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Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey

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3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  310 ratings  ·  65 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...more
Hardcover, 287 pages
Published April 12th 2011 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

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Ciara
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
Chris Spiegel
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
Katie
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
Catherine
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
Kathy
Quotable:
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...more
Viviane Crystal
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
Samantha
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
Julie
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
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...more
Fran
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...more
Megan
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...more
Melinda
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
MaryJane Rings
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
Teeniemisfeldt
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.
Carrie
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 :)
Deborah Gray
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...more
Barb Terpstra
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...more
Heather
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
Gaile
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
Allison Rockwell
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...more
Jonasanddelice
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.

Spoiler:










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...more
Marilyn
I'm not that much of a fan of birthing books. Not sure why I even picked this up. A pretty good portrayal of hippie commune life, but then all of a sudden we warp into yuppie/hippie husband turned ob/gyn! A description of that transition would have made the book more likeable.
Lisa Zink
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
Sue
My love of midwives and their philosophy of care, plus the fact that I really enjoyed her previous memoir, definitely set me up to like this new book by Patricia Harmon, and I was not disappointed. I enjoyed following her back to her hippie days of living off the land, through her education (both real-life and academic), to her current self as a nurse-midwife, wife, mother, and grandmother. I may not always have agreed with her politics and choices, but I admire her intentions, her sense of purp...more
Jael
I enjoyed this book a lot. I resonated with the author's longing for getting back to basics and being good stewards of our planet, and, of course, her desire to restore natural childbirth as an option for today's women. It was written in an almost conversational style, a series of snapshots from the author's life that string together into a beautiful whole. I liked this style - the shortness of each section made it easy to read the book in fits and starts and not lose track of anything. (I have...more
Maesha
This book was an exquisite read. I was looking for something unlike anything I've read before and this book was just that. It is the exploration of a woman's life from her young hippie days as a midwife to her later years as a nurse. It inspired me in that during her hippie years, this woman was able to live without a lot of thing we deem today to be necessary accommodation. I was never bored with this and I didn't hesitate to pick it up every chance I got and finished it in about a day and a ha...more
Rebecca Smith
First of all I won this from goodreads and second of all I was dreading reviewing it because I have been a labor and delivery nurse for the past 11 years. I was pleasantly supprised when I started reading the book though. There was much more to this book than midwifery tales. The book goes into detail of her commune life back in the 60's and made me revisit the ideas and reasonings of people protesting the war. The book brought with it a sense of humor sometimes which is not always a bad thing....more
Emily
In general, I enjoy midwifery books and memoirs. This one didn't catch me, though. I think the difficulty was in the style, rather than the substance. The book is written in a long string of tiny vignettes, with periodic leaps over intervening years. I found it took extra concentration to stay connected to what was happening, and leaping years left out some (I felt) very important context.

Overall it was ok - I would have enjoyed more midwifery and less politics, but I think the book was meant t...more
Dianne
Enjoyed it, but....

Don't waste your money by buying it; but do read it from the library.

As a prior reviewer noted, how did she jump from the communal-living hippie to the gated expensive house lifestyle? How did they go from chopping wood and singing around the campfire, to the structured rigors of medical school and residency training? What was their parenting philosophy as they raised three teenaged sons who went on to graduate from college (apparently Ivy League for at least one of them, from...more
Emily
I enjoyed this book. I learned something new. Part of the reason that hippies did not hold regular jobs was to avoid paying taxes. Tax dollars went to fund the Vietnam war, which they were against. They just tried to live off the land and be self supporting. Another interesting point that Patty makes is that a woman's voice changes during labor. At the point she is ready to deliver her voice gets softer. Do any of my mom friends find this to be true? I don't remember.

And again it was great fun r...more
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1599003
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
More about Patricia Harman...
The Midwife of Hope River The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir The Reluctant Midwife: A Hope River Novel

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