The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir

The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir

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by Patricia Harman

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A 2008 Indie Next Pick

Despite nurse-midwife Patsy Harman’s own financial and personal medical trials, including her private battle with uterine cancer, she devotes herself to her patients’ well-being in all aspects of their lives. They, in turn, tell her intimate stories both heartbreaking and uplifting.


A 2008 Indie Next Pick

Despite nurse-midwife Patsy Harman’s own financial and personal medical trials, including her private battle with uterine cancer, she devotes herself to her patients’ well-being in all aspects of their lives. They, in turn, tell her intimate stories both heartbreaking and uplifting.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A nurse midwife struggling to keep solvent the women's health clinic in Torrington, W.Va., that she ran with her surgeon husband shares poignant stories about her patients over the course of a year. A self-described former hippie who lived on a commune with her three sons, Harman later went to nursing school and became a midwife while her husband, Tom, attended medical school. Although their practice took off, they were strapped with debt, back taxes, growing bills for malpractice insurance, constant threats of lawsuits and the discovery, over the year, of Harman's freak ailments-a gangrenous gallbladder and uterine cancer requiring an immediate hysterectomy. Harman conveys the hope inspired by her patients' stories, such as the seven-time mother who never tried birth control and couldn't decide which husband to stay with, and the lesbian horticulture professor who wanted to become a man. Wearying of the financial pressures and tensions with Tom, Harman tells in this heartfelt memoir that she dreamed of leaving the practice, though a genuine love for helping women, and her great faith both in God and her spouse, sustained her. (Sept.)

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Kirkus Reviews
Captivating memoir of the trials and tribulations of a doctor-nurse team struggling to keep a small West Virginia women's health center afloat and their 30-year marriage intact. Harman, a nurse-midwife, and her husband, a gynecological surgeon, stopped delivering babies when payments for medical insurance became unaffordable, but they continued to offer first-trimester care and gynecological examinations. The women who donned a blue cotton gown in Harman's examining room received far more than a pelvic exam; she listened to their personal problems and freely dispensed friendly, often motherly advice and lots of warm hugs. Among those patients were Kasmar, a middle-aged woman intent on becoming a man; Heather, an unwed teenager pregnant with twins who died in the womb; Shiana, a college student with a used condom stuck inside her; Nilla, a mother of seven with a sexually abused four-year-old daughter; and Trish, whose daughter had a baby with her drug-addicted boyfriend and then may or may not have killed herself. In the midst of these female troubles, the author underplays her own surgery for uterine cancer. Meanwhile, back at the office, accountants mishandled the practice's financial affairs, debts mounted and letters from lawyers threatened malpractice suits. Her reliance on a middle-of-the-night shot of scotch as a sleep aid, hardly the approved medical remedy for insomnia, indicates the level of stress endured. Although she writes of her husband with a mix of respect, admiration, exasperation and love, he remains a rather vague figure in this world of women. Brief chapters tell of their early life together as hippies in a commune and her first experience helping with a home birth,which led her to become a certified nurse-midwife, but her focus is on the problem-filled present. Harman comes across as a genuinely caring health professional, writes engagingly of her world and gives a frank picture of the pressures and strains of a husband-wife team running a small medical practice. Agent: Barbara Braun/Barbara Braun Associates
From the Publisher
"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

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Beacon Press
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Meet the Author

Patricia Harman, CNM, has published in The Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health and The Journal of Sigma Theta Tau for Nursing Scholarship as well as alternative publications. She is a regular presenter at national midwifery conferences. Harman got her start as a lay-midwife on the rural communes where she lived in the '60s and '70s, going on to become a nurse-midwife on the faculty of Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, and West Virginia University. She lives and works near Morgantown, West Virginia, and has three sons.

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The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Susan94 More than 1 year ago
Just finished reading "Blue Cotton Gown" and could not put it down. I was sad when I was done, for I felt as though Patsy Harman became a good friend. A must read for memoir lovers. Patsy Harman writes with such honesty and clarity, it's so true-to-life that you feel as though you are right there with her, throughout all of her trials and everyday life. And oh, does she make you feel not so all alone, especially in the wee small hours of the morning when sleep can't be found. A true gem of a book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down! At first I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book because I started to read another book about a midwife and it was really boring. The moment I started reading I was absorbed in it. I highly recommend people to read it.
JulieNC More than 1 year ago
Whether you¿ve been in the care of a Midwife or not (I haven¿t), this is a book that just begs to be read. The rich stories of the women! First time author Patricia Harman weaves her own life¿s triumphs and struggles into this memoir in a special way that meshes with those of her patients. There are the young girls who find themselves pregnant, over-worked women with a whole lot of children and more on the way, affluent middle-aged moms worrying about their daughters and a woman who wants the author and her husband to help her become a man. It¿s also an unflinching insider¿s view of the struggles of doctors and their teams as they face rising insurance premiums and other very real issues that hamper those in the medical field who strive to do right by their patients.

