Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey

Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey

by Patricia Harman


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807001714
Publisher: Beacon Press
Publication date: 03/20/2012
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 296,914
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Author of The Midwife of Hope River, Patricia Harman's first book, The Blue Cotton Gown, was called “luminescent, ruthlessly authentic, humane, and brilliantly written” by author Samuel Shem. Harman lives and works near Morgantown, West Virginia, and has three sons.

Read an Excerpt


All the way down Route 119, past Gandeeville, Snake Hollow, and Wolf Run, I’m thinking about the baby that died.
I wasn’t there, didn’t even know the family. It happened a few days ago, with another midwife, at a homebirth in Hardy County, on summer solstice, the longest day of the year.
Word on the informal West Virginia midwives’ hotline is that the baby’s shoulders got stuck, a grave emergency. The midwife, Jade, tried everything, all the maneuvers she’d studied in textbooks and the special tricks she’d learned from other practitioners, but nothing worked. They rushed, by ambulance, to the nearest hospital thirty miles away, with the baby’s blue head sticking out of the mother, but it was too late. Of course it was too late.
Homebirth midwives in West Virginia are legal, but just barely, and there’s no doubt the state coroner’s office will investigate. Jade is afraid.
We are all afraid.
We whip around another corner and I lose my supper out the side window. Who do I think I am taking on this kind of responsibility? Why am I risking my life to get to a homebirth of people I hardly know? What am I doing in this Ford station wagon being whipped back and forth as we careen through the night?
I awake sick with grief, my heart pounding. I’m lying on a pillow-padded king-size bed with floral sheets. A man I hardly recognize sleeps next to me. This is Tom, I remind myself: my husband of thirty-three years, a person whose body and mind are as familiar to me as my own. I prop myself up on an elbow, inspecting his broad shoulders, smooth face, straight nose and full lips, his short silver hair, in the silver moonlight. One hairy leg sticks out of the covers. One arm, with the wide hand and sensitive surgeon’s fingers, circles his pillow. It’s 3:45, summer solstice morning.
When I rise and pull on my long white terry robe, I stand for a moment, getting my bearings, then open the bedroom door that squeaks and pad across the carpeted living room. Outside the tall corner windows, the trees dance in the dark. Once I called myself Trillium Stone. That was my pen name when I lived in rural communes, wrote for our political rag, The Wild Currents, taught the first natural-childbirth classes, and started doing homebirths.
Now I’m a nurse-midwife with short graying hair, who no longer delivers babies, living with an ob-gyn in this lakefront home, so far from where I ever thought I would live, so far from where I ever wanted to live. I search the photographs on the piano of my three handsome sons, now men. Do I wake? Do I sleep?
OK, my life has been a wild ride, I’ll admit it, but the image of this hippie chick lurching through the night, on her way to a homebirth, with only a thick copy of Varney’s Midwifery as a guide, disturbs me. What did she think she was doing? Where did she get the balls?
On the highest shelf in the back of our clothes closet, a stack of journals gathers dust. For seventeen years I carried them in a backpack from commune to commune. They’ve moved with me across the country three times, through midwifery school, Tom’s medical school and his ob-gyn residency. I can’t get the diaries out of my mind, a mute witness to my life . . .
I slip back through the bedroom. Tom snores on. By the dim closet light, I find a stepladder and struggle to bring down the shabby container. The journals have been closed for twenty-five years; pages stick together and smell faintly of mold.
I’m on a mission now, trying to understand, but I’m surprised to find that I started each entry with only the day and the month, no year. This is going to take a while. It seems I never expected anyone would want to reconstruct my life, not even me. I’m an archaeologist digging through my own past.
With narrowed eyes, I flip through notebook after notebook, daring that flower child to show her face. When the alarm goes off, Tom, dressed in blue scrubs for the OR, finds me asleep in the white canvas chair, with a red journal open, over my heart.

