Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Midwife's Story

A Midwife's Story

This weekend, I took another quick break from non-fiction to read a story that combines two of my favorite things: midwifery and Anabaptists.

One night in 1974, Penny Armstrong woke from a dream, walked downstairs, stoked the fire in her stove, and pacing in front of its flames, realized that she wanted to be a midwife. Although she didn't think of herself as the midwifery type, she followed her dream to Highlands General Hospital in Scotland (not a place I'd want to have a baby myself, judging from the way she describes the headmistress). She then finished her licensure at Booth Hospital in Philadelphia.

While working at Booth, a doctor calls the unit where she is working and asks if any of the midwives there would be interested in joining his practice in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Living among the Amish is a bit of a culture shock for Armstrong, who seems to be, by all accounts a modern woman, one with short hair who wears pants, no less. When she first visits Lancaster to interview for the position, she doesn't think that she'll be able to work with the women. She writes, "These Amish women-as cold, joyless, and ascetic as they seemed to be- would shield themselves from the intelligence of their bodies... You would probably have to use dynamite and a pickax to dislodge their babies."

Luckily for Penny, the community welcomes her despite her modern ways. Throughout the stories, older women give her bits of advice that help her navigate the Amish culture. She's even able to branch off from the physician's practice and start her own homebirth service (despite her initial misgivings about birth at home).

Penny Armstrong and Sheryl Feldman (her co-author) write a midwifery autobiography that's tough to put down. I have to say that I'm disappointed that it ended the way it did. I would have liked to have heard more about what happened next.


  1. Sounds like a good read. I added it to my Amazon book list. : )
    Have you ever read Jacob Have I Loved? The story is so sweet/sad and the endof the book has a surprise midwife story ending.

  2. Sounds really interesting. I'm adding it to my Goodreads To Read list. Thank you for your comment on my post about CIO! That's great that you have kept your babies next to you at night. I had Jac next to me for over 5 months and loved it, but then we realized we were really interrupting his sleep, so we moved him to his own room at that point. It makes me a little sad, but he is sleeping better now because of it, although I know most babies continue to sleep better next to their mama. As I said CIO is just an impossibility for me. I can't even deal with listening to my baby cry for a minute. I'd much rather give him a big hug than listen to him cry!