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

The Midwife by Jennifer Worth
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's review
Apr 20, 2009

it was amazing
Recommended for: anyone who was ever a baby.

Who would ever think a memoir about midwifery could read like an action adventure? Not me. Nevertheless, Jennifer Worth's new book The Midwife, a Memoir of Brith, Joy, and Hard Times, does just that--at the same time it is as personal as journal and as informative as a social history of everyday life in the East End of London in the 1950s.

Worth writes with wit and insight as she brings to life the challenge of helping women lying at home on sagging beds bring into this world new life. She often did so without the benefits of indoor plumbing, telephones, or maternity technology.

At the age of 22, Worth left home to live with nuns and work as an apprentice midwife. Worth says, "The Work of the Midwives of St. Raymund Nonnatus [a pseudonym:] was based upon a foundation of religious discipline. I have no doubt that this was necessary at the time because the working conditions were so disgusting and the work so relentless that only those with a calling from God would wish to undertake it."

White says even though she could have pursued any number of careers, she felt called to midwifery. Indeed, the work engulfed her and swept her way with joy, pain, fun, and a relentless curiousity that brought her into the homes of the poorest of the poor, climbing around prams and wet laundry, small, diaperless other children, and husbands who stayed well away from their laboring wives until called to see their progeny to do her work. That work involves treating families as families, respecting their authority over their lives, believing in the sanctity of life, and giving with heart--a heart of compassion and grace.

Whether she is writing about a non-English-speaking wife from Spain who is delivering her 25th baby or about a confused runaway Irish prostitute who loses her mind after her baby is taken away for adoption, White brings the reader right into the room and straight into the wonder of birth.

The road to becoming a midwife brings White to a new beginning where she takes the advice the aged Sister Monica Joan: "Her constant phrase, 'Go with God,' had puzzled me a good deal. Suddenly it became clear. It was a revelation--acceptance. It filled me with joy. Accept life, the world, Spirit, God, call it what you will, or at least to come to terms with the meaning of life. These three small words, 'Go with God,' were for me the beginning of faith.

"That evening, I started to read the Gospels."

I delivered my baby 10 years ago with the help of a midwife. I chose a midwife instead of a hospital because I respected my own body and it's ability to do what it was designed to do. I wanted to be in the company of a woman who saw my pregnancy as a fact of life rather than a medical condition. During the hours of waiting, Cathy talked about feeling called to be a midwife. After years of accumulating college credits, the light dawned that she should become a midwife. Without medication, medical equipment, or a doctor, my baby came. I felt that experience over and over as I read White's book. Every night after I read a few chapters, I slept on the though that life is beautiful all by itself.

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