The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir Hardcover – 1 Oct 2008
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"In her sweetly perceptive memoir, Harman reveals how her exam room becomes a confessional. Coaxing women in thin gowns to share secrets ... she reminds them that they re not alone." Michelle Green, "People"
"Harman has a gift for storytelling, and "The Blue Cotton Gown" is a moving, percipient book." Karen R. Long, "Cleveland Plain Dealer"
"Harman shows us the joys and sorrows of listening to women s stories and attending to their bodies, and she leads us through the complicated life of a healer who is profoundly shaped by her patients and their journeys." Perri Klass, author of "The Mercy Rule" and "Treatment Kind and Fair"
"Luminescent, ruthlessly authentic, humane, and brilliantly written." Samuel Shem, MD, author of "The House of God," "Mount Misery," and "The Spirit of the Place"
"Touchingly revelatory . . . deeply moving." "Booklist," starred review
"As the mother of seven children and veteran of eight pregnancy losses, I knew when I ran my bath that I would be unable to resist Patricia Harman s memoir of midwifery, "The Blue Cotton Gown." What I didn t realize was that it would cause me, a sensible person, to get into her bath with one sock still on and rise from it when the candle was gone and the water cold. Utterly true and lyrical as any novel, Harman s book should be a little classic." Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of "The Deep End of the Ocean" and "Cage of Stars"" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Patricia Harman, CNM, got her start as a lay midwife on rural communes and went on to become a nurse-midwife on the faculties of Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, and West Virginia University. She is the author of two acclaimed memoirs and the bestselling novel The Midwife of Hope River. She has three sons and lives near Morgantown, West Virginia. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Yet Patsy has the ability to put a knife in your gut, to make you long for things you have experienced and things you have not. She takes you to her green fields and lets you play among the stars, but she is also merciless when looking at her own complex relationships and her practice challenges. The only thing missing in the drama of her day to day life in Appalachia is the revenue agent charging out from behind the hills to discover that she and her husband, who is also her practice partner, have an illegal still in their office.
Practice is not easy, relationships are not easy, being a driven and compassionate mother and woman are not easy, and Patsy makes that painfully clear. You come to cheer on her thoughts of running away from it all and returning to a simpler time. If anyone who practices modern day healthcare does not share this fantasy, then they are not present to the challenges of today's practice. Patsy, more than any other writer in this time, has the skill to take us into a world where tragedy, joy and tedium mix every time the exam door closes behind another woman.
Penny Armstrong, CNM, MSN
I have insomnia...and I drink a little. I might as well tell you. In the middle of the night, I drink scotch when I can't sleep. Actually, I can't sleep most nights; actually, every night. Even before I stopped delivering babies, I wanted to write about the women.
And held me captive with this:
...in the stillest part of the deep night, I sit down to write. I need to sleep...but I need to tell the stories. The stories need to be told because they are from the hearts of women; the tender, angry hearts; the broken, beautiful hearts of women.
The women. The women who bring their bodies and their souls into Harman's examining room. Who tell her their stories, which she captures for us with a rare compelling clarity and honesty. And not just their stories, but her own, as well--the story of a nurse-midwife, half of a wife-husband medical team, who is struggling to keep a small family practice afloat in the face of IRS threats, uterine cancer, a gangrenous gall bladder, and problems in her thirty-year marriage.
The Blue Cotton Gown is a compilation: a memoir of a year in the author's life, its passages interspersed with the stories of the women who visit her practice, as well as the story of the practice itself. Every part of this memoir is about women's bodies, since that is Harman's profession and her calling. There is Heather, an unmarried teenager pregnant with twins. Nila, who has already delivered seven babies and is cheerfully expecting her eighth. Holly, whose daughter is anorexic, and Trish, whose daughter kills herself with an accidental overdose. Reba, who needs instruction in finding physical pleasure ("Sometimes I wonder where I get the balls to talk to women like that...Sometimes I crack myself up"). And there's Kasmar, who is transitioning from being a woman to being a man, and needs a little help. We all need a little help, Harman says. "We are all here for one another...gifts to one another...We are all here for one another and that is enough."
And in Harman's practice, which is all about women's bodies, being here is enough, most of the time. The Blue Cotton Gown is about women's stories, each different yet all held together by common elements, each told with sympathy and loving attention that bears witness to the inevitable pain, the loss, the fear that comes with being human, whether we are the nurtured or the nurturer. "The patients, me included, are all the same under these blue cotton gowns," Harman thinks, disrobing before the surgery that will remove her cancerous uterus. "Naked and scared."
Yes, naked and scared. This is not an easy book to read, in part because it is so utterly unformulaic. I could not predict how any of the stories were going to turn out. Would Caroline's baby die, nearly strangled by an umbilical noose? Would Kasmar's transgendering bring happiness, would Nila make it through another pregnancy, would Holly's daughter start to eat again? Would Harman's practice--and Harman's marriage--survive or go under? Every story held me with its urgency, but the stories were sometimes so honest, so ruthlessly real, that I had to put the book down and look away--and then come back, when I could breathe again. This doesn't happen to me often as a reader. When it does, I know I've found a treasure.
"Some women are born to be midwives," Harman says, and some women are born to midwife the stories of others. Patsy Harman is both. Read The Blue Cotton Gown. It is your story, too.
by Susan Wittig Albert
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
Unlike other memoirs that focus on birthing and assisting laboring moms, this book delves into all of the other aspects of working with women - violence, disease, puberty, trans-identification, sexuality, pregnancy, care, drug use, birth loss, and more.
I highly recommend this book, not just to birth professionals, but to anyone who loves a good read!
1. Debt. They come off as complete idiots--borrowing money for this and that as if they had no clue about how much they'd actually have to earn in order to make it work. Actually bothering to interview a new accountant only after striking out TWICE.
2. Microdermabrasion. I will never go to, or work for, a practice that gets into this kind of cosmetic stuff, whether it be hair removal or vulvoplasty. I prefer a line between health and beauty. I'd begrudge them it, if it actually made them any money, but apparently it wasn't helping that much.
3. The signature knock on the door. Ick.
4. They own two houses, on lakes. What the heck? No one I know who runs their own practice lives like this, sorry.
5. Nurses. She says they have 4 providers (her, her husband, and two other nurse practitioners). Somehow they have work for SEVEN "nurses" and several receptionists. As a nurse and provider, I know that she is referring to (I hope, or no wonder they are broke) Certified Medical Assistants and Nursing Assistants. There is no shame in those noble jobs, but don't call them nurses.
6. Whining. Go to work for someone else or be quiet! It's a tradeoff. Get over it.
She seems to love the ritual of medicine, the gown, the exam room, being the bossy expert, so much. To me they are necessary evils. I wish I could practice in some better way, but so far, this is what we have.
That's all. Sorry for being so cranky. I'm embarrassed to think that people might get the impression that the majority of midwives think, talk or act like this. Oh, and by the way--I will never give up birth just because it costs too much. I'll find a way.