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Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Patricia Harman's second memoir tells the story of her hippie years and later her years as a married woman developing and practicing the science and art of midwifery. For those old enough to remember, we recognize in her character a true hippie who protests the Vietnam war, rejects everything about living a wealthy lifestyle that destroys the environment, and protests any forum that would be considered traditional or conservative. It's a time when draft-dodgers are running to Canada or sticking around to protest not only war but the development of nuclear arms or projects. Yes, the lifestyle is free and the possibilities seem endless! Patricia Harman performs a wonderful balancing act within this well-crafted memoir! Pages fly by in which the reader seems to be right there with Patricia, Stacy, and her son, Mica, in the wilds of a Minnesota farm, hating and loving the vicious cold and snow in one moment and treasuring the rich colors, flowers, and animals seen in a place far from civilization. Or one is there singing community songs while sharing work and play in good and bad times. It's risky business, however, and the onset of illness and running out of money can turn one's Utopia into a fearful nightmare! As time passes, the causes' force seems to lose potency, and their commune friends are leaving for other livelier places. But after a painful break with Stacy, Patricia meets Tom, a man who seems more level-headed and whose passion for medicine is equally shared. They both study in their respective fields, with financial help, get married, and begin careers in ob/gyn and midwifery often fraught with problems that could destroy them in the blink of an eye. It's the early days of wanting natural childbirth and many aspiring mothers lack the medical care or intelligence to know both the risks and the benefits of giving birth in such a way. Add to that the obvious opposition of the accepted medical world! Arms Wide a well-written, wonderful read that deserves a large audience both for its excellent writing style and for the historical development of an unknown medical phenomenon depicted so intelligently, scientifically, and naturally! Truly Superb, Ms. Harman!
cransell on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This memoir is loosely wrapped around the author's journey to become a midwife. The first 2/3 of the book is focused on Harman's hippie days, early years of motherhood, and the process of becoming a midwife. The last 1/3 focuses on the present day, with Harman's children grown and her not longer delivering babies. I found it a good, quick read - and an interesting, personal counterpoint to Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, which is the last book I read.
csoki637 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This is an engaging, thoughtful memoir, focusing primarily on the author¿s life in hippie culture, living as off-grid as possible, first with her partner and later as part of a commune. Patricia Harman tells the story of her introduction into midwifery, starting with her first time giving birth, in one of the few hospitals that wouldn¿t tie down a woman to the bed, and through her journey of helping other women give birth. Harman¿s account of living a rural, low-energy life is engaging, and whenever I put the book down, my mind kept wandering back to her story. But very jarringly, the book ends with Harman and her husband¿s sudden return to a self-professed `yuppie¿ lifestyle. It¿s hard to understand what change occurred for them to go from living a low-impact life of poverty in solidarity with the third world to using Bluetooth and owning a vacation home. What¿s even more discordant is the way Harman fails to address or explain this sudden shift. Overall, the book is an interesting read, but it would be far more effective if Harman either focused on the first part of her life or actually showed the transition between trudging miles through the snow one day and chatting on her cell phone the next. Otherwise, it¿s hard to see where the characters are really coming from. The memoir could use some more character development, and I would also be interested in more backstory showing how the author and her peers were drawn to living as anti-war, self-sufficient homesteaders. I was bothered by some ignorant remarks about race and trans people. Considering how recently the book was published, I would expect the author to be more aware of prejudices beyond those addressed by 1970s white feminism. Despite its flaws, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in homesteading and/or midwifery, because it does give a good glimpse into the author¿s experiences in these areas.Note: I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
mckait on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A time or two, I almost gave up on this book. The author and I are of an age, I think.. and I remember the days where the book began, remember them clearly.I remember the idealism and the search for freedom and love. Her journey was far more productive and inspirational than my own, however. I am sure that the the author did not intend that the most commonly feltlink between author and reader be fear. I think that it is a very personal thing. I fear. I fear the things that cannot be stopped. I fear the demiseof this planet due to the greediness and blindness of those who walk onher skin. I fear not being able to protect my children. I fear that the most. Itoo, can be accused of being a hyper worrier, and in fact have been. I almost gave up on the story. I think that the very pure and optimisticenergy in the beginning of the book nearly drove me away. It became easierto read however, the deeper into the story I went. Sadly, it was because of the current reality that began to creep in, and the admission of fear. I felt as if I have a comrade out there somewhere. Someone else who knowsthe feeling of loneliness, missing her children, and the inability to change what is into what a mother wants it to be. This is not as much the story of a midwife, as it is of a woman who happens to serve other women by helping them have their children. Sheis real, and she is vulnerable. Maiden, Mother and Crone, she is woman. And she tries.. she tries hard to hold on,onto the optimism of the early days. She reached me on a visceral level with this, her story of being woman.
MissConstantReader on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This author's philosophy is not one I am naturally aligned with, but I still found this book somewhat, well, riveting. I have little to no patience for fruitcakery in real life, but as long as a memoir is well-written, I will read it and usually enjoy it. I wanted more blood and guts and birth stories, but perhaps I will check out her previous memoir for those (to which this novel is a prequel of sorts).
