On an icy winter night in 1981 in Reddington, Vermont, seasoned midwife Sibyl Danforth is forced to make a life-or-death decision that will change her world forever. Trapped by the weather in an isolated farmhouse, cut off from the hospital or even the emergency squad, she takes desperate measures to save the life of a baby, performing a cesarean section on a woman she believes has died of a stroke during a long and painful labor. But what if the woman was still alive during the surgery? What if Sibyl herself inadvertently killed her?
I had heard a podcast of Chris Bohjalian talking about his latest book called Secrets of Eden and he was explaining that the story was written from three perspectives. And i thought to myself, that story is going to get confusing after a while. But apparently telling a story from someone other than the subjects point of view is his style and let me tell you, its works. Naturally, i began to wonder about Rand's (sibyl's husband) story or even Stephen Hastings story because at the end, all three would have endure their own personal discoveries or pains during this time.
Midwives is such a beautiful, heart breaking story told from the perspective of 14 year old Connie Danforth, Sibyl's daughter. She is recollecting the ordeal that evidently would force her mother to quit midwifery. The way she explains the death of Charlotte Bedford and how it transformed the life of her family, her ways of dealing with the whole ordeal, just really made the story resonate. Sometimes it was difficult to differentiate who the narrator was because Connie displays such a level of maturity at that age but off course we are reminded of her age when Bohjalian would create a description that only a 14 year old could think of. Sibyl is put on trial for involuntary manslaughter and the whole episode is retold through Connie's eyes.
There are so many themes in the book. Firstly their is the moral and scientific justification of midwifery as an alternative birthing option. Sibyl was excellent at what she did and was a part of a movement that involved a handful of women (and men) who believed in a woman's right to have her baby at home. However the bombardment of the midwifery community by doctors and legally trained nurse midwives really made u question the safety of such a practice. In fact the testimonials given at sibyl's trial compounded this for me. Then there is notion of human sacrifice. Sibyl made the ultimate sacrifice by saving Viel, Charlotte's son other wise both mother and child would have died. Connie sacrificed for her mother when she stole the most incriminating of her diary pages.
I kinda had to agree with Connie's career choice though. She later became a OB-GYN because she did not want to have the same life as her mother. The job of a midwife is steep in soo much uncertainty. Sibyl realized it and even wrote about her uncertainties, whether she was sure Charlotte had died.
And WOW who could forget an ending like that.
As usual there were a few quotes that stood out for me. Like:
"I didn't know then that a pregnant belly was a pretty solid affair, and so i expected it to flatten and slip to her sides like a dollop of mayonnaise when she lay back; when it didn't, when it rose from the bed like a mountain, i stared with such wonder in my eyes that Lori rolled her face towards me and panted what i have since come to believe was the word Condoms" pg15 (only in the mind of an adolescent)
"There had been a notable baby boom in the country that fall, roughly nine months after the coldest, harshest winter in years, and my mother was busy" pg 48 LOL
"Besides i think if i told them how frightened i am, the floodgates would open. Suddenly I'd be telling them that I'm scared I'm going to jail. I'm scared I'm going to have to give up my practice. And- and this fear wasn't so bad in the spring its only in the last month or so that it really crept up on me - sometimes I'm scared i might have made a mistake in March. It's possible. What if Charlotte Bedford really was still alive? " - from the notebooks of Sibyl Danforth pg 229
"But on the second Wednesday of the trial, my mother's story became my story, too. I know now my mother would want our stories told" pg 365