The Secrets of Midwives

The Secrets of Midwives

by Sally Hepworth


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The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

"With empathy and keen insight, Sally Hepworth delivers a page-turning novel about the complex, lovely, and even heartbreaking relationships between mothers and daughters.-Emily Giffin
Three generations of women
Secrets in the present and from the past
A captivating tale of life, loss, and love...

Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is determined to keep the details surrounding her own pregnancy-including the identity of the baby's father- hidden from her family and co-workers for as long as possible. Her mother, Grace, finds it impossible to let this secret rest. The more Grace prods, the tighter Neva holds to her story, and the more the lifelong differences between private, quiet Neva and open, gregarious Grace strain their relationship. For Floss, Neva's grandmother and a retired midwife, Neva's situation thrusts her back sixty years in time to a secret that eerily mirrors her granddaughter's-one which, if revealed, will have life-changing consequences for them all. As Neva's pregnancy progresses and speculation makes it harder and harder to conceal the truth, Floss wonders if hiding her own truth is ultimately more harmful than telling it. Will these women reveal their secrets and deal with the inevitable consequences? Or are some secrets best kept hidden?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250051912
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 12/29/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 144,053
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 5.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Sally Hepworth is a former Event Planner and HR professional. A graduate of Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, Sally started writing novels after the birth of her first child. She is the author of Love Like The French, published by Random House Germany in February 2014. Sally has lived around the world, spending extended periods in Singapore, the U.K., and Canada, and she now writes full-time from her home in Melbourne, where she lives with her husband and two young children.

Read an Excerpt

The Secrets of Midwives

By Sally Hepworth

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2015 Sally Hepworth
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-5263-1



I suppose you could say I was born to be a midwife. Three generations of women in my family had devoted their lives to bringing babies into the world; the work was in my blood. But my path wasn't as obvious as that. I wasn't my mother—a basket-weaving hippie who rejoiced in the magic of new, precious life. I wasn't my grandmother—wise, no-nonsense, with a strong belief in the power of natural birth. I didn't even particularly like babies. No, for me, the decision to become a midwife had nothing to do with babies. And everything to do with mothers.

On the queen-sized bed, Eleanor's body curved itself into a perfect C. I crept up farther between her legs and pressed my palm against her baby's head. Labor had been fast and furious and I wasn't taking any chances. Eleanor's babies liked to catch us off guard. I'd almost dropped her first son, Arthur, when he decided to make a sudden entrance as Eleanor rocked over a birthing ball. She barely had time to gasp before he began to crown and we all had to rush into position. Her second son, Felix, was born in the birthing pool, five minutes after I'd sent Susan, my birth assistant, on break. This time, I was going to be ready.

"You're nearly there." I pushed a sweaty strand of hair off Eleanor's temple. "Your baby will be born with the next contraction."

Eleanor squeezed her husband's hand. As usual, Frank had been silent, reverent even. Dads varied enormously on their level of involvement. Some adopted the poses of their wives and girlfriends, panting and pushing along with them; others became so fixated on whatever small task they had been assigned—be it working the iPod or keeping the cup of ice chips full—they nearly missed the birth entirely. I had a soft spot for the reverent ones. They knew they were in the presence of something special.

The baby's head turned to the right and Eleanor began to moan. The room fired with energy. "Okay," I said. "You ready?"

Eleanor dropped her chin to her chest. Susan stood at my side as I eased the shoulders out—first one, then the other—until only the baby's legs remained inside. "Would you like to reach down and pull your baby out, Eleanor?"

Eleanor's sons had come too quickly to do this, but I was glad she'd get the chance now. Of all the ways a baby could be delivered, this was my favorite. It seemed only right that after all the work a mother did during labor, her hands should bring her baby into the world.

A ghost of a smile appeared on Eleanor's face. "Really?"

"Really," I said. "We're ready when you are."

