Midwives
by Chris Bohjalian
Book Review by Amy Coffin
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Sybil Danforth is a midwife in rural Vermont. She has built quite a successful practice through the years by delivering many of the regions babies at home.

On a cold day in March of 1981, she is summoned to deliver Charlotte Bedford's baby. Charlotte labors all night long with some difficulty because she is a small person. By the light of dawn Sybil realizes that Charlotte should be in the hospital. However, there has been a huge ice storm. The phone lines are down. Sybil wants to use her own car to transport the patient, but she runs it into a snow bank. There's simply  no way to get to a hospital. Sybil goes back inside to assist in the difficult birth.

In the early morning, after hours of pushing, Charlotte collapses. She appears to have had a stroke. Sybil attempts CPR to no avail. Charlotte is dead. As Charlotte's husband, Asa, looks on, Sybil performs an emergency C-section and saves the baby.

Because there has been a death, the authorities are called in to investigate. All of the events in the last 24 hours create a snowball effect. The state decides to charge Sybil with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Charlotte Bedford.

Midwives is the story of this trial and the events leading up to it. The tale is told from the perspective of Sybil's 14 year-old daughter, Connie. From her we learn about Sybil's "calling." Up to now, she has had an excellent record of successful childbirths. However, Charlotte's death has left the community divided.

On the side of the prosecution, we hear from Anne, Sybil's new and inexperienced apprentice. She believes that Charlotte was alive up until the bedroom C-section. After that interesting tidbit is announced, the coroner tales the stand and drops a stunning bombshell of his own.

On the side of the defense, we hear from Sybil's supportive back up doctor as well as Sybil herself. Will Sybil's reputation and experience be enough to convince the jury of her innocence?

I had no idea Midwives was an Oprah book. I originally picked it up because of its pretty blue cover. There I go again, judging books by their covers. Perhaps, because I had no expectations of the book, I was able to enjoy it more than other readers did.

I don't normally read other reviews of a book before I write my own, but I wanted to understand why some people did not care for Midwives. After reading the entire story myself I have come to some conclusions.

You will not like Midwives if you are expecting a high-powered courtroom drama starring Perry Mason or Ben Matlock. The trial is very interesting, but there are other elements to the story that you might feel are distractions. .

You will also not like this story if you are a strong proponent (or opponent, even) of home birth and unlicensed midwifery. Somewhere along the line, you will find offense to something one of the characters says and that will inhibit your enjoyment of the rest of the story.

These are the only two reasons I could find for readers disliking the book. I know some people found Midwives to be boring, and for that I am truly baffled.

I thought Midwives was a very interesting book. The story offered a perspective of home birth that I had not experienced. The language, terms and processes were believable and easy to understand. I found the novel to be moderately suspenseful and was not bored in the least.

The one negative point I found in the book is minor, yet annoying. At one point, Sybil flirts with her defense lawyer. I thought it was pretty silly and unnecessary. If Mr. Bohjalian wants me to be sympathetic to his main character, this is not helping his case.

Midwives is a dream come true for any book club. There are so many topics to discuss. Is Sybil's job a valid one? Is it ethical? Is it safe? Should she have performed that C-section without any training? Was she responsible for Charlotte's death? Was it manslaughter or second-degree murder? What did you think of the surprising ending? How did the last sentence grab you? Ha ha! Sneaky me! Now all of you are wondering what the heck that last sentence says.

Do I recommend Midwives? You bet. I thought it was a good book. Based on the number and general tone of reviews on the story, it looks like about 10% of you won't like it. I don't recommend you give the book as a gift unless you REALLY know the recipient will like it. The topic is just too heated.

For everyone else, read Midwives with an open mind and you should enjoy it.


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Chris Bohjalian.com
Also by Chris Bohjalian:

Before You Know Kindness

The Buffalo Soldier

Idyll Banter

The Law of Similars

Trans-Sister Radio

Water Witches





Discussion Questions
for Midwives




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