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Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

Midwives (edition 1998)

by Chris Bohjalian

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4,545941,055 (3.79)96
Authors:Chris Bohjalian
Info:Vintage (1998), Edition: 1, Paperback, 374 pages
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Midwives by Chris Bohjalian


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A tragedy for a patient, midwife and their families. Combines law, ethics, and medicine. Told from a young teen's point of view. ( )
  nljacobs | Jan 19, 2016 |
This contemporary story of a home-birth gone very wrong is compelling. The characters are richly drawn and much detail is given. Maybe a little too much detail. Around page 235ish, I started skimming much of it. I would have it enjoyed it so much more if it had been about 100 pages shorter. ( )
  CarmenMilligan | Jan 18, 2016 |
Book Club, April 2013, Vermont, ( )
  mgriel | Jan 18, 2016 |
Sibyl Danforth is a lay midwife in a small Vermont community. A true child of the 60's, she has been assisting women in their homebirths for much of her life - without a single incidence of maternal morbidity and only fourinfant deaths. Her statistics are better than that of the local hospital. However, that doesn't change anything following the tragic death of one of her mothers, in which Sibyl felt she had to perform an immediate bedroom Cesarian, when the state of Vermont brings it's full legal force against her. The charge is practicing medicine without a license, a charge many a lay midwife has faced, and involuntary manslaughter. The story is drawn from the memories, knowledge, and Sibyl's own journals, from the point of view of her then fourteen year old daughter Connie - now an obstetrician herself.

Bohjalian did a phenomenal job of really drawing out the emotion a laboring mother would feel - the beauty, the fear, the anticipation was all there. I'm quite impressed that as a man he was able to do so in such an eloquent manner. This is not to say that men can not be awestruck by the power of birth, but they will never be able to feel it with the same intensity as a mother. So for the author to be able to express it the way he did was an incredible testament to his abilities as a storyteller.

Most of the novel centers on the legal proceedings and ramifications, and here too Bohjalian did an impressive job. He obviously did quite a bit of research into the legal issues at play and how the system works. I'm always impressed by an author who made the effort to not just sound like he knows what he's talking about, but to get the facts right.

I felt a strong personal connection to this novel. I have delivered three children, all of them by midwives, though mine were delivered in a hospital by a CNM for my husband's piece of mind. My preference, however, would have been to deliver at home. One of my good friends is currently apprenticing in Ohio as a lay midwife. Another friend of mine did deliver at home, and a year after the birth of her son, she is still dealing with medical and legal issues that arose from the negligent behavior of her midwife. This made it a very interesting read in that I really felt myself sympathizing not just with Sibyl, as I anticipated, but I strongly felt for the family of the woman who died, seeing the other side of it as I have, rare as those situations might be.

While Chris Bohjalian is a great author, I'm not sure that this book is everyone. He was definitely graphic in his depictions at times, and I'm not sure that someone who is not already interested in midwifery or ethics in the modern childbirth industry, would get much out of it. I do know that for me though, it was an enticing read that kept me up far too late into the night so I wouldn't go to bed without knowing the trial's outcome. I will definitely be reading more from Bohjalian, and soon. ( )
  Mootastic1 | Jan 15, 2016 |
The was my first Bohjalian novel - my whole book club really enjoyed it - no bad reviews from about 6-8 of us. I was totally satisfied when I was done.... So much so that I was comfortable enough to use a gift card to buy two morew of his novels without fear. ( )
  ER1116 | Jan 13, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 93 (next | show all)
The description of the nightmarish Caesarean Sibyl performs, and why she feels forced to perform it, is harrowing; it is also the book's most effective passage. Mr. Bohjalian has done his homework on midwifery and the mechanics of childbirth. He has also landed on a hot topic for baby boomers -- the whole question of when alternatives to traditional medicine are beneficial, and when they become dangerous.
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For the Lord will not

cast off for ever:

But though he caused grief,

yet will he have compassion

according to the multitude of his mercies.

For he doth not afflict willingly,

nor grieve the children of men.

-- Lamentations 3:31-33
We are each of us responsible for the evil we may have prevented.

