Book Review: The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir

Patricia Harman
Beacon Press, 2008
290 pages


Perhaps not the best thing for a pregnant woman to read, although the stories are, for the most part, heartwarming--it's just that some are sad, too, and with all my hormones already in an uproar, this book moved me to tears two or three times.

Still and all, there's nothing graphic in this book, nothing to scare off the faint of heart when it comes to hospital stories and such. The author, a midwife, no longer delivers babies, so there were only a couple of mild flashbacks to deal with in that respect. Mostly Harman weaves a lovely narrative of a little more than a year's time spent at the women's clinic she runs with her OB/GYN husband. She focuses on a handful of patients who make repeat appearances, weaving in her own home life at that time, as well as some of the financial woes of running a business. The result is a full picture, well worth viewing.

Harman has a knack for descriptive writing; one easily sees what she imparts. (I only wish I could see some of her photographs; she takes pictures as a hobby.) The book is a quick read, too; I finished it in less than a week, which is no small feat when you've got a toddler and an infant at home and a bazillion things to do besides. Part of the quickness of the read, though, might've been that the stories were engaging enough that I didn't necessarily want to set the book down for very long. I actively looked for snatches of time in which to read it.

I can't say I love the way Harman wraps up the book; the moment she chose seems "off" somehow, though I couldn't tell you what would've worked better. Maybe it was simply that I felt she'd taken an incident and blown it up into something bigger--something that works to her advantage a few times in the narrative, but at the end became slightly too bloated. She tried to make the moment weightier than seemed fair to do, though maybe it was that weighty to her--but it was the one place where her writing failed to get across to me.

Overall, though, a fine read.

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