I nodded at Susan, who stood ready to catch the baby if it fell. But it wouldn't. In the ten years I'd been delivering babies, I'd never seen a child slip from its mother's grip. I watched as Eleanor pulled the black-haired baby from her body and lay it against her heart—pink, slippery, and perfect. The cry was good and strong. Music to a midwife's ears.

"Ah, how about that?" I said. "It's a girl."

Eleanor cried and laughed at once. "A girl. It's a girl, Frank."

She was a good size. Ten fingers. Ten toes. Eleanor cradled her baby, still attached via cord, with the perfect balance of tenderness and protection. Frank stood beside them, awe lining his features. I'd seen that look before, but it never got old. His wife had just become more amazing. More miraculous.

Susan beckoned Frank for cord cutting and began giving instructions. Seeing Frank's expression, I couldn't help but laugh. Susan had lived in Rhode Island since her nineteenth birthday, but forty years later, her thick Scottish accent meant she was largely incomprehensible to the American ear. On the upside, this made her the ideal person to share confidences with; even if she did disclose your secret, no one would understand. On the downside, I spent a lot of time translating.

"Just cut between the clamps," I theater-whispered. Susan turned away, but her gray, tight-bound curls bounced on her head, so I was fairly sure she was chuckling.

Once the placenta had been delivered and the baby had breast-fed, I tended to Eleanor, settled the baby, and debriefed with the night nurse. When everything was done, I stood at the door. The room was calm and peaceful. The baby was on Eleanor's bare chest getting some skin-on-skin time. Frank was beside them, already asleep. I smiled. The scene before me was the reason I'd become a midwife and, in my opinion, the real magic of childbirth. No matter how arduous the labor, no matter how complete the mother's exhaustion, the men always fell asleep first.

"I'll see you all tomorrow," I said, even though I wanted to stay.

Eleanor waved at me, and Frank continued to snore. I peeled off my gloves and was barely into the corridor when fingers clamped around my elbow and I started to fall. I thrust out a hand to catch myself, but instead of hitting the ground, I remained suspended in midair.

"Hello, gorgeous."

Across the hall two young midwives giggled. I blinked up at Patrick, who held me in a theatrical dip. "Very cute. Let me up."

Patrick, our consulting pediatrician from St. Mary's Hospital upstairs, was forever coming down to our birthing center, getting the nurses all excited with his ridiculous gestures. But I didn't bother being flattered. Yes, he was young and charming—and good-looking in a disheveled, just-rolled-out-of-bed kind of way—but I knew for a fact that he dropped the word "gorgeous" with more regularity than I used the word "contraction."

"Your wish, my command." In a heartbeat I was back on two feet. "I'm glad I ran into you, actually," he said. "I have a joke."

"Go on."

"How many midwives does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" Patrick didn't wait for an answer. "Six. One to screw in the lightbulb and five to stop the ob-gyn from interfering." He grinned. "Good one, right?"

I couldn't help a smile. "Not bad."

I started walking and he fell into step beside me. "Oh ... Sean and I are heading to The Hip for a drink tonight," he said. "You in?"

"Sorry," I said. "Hot date."

Patrick stopped walking and stared at me. That's how unlikely it was that I would have a date.

"I'm kidding, obviously. I'm going to Conanicut Island to have dinner with Gran and Grace."

"Oh." His face returned to normal. "I take it you're not getting along any better with your mom, then?"

"Why do you 'take' that?"

"You still call her Grace."

"It is her name," I said.

I'd started calling her Grace when I was fourteen—the day I delivered my first baby. It had seemed strange, unprofessional, to call her Mom. Saying Grace felt so natural, I'd stuck with it.

"You sure you can't come for one drink? You haven't come for a drink for months." He adopted a pouty expression. "We're too boring for you, aren't we?"

I pushed through the door to the break room. "Something like that."

"Next time, then?" he called after me. "Promise?"

"Promise," I called back. "As long as you promise to learn some better jokes."