-- James Martineau
For Victoria,

the woman whose labors have beautified my whole life

And for our little girl,


In memory of my mother,

Annalee Nelson Bohjalian (1930-1995)
First words
Throughout the long summer before my mother's trial began, and then during those crisp days in the fall when her life was paraded publicly before the county--her character lynched, her wisdom impugned--I overheard much more than my parents realized, and I understood more than they would have liked.
Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Want de Heere zal niet verstoten in eeuwigheid.
Maar als hij bedroefd heeft, zo zal Hij zich ontfermen, naar de grootheid van Zijn goedertierenheden.
Want Hij plaagt of bedroeft de mensenkinderen niet van harte.

Klaagliederen 3:31-33
Stuk voor stuk zijn we verantwoordelijk voor het kwaad dat we hadden kunnen voorkomen

James Martineau
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
In the pastoral community of Reddington, Vermont, during the harsh winter of 1981, Sibyl Danforth makes a life-or-death decision based on fifteen years of experience as a respected midwife — a decision intended to save a child, a decision that will change her life forever.

In the midst of a brutally cold night, cut off from the area hospital and even from the rescue squad by an ice storm that has downed phone lines and made roads impassable, Sibyl Danforth feels she has no alternative except to attempt to save the baby of a woman in her care who she fears has died of a stroke during a long and difficult labor. Later that day, however, the midwife's assistant tells the police that she believes the mother was still very much alive when the cesarean section was performed in the cold and isolated farmhouse.

The story of this tragedy and its aftermath is narrated by Sibyl's daughter, Connie, now an obstetrician, who is remembering the events that occurred the year she turned fourteen, when her mother's freedom and her family's fate rested in the hands of twelve men and women. As the Danforth family and the entire community are drawn into a gripping trial that at first appears meritless, and later frighteningly simple for Sibyl to lose, it is Connie's mesmerizing voice that perfectly captures a time, a place, and a group of people that will live on in the reader's memory long after this lyric, deeply suspenseful novel has ended.

Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375706771, Paperback)

Oprah Book Club® Selection, October 1998: On a violent, stormy winter night, a home birth goes disastrously wrong. The phone lines are down, the roads slick with ice. The midwife, unable to get her patient to a hospital, works frantically to save both mother and child while her inexperienced assistant and the woman's terrified husband look on. The mother dies but the baby is saved thanks to an emergency C-section. And then the nightmare begins: the assistant suggests that maybe the woman wasn't really dead when the midwife operated:
Did she perform at least eight or nine cycles as my mother said, or four or five as Asa recalled? That is the sort of detail that was disputable. But at some point within minutes of what my mother believed had been a stroke, after my mother concluded the cardiopulmonary resuscitation had failed to generate a pulse or a breath, she screamed for Asa and Anne to find her the sharpest knife in the house.
In Midwives, Chris Bohjalian chronicles the events leading up to the trial of Sibyl Danforth, a respected midwife in the small Vermont town of Reddington, on charges of manslaughter. It quickly becomes evident, however, that Sibyl is not the only one on trial--the prosecuting attorney and the state's medical community are all anxious to use this tragedy as ammunition against midwifery in general; this particular midwife, after all, an ex-hippie who still evokes the best of the flower-power generation, is something of an anachronism in 1981. Through it all, Sibyl, her husband, Rand, and their teenage daughter, Connie, attempt to keep their family intact, but the stress of the trial--and Sibyl's growing closeness to her lawyer--puts pressure on both marriage and family. Bohjalian takes readers through the intricacies of childbirth and the law, and by the end of Sibyl Danforth's trial, it's difficult to decide which was more harrowing--the tragic delivery or its legal aftermath.

Narrated by a now adult Connie, Midwives moves back and forth in time, fitting vital pieces of information about what happened that night like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into its complicated plot. As Connie looks back on her mother's trial, she is still trying to understand what happened--not on the night of the disaster--but in the months and years that followed. --Margaret Prior

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:07 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

In the pastoral community of Reddington, Vermont, during the harsh winter of 1981, Sibyl Danforth makes a life-or-death decision based on fifteen years of experience as a respected midwife -- a decision intended to save a child, a decision that will change her life forever.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 7 descriptions

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