seongeona on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I'm sorry to say this wasn't what I was expecting. Now that I look at what's written on the inside flap of the cover, I can see that this is a prequel to a different book she wrote and it's -that- book that seems to adhere to my assumptions. I could not get into this book at all. I'm not real big on lengthy descriptions of land, or clothes, or flashbacks of flashbacks and I thought there was alot of that. I found words and imagery very repetitive. The language seemed stilted, like the way very nervous middle school kids give their lines in a play. There was no flow. The sentences were short. The paragraphs were short. It came off as very simplistic. What little midwifery there was in this story made me cringe. Not for any graphic or tragic details, but for the feeling I got that this woman was far too young, far too immature, far too uneducated and innocent to be delivering babies. Perhaps that's the point that's being made here. I was expecting someone very sure of herself, very capable, but it seemed to me that she expressed insecurity, self-consciousness, and embarrassment far too often. Having this omniscience as a reader, I would not consider allowing the midwife, as she was then in that time and place, to have any part in my labor or delivery. Perhaps I'll take a look at her other book, however, the one that seems to be more like what I was expecting (The Blue Cotton Gown). I truly am interested in this subject matter, but this particular entry did not satisfy me.
verbafacio on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I received this book as part of the Early Reviewers program, and it certainly wasn't what I expected. The subtitle of this book, A Midwife's Journey, made me think that Arms Wide Open would focus mostly on Patricia Harman's professional life. This was definitely not the case. Instead, Harman dips into old journals to chronicle a few specific times in her life that shaped who she is today. She focuses on three specific eras. The bulk of this book describes Patsy's early hippie life living on a series of communes and remote cabins in the far north. While this is certainly an extraordinary life, much of it has little to do with delivering babies, other than her own.I was fascinated to read more about hippie culture, the pleasures and struggles of communal living. The joys and sorrows of her relationships. The extreme challenges of living far removed from society. But those expecting a book about midwifery might choose to look elsewhere.
nightprose on LibraryThing 8 months ago
In Patricia Harman¿s second book she draws on her journals of many years as a midwife. This is actually the prequel to her memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown. In this book she reveals what brought her into midwifery. She tells of her early years, living in the wilds of Minnesota in a log cabin that she helped to build. After several years of living this way, she longs for a human connection.Patricia moves into a commune with like-minded people of the counter-culture. As a young mother, she becomes a mentor for other women seeking guidance and natural birth experiences. She begins assisting them. This desire to help women and babies leads Patricia to take professional training, allowing her to do more as a midwife. Eventually Patricia and her husband, by now a physician, open a women¿s health clinic.In a disposable, plastic society, Patricia Harman still clings to the simple, natural ideals that are the basic principles of life. She makes them work by being an example to other women on how to live life the way is was meant to be lived.
MoochPurpura on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This is a solid memoir of a straight white North American midwife Baby Boomer and her intentional and client communities. Harman made real that submerged landscape of women's hopes and horrors, loves and losses. I enjoyed it and recommended it to a friend.
Lilac_Lily01 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
My first encounter with Patricia Harman was when I read her first book "The Blue Cotton Gown". She is a wonderful storyteller and if you liked her first work then "Arms Wide Open" will be enjoyable as well. Harman's second book details her journey of becoming a midwife. That story is even more interesting because it is set against the backdrop of the 70's and the hippie era. Harman herself was a full fledged hippie who was committed to living off the land. This idea seems somewhat popular again today and reading this book is a great reality check for anyone considering going it alone. The author explains the struggles that her family faced while trying to create an independent and sustainable lifestyle. Of course Harman's early midwifery experiences make up the other fascinating half of this book. She becomes involved in childbirth because of her interest in teaching women how to have a natural and pleasant child birth experience. Somewhat out of necessity she learns how to deliver the babies of her friends and in turn develops a passion for this line of work. The lessons that she learns along the way are very insightful and thought provoking. Eventually the author becomes disillusioned with the hippie lifestyle and along with her husband decides to start a women's health practice instead. The only thing that I found a bit disappointing is the fact that the author doesn't give any kind of analysis of why the communal green living didn't work over the long term. I would have liked to read her thoughts on that. But overall, it was a great read that I can only recommend.
SpongeBobFishpants on LibraryThing 8 months ago
The best recommendation I can give "Arms Wide Open" is that I stayed up most of the night, curled under my flannel sheets, reading it until my eyes blurred. Much more a memoir than "Blue Cotton Gown" I was captivated by the author's honesty and passion, the details of time and place that allowed me to tag along on her journey vicariously, the greatest gift of a storyteller. "Arms Wide Open", like "Blue Cotton Gown" continues to sustain my faith in an ever hurried world of online health care and doctors who can't remember your name that there are still those out there that really care.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read all of your books and wait for your next to be released. My mother was a registered nurse in the 1930s. She would have loved your books. She attended Mt Zion School of Nursing in San Francisco.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why is this book so expensive, 15.99??? How disappointing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you Patsy for another wonderful read. Through my years with you as my midwife and now as one of my favorite authors, you have shown yourself to be a gentle and beautiful spirit. This shines through in your writing. I can't wait for the next one!
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need2readVC More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Reminded me of my hippie cousins. Could not put it down.