I was confident it was a promise he wouldn't be able to keep.

* * *

I arrived in Conanicut Island at ten to eight. Gran's house, a shingle-style beach cottage, was perched on a grassy hill that rolled down to a rocky beach. She lived on the southern tip of the island, accessible only by one road across a thin strip of land from Jamestown. When I was little, my parents and I used to rent a shack like Gran's every summer, and spend a few weeks in bare feet—swimming at Mackerel Cove, flying kites, hiking in Beavertail State Park. Gran was the first to go on "permanent vacation" there. Grace and Dad followed a few years ago and now lived within walking distance. Grace had made a big deal about "leaving me" in Providence, but I was fine with it. Apart from the obvious fact that it meant Grace would be a little farther away from me and my business, I also quite liked the idea of having an excuse to visit Conanicut Island. Something happened to me when I drove over the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge. I became a little floppier. A little more relaxed.

I stepped out of the car and scurried up the grassy path. I let myself in through the back door and was immediately hit by the scent of lemon and garlic.

Grace and Gran sat at the table in the wood-paneled dining room, heads bobbing with polite conversation. They didn't even look up when I entered, which showed how deaf they were both getting. I wasn't exactly light on my feet lately.

"I made it."

They swiveled, then beamed in unison. Grace, in particular, lit up. Or maybe it was her orange lipstick and psychedelic dress that gave the effect. Something green—a bean, maybe?—was lodged between her front teeth, and the wind had done a number on her hair. Her bangs hung low over her eyes, reminding me of a fluffy red sheepdog.

"Sorry I'm late," I said.

"Babies don't care if you have dinner plans, Neva," Gran said. A smile still pressed into her unvarnished face. "No one knows that better than us."

I kissed them both, then dropped into the end chair. Half a chicken remained, as well as a few potatoes and carrots and a dish of green beans. A pitcher of ice water sat in the center with a little mint floating in it, probably from Gran's garden. Gran reached for the serving spoons and began loading up my plate. "Lil hiding?"

Lil, Gran's painfully shy partner of nearly eight years, was always curiously absent for our monthly dinners. When Gran had announced their relationship and, as such, her orientation, Grace was thrilled. She'd yearned her whole life for a family scandal to prove how perfectly tolerant she was. Still, I had a bad feeling her avid displays of broad-mindedness (one time she referred to Gran and Lil as her "two mommies") were the reason Lil made herself scarce when we were around.

Gran sighed. "You know Lil."

"Mom's not the only one who can bring a partner along, Neva," Grace said. "If you'd like to bring a guy alo—"

"Good idea." I stabbed some chicken with my fork. "I'll bring Dad next time."

Grace scowled, but one of my favorite things about her was that her attention span was short. "Anyway, birthday girl. How does it feel? The last year of your twenties?"

I speared a potato. "I don't know." How did I feel? "I guess I'm—"

"I'll tell you how I feel," Grace said. "Old. Feels like yesterday I was in labor with you." Grace's voice was soft, wistful. "Remember looking down at her for the first time, Mom? All that red hair and porcelain skin. We thought you'd be an actress or a model for sure."

I swallowed my mouthful with a little difficulty. "You're not happy I followed you into midwifery, Grace?"

"Happy? Why, I'm only the proudest mom in world! Of course, I still wish you'd come and work with me, doing home births. No doctors hovering about with their forceps, no sick people ready to cough all over the precious new babies—"

"There are no doctors or sick people at the birthing center, Grace."

"Delivering in the comfort of one's own home, it's just ..."


"Magical," she said, with a smile. "Oh! I nearly forgot." She reached for her purse and plucked out a flat, hand-wrapped gift. "This is from your father and me."

"Wow ... You shouldn't have."

"Nonsense. It's your birthday."

