It is possible to care for the land, love our neighbours and live a conscientious existence and still have electricity and running water.

There are no extraordin
Barb Terpstra
Jul 23, 2011 Barb Terpstra rated it liked it
I had always thought that living off the land would be somewhat romantic and idyllic. This book showed me that it's a lot of hard work! Patricia choose an interesting life - building a log home with her bare hands, living off the land, no electricity or plumbing. Sure, the walks in the country and the appreciation for nature are still there, but man, that's a lot of work.

This story was about more than being just a midwife. It's about being self-sufficient, it's about commune living, the good an
Nov 27, 2014 Cheryl rated it really liked it
"Life is a journey and you never know whose life you may touch."

From a tiny cabin in the forest to a commune to a gated community, I got to read about the life of Patsy Harman. Pacifist starting during the Vietnam War (a time I lived through also), her story resonated through me.

Her and the men in her life, including her three sons, were hippies during the Flower Child movement. She and her family and friends feel extremely close to the glories of nature and the protection of our planet and actu
May 12, 2011 Heather rated it really liked it
Patsy Harman has led a very unusual life. In her twenties and thirties, she lived in the backwoods of Appalachia with her lover Stacy and their young son Mica. As self-proclaimed hippies, Patsy and her band of friends eat organically, protest environmental pollution and attend demonstrations against the Vietnam war. Living out in the deep woods of Minnesota, the small family lives simply, without electricity, indoor plumbing or running water. They grow and tend a subsidence garden and fill the c ...more
Sep 10, 2012 Gaile rated it liked it
Patricia Harman chronicles her young life as a revolutionary hippie trying to live in the old way as a revolt against polluting the environment but life catches up and as time goes on, she becomes an LPN, a nurse midwife while her husband becomes a Gyn,OB. The birth scenes are great to read about as I never had that experience at having a home birth. Her later life in a modern clinic with all the complications of running it is not so good nor is it so good to read about the practice wearing her ...more
Jessica Raymond
Feb 10, 2015 Jessica Raymond rated it it was amazing
I was expecting an extension of her first book, The Blue Cotton Gown. More stories from women, all from different walks of life, each story unique and interesting. And more insight into Patsy's life. When I realized that's not what I was getting I was a bit disappointed. That is, until I read a few more words. This is another poetically written, enticing story. I loved reading about her hippy life, her lovers and babies, her friends, and everything else in-between.
Allison Rockwell
Feb 28, 2013 Allison Rockwell rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, nonfiction
I picked this book up at the library after hearing an interview with Patricia Harman on Iowa Public Radio.

Almost every birth story in this book brought tears to my eyes. I must just be at that age where that happens.

Harman has a wonderful voice, and it was fascinating to read about "hippie life" recorded while it was happening, and not just from memory (the book is based off of her own journals from the 60s and 70s). I have a couple of aging hippie friends now that I can really picture in this
Absolute raw, honest beauty… I was awed by her life story, amazed at the peek into what life is like in a commune and on a true homestead. I was inspired by the depth of spiritual and emotional insight into her own heart and journey. I was encouraged at the journey of growth with her husband…Absolutely a wonderful masterpiece. I can't wait to read more of her work.


I was a bit disappointed at the ending. I felt it didn't quite resolve the distance issue between she and her hubby, but I
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Patricia Harman has spent over thirty years caring for women as a midwife, first as a lay-midwife, delivering babies in cabins and on communal farms in West Virginia, and later as a nurse-midwife in teaching hospitals and in a community hospital birthing center.

She spent over a decade in the sixties and seventies in her wild youth living in rural communes in Washington (Tolstoy Farm), Connecticut

More about Patricia Harman...

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