At times I laughed out loud, at times I had tears in my eyes. This memoir kept me engaged. Oh to be a patient at that clinic, in the able care of Patsy and her husband, Dr. Tom. I didn¿t want the book to end, always the sign of a great read.
WinterWriter More than 1 year ago
The stories of Patsy Harmon¿s Blue Cotton Gown are the stories of everyone who has ever closed the door of an exam room. Yet Harmon imbues the stories with a humor, pathos and insight that make this telling unique in the writings about women¿s health. We end up caring what happens to Nila, Kasmar and Aran as they come in and out of Patsy¿s exam room and our compassion is aroused by Patsy¿s compassion.

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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is another wonderful book by Harmon, another one I couldn't put down. She writes in a conversational style that makes you feel like you are living these experiences with her. As a physician I can say that the frustrations she describes, trying to take good care of people and maintain a practice in our challenging health care system, are spot-on accurate. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an enjoyable story, a bit of education, or some inspiration.
GrammiePoet More than 1 year ago
I had read Patricia Harmon's earlier book, Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey, and was delighted to find this sequel. Harmon was a hippie in the 70s, living communally, and became a midwife partly in response to her own first birth experience in a hospital and partly in response to the needs to her friends. For me, the book was in part nostalgic. I, too, recall the 70s and our belief that we could change the world for the better. The book is also in large part an indictment of modern obstetrical care. Harmon became a licensed nurse mid-wife, her husband went to medical school and became an obstetrician, and together they opened a practice in West Virginia. Over the years, the cost of malpractice insurance became prohibitive and they stopped providing childbirth services. The women of West Virginia are the losers. The two books provide food for thought as we see how childbirth is slipping again out of the control of mothers and what should be a very personal and joyous experience is becoming an assembly-line procedure performed in accordance with the protocols of hospitals.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this book. I can say that it did keep me entertained all the way through but as a nursing student, I was hoping for a little less "descriptive stories" and a little more "medical drama." It was a great way to follow her life and it will surely keep you fixed until the last page but don't expect to get emotional (happy or sad) as you do with all the great books. Happy Read!
Kathycnm More than 1 year ago
Patsy (Patricia) Harmond is a gifted storyteller. This gift is what makes The Blue Cotton Gown such a gem of a read. One can't help but be immediately pulled into the lives of her protagonist composites, as well as the details of her own life. Patsy weaves bits and pieces while building details of several significant women-patients so that the reader is waiting for the next visit to see what happens next. This is real life stuff where one wonders how is it that women put on a blue cotton gown and then begin to divulge details that are so personal that even their families often don't know about? I don't know if even Patsy is sure how this happens, but Patsy's gifted midwife-heart is able to weave meaning and connection of one's physical health to the context of each woman's life, including her own. And when she is unsure, she lets you in on it. This sense of honesty and truth helps the reader trust Patsy.

An expert midwife like Patsy has crafted her sphere of loving influence combined with many years of finely honed experience. This craft is developed by watching women labor and birth, and by staying connected to nature, which develops an incredible sense of intuition and deep respect for women and families. I call this talent "White Magic". Even though Patsy isn't catching babies anymore, she still uses her white magic to intuitively sense what is needed next for each situation. Midwifery is a spiritual art combined with the art of medicine. Patsy also eloquently lets the reader know that her craft is fret with uncertainty, stress, and worry, often from the realms beyond. These realms are difficult to articulate, and sometimes the reader is left wondering about what it all means and we are left to ponder on our own. We don't know why one young patient overdoses, or why another feels she is a man instead of a woman, or why another stays in an abusive relationship. Patsy leaves that up to the cosmos to figure out, and stays out of the way of playing God.

I don't know if I really would have understood how Patsy practiced if I read this book as a student or new midwife. But after 15 years of honing my midwife craft, I really do get it. And if you care about women, about good stories, about struggles to own a business, or about the spirit of midwives and what makes them special, then read this book. I gifted several copies to my friends and each of them have enjoyed it as much as me.
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Great nurturing woman & caregiver!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a nurse and mom I just want to give her a hug. Better yet I want to let her hug me. She will never know how many lives she has touched.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved every page.
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Name: look up people Nicknames: jessi Age: 16 Hair: brown Eyes: green Likes: singing and cute guys Dislikes: jerks and cheaters Relationship: single Crush:not saying Anything else u wanna know just ask