Gran and I exchanged a look. Of course Grace had ignored the no-gifts directive—the one thing I'd wanted for my birthday. I hated gifts: the embarrassment of receiving them, the awkwardness of opening them in public, and, if it was from Grace, the pressure of ensuring my face was adequately arranged to demonstrate sheer delight, a wonder that I'd ever been able to get through life before this particular ornament or treasure.

"Go on." She pressed her hands together and wriggled her fingers. "Open it."

An image of my thirteenth birthday flashed into my mind—the first time since elementary school that I had agreed to a party. Maybe the fact that I was in the middle of my second-ever period and was cramping, bleeding, and wearing a surfboard-sized maxi pad in my underwear skewed my judgment. Grace wasn't happy when I insisted we keep it small (just four girls from school) and she was positively brokenhearted when I refused party games of any sort, but she didn't push her luck. With hindsight, that should have been my first clue. My friends and I had just gotten settled in the front room when Grace burst in.

"Can I have your attention, please?" she said. "As you know, today is Neva's thirteenth birthday. We are celebrating her becoming a teenager."

She looked like a children's stage performer, smiling so brightly that I thought her face might crack into three clean pieces. I willed her to vanish in a cloud of smoke, taking with her the previous thirty seconds and the crimson crushed-velvet dress she had changed into. But any notion that this might happen faded along with my friends' smiles.

"My baby is no longer a baby. Her body is changing and growing. She's experiencing the awakening of a vital force that brings woman the ability to create life. You may not know this, but the traditional name for first menstruation is 'menarche.'"

Panic broke out; a swarm of moths over my heart. I no longer wanted Grace to disappear and take the last thirty seconds—I wanted her to take my future. To take Monday, when I would have to go to school and face the fact that I was a social outcast, now and forever. To take the coming few weeks, when I would have to go about my life, pretending I didn't hear the whispers and snickers.

"In some cultures," she continued, oblivious, "menarche inspires song, dance, and celebration. In Morocco, girls receive clothes, money, and gifts. Japanese families celebrate a daughter's menarche by eating red rice and beans. In some parts of India, girls are given a ceremony and are dressed in the finest clothes and jewelry the family can buy. I know for you young ones it can seem embarrassing or, heaven forbid, dirty. But it's not. It is one of the most sacred things in the world, and not to be hidden away, but celebrated. So, in honor of Neva's menarche, and probably some of yours too—" She smiled encouragingly at my friends. "—I thought it might be fun to do like the Apache Indians here in North America, and—" She paused for effect. "—dance. I've learned a chant and we can—"

I can't believe I let it go on for as long as I did. "Mom."

Grace's smile remained in place as she met my eye. "What is it, darling?"

"Just ... stop."

I barely breathed the words, but I know she heard them, because her smile fell like a kite from the sky on a windless day. A steely barrier formed around my heart. Yes, she'd gone to a lot of trouble, but she'd also left me no choice. "Dad!"

Our house was small; I knew he would hear me. And when he appeared, his frantic expression confirmed he'd heard the urgency in my voice. He surveyed the room. The horrified faces of my friends. The abundance of red everywhere—Grace's dress, the balloons, the new cushions, which amazingly, I had only just noticed. He clasped Grace's shoulders and guided her out, despite her determined protest and genuine puzzlement.

But now, as Grace hovered over me, I didn't have Dad to help me. I turned the gift over and began to open it tentatively, starting with the tape at one end.

"It's not a puzzle, darling. You're not meant to unpeel every little bit of tape, you're meant to do this!"

Grace lunged at the gift with such vigor, she rammed the table with her hip. Ice cubes tinkled. The water pitcher did a precarious dance, teetering back and forth before deciding to go down. Glass cracked; water gushed. A burst of mint filled the air. I shot to my feet as the water drenched me from the chest down.

Usually after a commotion such as this, it is loud. People assigned blame, gave instructions, located brooms and towels. This time it was eerily quiet. Gran and Grace stared at the mound that was impossible to hide under my now-clinging shirt. And for maybe the first time in her life, my mother couldn't seem to find any words.

