Corinne's Reviews > The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

The Midwife by Jennifer Worth
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's review
Apr 01, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: advance-reader-s-copy, 2009, british, memoir, pregnancy-and-birth, immigrants, midwives, london, urban-living, poverty, nuns, non-fiction, 1950s
Read in April, 2009

Having given birth with the support of a midwife three times, when I heard about this one, I knew I had to make time to read it. The Midwife is the memoir of Jennifer Worth (“Jenny”) and her experiences in the East End Slums of post-war London. I think three things come together to make this a very interesting book.

First, the voice of Jenny. She is candid and real - her storytelling doesn't sugar-coat her experiences or her mistakes. She never pretends that the East End was anything other than what it was: a hard place to live where people still found things worth living for. She shares her prejudices with us and shows us how they crumbled as she became more intimate with the people she cared for, both as a midwife and as a nurse. Life in the convent, its routines and relationships - Jenny relates these things with an unaffected and honest candor. Every once and a while the narrative felt a bit jumpy (moving between time periods, etc.), but because I was interested wherever she took me, it didn't bother me.

The second thing is that the time and place is so narrow - we get such an intimate slice of a group of people, their trappings and failures and the things that make them tick. Some of their vices are described in uncomfortable detail and you can imagine how hopeless and degrading life could be. She teaches us to appreciate "Cockneys" and there is even an appendix so we can read Cockney and understand what they are saying :) As much as this book is about being a midwife, I also think it stands well as a cultural study of a group of people that no longer exist in the same sense.

The third thing is the art of midwifery itself and her journey as a midwife. I caught myself smiling while reading some chapters, there is so much joy - and other chapters brought me to tears and had me biting my lip with worry. She was in the thick of the struggle between life and death that all mothers experience as they bring a new one into the world. And I think there is a nice balance between medical information and the more extensive personal stories that make Jenny's neighborhood vibrant, full of characters and their histories. She never pretends that it was easy or glamorous work, and sometimes the conditions she worked in were downright disgusting. I kept having the thought: this was REAL. It was her LIFE. Women gave BIRTH this way, lived this way - medical science was so different and I think this memoir gives a fascinating perspective of a way of life that is no longer, as well as a flavor for the satisfaction that comes from working with pregnant women.

It's not lyrical or dreamy - it's a down-in-the-gutters look at an ages old profession. I loved it.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Gemma Burton Very well said! I was surprised that some reviews missed how 'human' the writer was, she did not write a fictions story she had written a honest, gritty and at times hilarious memoir. I am glad to find a fellow reader who understood this!

Wendy Stam I agree with you, I was interested in reading this book because of an episode I saw of the television series but discovered that it was more that a drama series, it was about people's lives. The way she wrote it sometimes took me off guard but captivated me so much that I read the complete book within a matter of days. The way you wrote this review i absolutely in accordance with my own thoughts of this book.

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