ISO good fiction about catching babies
February 10, 2014 8:23 PM   Subscribe

Recommend me fiction or very readable memoirs about midwifery, obstetrics, and the politics of birth--any genre is fine, but SF/F and historical suggestions are especially welcome.

After my recent successful home birth (the adorable outcome), I've become a bit fascinated by midwifery. I've read many non-fic titles on the topic and have watched Call the Midwife, but I'd love to read fiction about midwives and the politics of birth. I'm particularly interested in books that examine these topics through a speculative lens (yes, I've read The Handmaid's Tale, but would welcome other suggestions along those lines, especially if they're of a similar feminist slant), and also welcome suggestions of historical fiction or juicy memoirs.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm sure I'll be the first of many to suggest A Midwife's Tale, which is historical discussion of the diary of an eighteenth-century midwife in Maine. It includes both her direct diary entries and a scholarly breakdown that adds a lot of information about the context, politics, medicine, etc. It's pretty fascinating and pretty readable, I thought. You could sort of think of it as a memoir. It's not fiction.
posted by Miko at 8:25 PM on February 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Ami McKay's The Birth House is very much in the vein of what you're looking for.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:39 PM on February 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hey wow, congratulations on your new little one!

I loved Ami McKay's novel The Birth House. It's set in rural Nova Scotia around the time of the First World War, and is about the conflict between the traditional, woman-centred approach of the community's elderly midwife and the "modern" birthing practices promoted by the arrogant young male obstetrician who moves to town. The novel is narrated by Dora, the 17 year old girl who befriends the midwife, Miss Babineau, and eventually becomes her apprentice. It's beautifully written with some great characters.

On preview: What jacquilynne said!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:40 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. Interesting biblical historical fiction with tons of midwifery details.
posted by gatorae at 8:49 PM on February 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Is YA all right? The Midwife's Apprentice
posted by kagredon at 8:54 PM on February 10, 2014

Best answer: In Michael Chabon's novel Telegraph Avenue, two of the main characters are midwives in Berkeley, California. It's got some interesting detail about their practice, especially their relationship with doctors and hospitals. The midwifery part is only one aspect of a larger story, but I really loved the novel.
posted by number9dream at 9:22 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent!
posted by argyle dreams at 9:35 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, A Midwife's Tale is great; I bet you'll like it, PhoB.
posted by librarina at 9:49 PM on February 10, 2014

Best answer: An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon.
posted by kbar1 at 9:53 PM on February 10, 2014

Best answer: Try Ever Since Eve if you can find a copy somewhere. It is a collection of essays, memoirs, poems etc. on childbirth. It's a lovely book.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:07 PM on February 10, 2014

Best answer: Lots of home births in Dr. Frau, if I remember right.
posted by corey flood at 10:18 PM on February 10, 2014

Best answer: Super congratulations!

I've enjoyed Patricia Harmon's memoirs, The Blue Cotton Gown and Arms Wide Open, which are about her midwifery career. She started out self taught in the 60s, one of Ina May's contemporaries, and I particularly like the bits about being a new mother and attending births in hippie-era Duluth. I didn't especially enjoy her novel, The Midwife of Hope River, but it's an easy read.
posted by linettasky at 10:20 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The memoir upon which Call The Midwife is based is very readable & focuses more on the work and social realities & changes Nurse Lee experienced/shepherded.
posted by tilde at 2:20 AM on February 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Mazal Tov! Probably not new to you, but Terry Pratchett's Equal Rites and all of his Witches books (including the Tiffany Aching YA) touch on the politics and occasionally the mechanics of midwifery in fun ways.
posted by Mchelly at 4:13 AM on February 11, 2014

Best answer: nthing Call the Midwife.

It's now a BBC series, and the books are really interesting.

Mazel-Tov on your adorable infant!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:44 AM on February 11, 2014

Best answer: The Midwife of Venice, by Roberta Rich. The first half was about the midwife experience, the latter half was more romance.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:45 AM on February 11, 2014

Best answer: My Notorious Life!
posted by mlle valentine at 6:26 AM on February 11, 2014

Best answer: Nancy Mitford's The American Way of Birth was written in the 1960s and updated 20 years later. SPOILERS She find the American way of birth to be mechanized, disempowering, and expensive-- in contrast with the British health system of midwives.
posted by ohshenandoah at 7:22 AM on February 11, 2014

Best answer: Seconding Baby Catcher--it's definitely the best midwifery memoir I've read. (Yes, even better than Call the Midwife! Baby Catcher is all baby catching, all the time, while CtM focuses a lot on East End London. Still interesting, but not baby catching.)

Non-fiction, but if you haven't read Sheila Kitzinger's Rediscovering Birth, you might like it. It's a global look at birth work.

And more non-fiction, a little bit from left field, but you might also enjoy A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Ulrich interprets Martha Ballard's diary a few months at a time. A fascinating look at life in the above years through the eyes of a midwife.

Congratulations on your home birth and on that super adorable baby!
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:24 AM on February 11, 2014

Best answer: The Witch of Cologne by Tobsha Lerner is about a Jewish midwife who gets accused of witchcraft
posted by spunweb at 7:41 AM on February 11, 2014

Best answer: If you want some TV, the British show William and Mary has a main character who is a midwife. They show lots of home births and they show the relationships between the doctors/hospitals/midwives. It's also about an undertaker, their relationship, their kids, etc., but midwifery plays a pretty big role. And it's a wonderful show.
posted by CathyG at 8:56 AM on February 11, 2014

Best answer: David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet takes place in Dejima in Nagasaki Harbour in 1799, and one of the main characters is a midwife. It has some interesting descriptions of midwifery cases (and is in general an excellent book).

Congrats on your beautiful baby!
posted by barnoley at 9:05 AM on February 11, 2014

Response by poster: Best answers for everyone! This reading list makes me incredibly happy. Can't wait to dive in. (And OMG, I loved The Midwife's Apprentice at 13 and had totally forgotten about it AND I had no idea that Chabon had a book about midwifery). Thanks all, and keep any suggestions coming!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:11 AM on February 11, 2014

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian.
posted by yawper at 1:00 PM on February 11, 2014

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