"Yes," I said. I cupped my belly, protecting it from what I knew was about to be let loose. "I'm pregnant."


Excerpted from The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth. Copyright © 2015 Sally Hepworth. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Secrets of Midwives 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
Mjaeger More than 1 year ago
THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES is a beautiful book that has been meticulously researched. What makes this novel so special is the effortless transition between the voices of three narrators: 29-year-old Neva, her mother, Grace and her grandmother, Floss. Each woman has a distinct personality, and a secret of her own. My favorite narrative was that of Floss, who takes us back in time to Kings Langley, England in 1954. I adore multi-narrative historical fiction, and Floss's breathtaking story reveals the secret at the heart of the book.   I found the descriptions of birth and midwifery to be fascinating and insightful. I don't think it's necessary to have experienced either to enjoy this wonderful, fast-paced read. However, I do think this book will especially resonate with mothers and daughters, because it explores the complicated and nuanced relationships between family.  Sally Hepworth's novel is touching, poignant and heartfelt. Fans of Liane Moriarty will enjoy Hepworth's signature humor and style. Plot twists are unexpected- a treat in women's fiction, and part of what makes THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES so compelling. I turned each page until the last, eager to unravel the mystery.  As a voracious reader, it was very refreshing to read something authentic and different. This novel has joined my favorites along with BIG LITTLE LIES and ORPHAN TRAIN, because of its scope and gorgeous writing. I highly recommend it to every woman--and her mom too!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a fantastic, fast-paced read. I flew through the pages desperate to know the answers to the secrets. All three characters were compelling and felt real.  I would have no hesitation recommending this to my friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good novel has three obligations. It should be well written, it must keep the reader turning those pages and it has to say something  about the human condition. ‘The Secrets of Midwives’ ticks all those boxes, with a little extra in reserve. Sally Hepworth’s debut novel  is a warm and engaging tale of three generations of midwives. Birth and motherhood provide the context for this story, but the themes  of love, family and the often complicated relationships among generations give it a universal appeal. Then there is the issue of secrets. From the revelation of Neva’s ‘fatherless’ pregnancy at the start of the novel to 83 year old Floss’s  unburdening of a secret she has carried for over 50 years, Hepworth skilfully hints at mysteries and untold stories, giving her readers  just enough information to ponder, but always keeping them guessing.   The three women are carefully but not uncritically drawn. From the initial dinner together which introduces the reader to Floss, Grace  and Neva, Hepworth gently unpeels the layers to let us get to know the three women in all their complexity. Grace, Floss’s daughter  and Neva’s mother is possibly the most flawed of the three. Seen first from the perspective of the teenage Neva, Grace is a fairly  unsympathetic character, but subsequent events and the revelation of secrets mean that this early image is buried and all but forgotten.  ‘The Secrets of Midwives’ has book reading groups written all over it. Themes such as family, motherhood, honesty and the different  ways of giving birth are all subjects for lively discussion and argument and this book explores these themes in a nuanced way. There  are no definite answers but lots of possibilities. This is a compelling and thought provoking novel. We look forward to the next offering from this talented writer. Geraldine McCabe
Betsy-Kipnis More than 1 year ago
Secrets are akin to viruses. One leads to another and many cause an epidemic. “The Secrets of Midwives” by Sally Hepworth delivers a tale of women in one family who are three generations of midwives each bearing secrets with great potential impact. Subtly nestled within the narrative is commentary on the politics dividing the ancient art of midwifery versus hospital births and points of position on the issues are laid clear and unbiased. Narrated in three points of view, Hepworth uses gorgeous intimate detail known only by birthing mothers, midwives and other medical professionals. Grandmother Floss, an 83 year old lesbian covets the secret of her daughter Grace’s lost father. Grace unawares of the true story of her father learns who he is as she tries to reveal the identity of father of her daughter Neva’s soon to be born baby. All of these secrets weave in and out of flashbacks with memories centered around relationships, pregnancy and birth. With artful simplicity Hepworth returns readers to that moment when our first, last, or only child is ever born. I found myself crying joyfully when I read these parts. “The Secrets of Midwives” is thoughtful, engaging and simply lovely.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written story of three generations of women practicing midwifery
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved all the characters snd all the secrets
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Three generations of Midwives and each with their own secret, interesting and a fun read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was so good I read it in one day. Great story and great characters that keep you interested the whole time.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Love books about midwives. This was a bit more of a love story but kept my attention. A pleasant read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read it in less than 24 hours
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the 3 generational story. A bit predictable if you are keen, but a quick page turner and it all comes together.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel is kind of odd. The 3 midwives are a odd family with really weird problems and personalities. Each chapter is about one of the three-daughter, mother, and grandmother- each telling stories of their lives and about each other. Frankly, it is hard to like them because each are kind of self involved or just plain weird. It is a fast paced book, and the writing is well done. It is just not believable. For the organization of the book and skill in writing, the book deserves an A+, but the characters and story are not up to that level.
mschreiner More than 1 year ago
The good: Compelling secrecy, great family dynamics, fun and funny dialogue, and a really adorable romance. I enjoyed the way all the characters' dynamics between one another were written. The bad: This novel suffers from the first person. Terribly. Why are all these books being published in first person?! Sometimes it works. This time? No. Do not write a book about three similar women (yes, they are similar in spite of their different opinions on midwifery), give each of them a first person voice, and then fail to change anything about your own writing to help differentiate between the voices. I would forget whose chapter I was in half the time and have to scrabble back a few pages to find out. If you want to write multiple first person voices, make them think differently enough - and I'm talking sentence structure and word choice here, not just *what* they are thinking - that the reader can easily pick out whose mind she is in. The novel also suffers slightly from poor editing. Misspelled words, missing quotation marks, half of some words unintentionally italicized...I don't know why so many were missed. Last bad point, and this is a spoiler: There's a scene where Patrick gets very upset about Sean having "examined" Neva, and the author makes this big deal of it. ...and it never gets brought up again. Like, the ending sort of touches on Patrick being jealous of him, but it's not in relation to this scene, so...I don't know. It was such a fascinating scene filled with some mystery, and then *whomp whomp* nothing is settled, and Sean is relegated once more to a pointless character we're not supposed to be interested in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Predictable not worth $13
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great escape book! Really keeps your attention and is very entertaining.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book based on the reviews of five stars. It was entertaining but I would not give it five stars.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Three generations of women and three generations of midwives all take turns to tell the story from their own points of view.  Each has something they are dealing with during the course of the book and they could each help the other through it.   Neva the daughter and grand-daughter is pregnant and is not dealing with who the father of her baby really is.  I loved that her storyline intertwined the family job as midwives with the drama that she is dealing with.  Grace also has mid life crisis level of drama that she has to deal with and it involves her livelihood and her marriage.  Neva the oldest generation has been holding on to a secret that will both hurt and help Grace and Neva, but it takes everything in her to reveal it.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you like secrets and midwifery, this is the book for you. I read this on the recommendation of my girlfriend, and I was not disappointed. Though not my usual genre, the mystery at the heart of this book was what really kept the pages turning. And the way the three characters' stories wove together was magnificently done. Would definitely read more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put it down I was hooked from the beginning. Even though at times it was predictable it had a way of still luring you to keep reading
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Lianne Moriarty quote and recommendation on the cover of The Secrets of Midwives is not reflective of the book's content. This book is not of the caliper of Moriarty's writing. Rather, it reads like a romance novel with choppy, over-wrought sentences, stereotyped, cardboard characters, and a weak plot line. There was nothing to keep ,my interest; instead, i found myself re-editing sentences. The premise of the book is pure soap opera and I cannot recommend it..