May’s Cafe Parlez

We’re trying an experiment tonight: blogging the monthly book discussion group. Tonight’s book is Chris Bohjalian’s Midwives. The menu is: cranberry peanut butter granola, Cabot cheese and crackers, tea, apple cider, maple cannolis, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and birthday cake.

J is showing us the map of Vermont with the Northeast Kingdom outlined on it. This shows how remote the area is. Apparently, in the 1980’s there were no laws against being a lay midwife, which is not true now. Midwives are a cohesive group across the country and play by their own rules. May 5 was “National Midwives Day”.

Why is it called “Midwives”, plural? Opinions: they support each other, a sorority of women who come to each other’s aid. That’s how the people are in Vermont (except Burlington).

The discussion:

Home birth vs. hospital birth: none of the group has had a home birth, but some have had older relatives born at home, as it was more common in the past. Why did it change? As things improved, we became more removed from Nature and became more technological. The agricultural system was breaking down, and people were moving into the cities. The medical community pressured people to use doctors. Male doctors tried to control a natural process. Now things have improved in that women have options where they can have a midwife and a birthing room.

When things go wrong, could being at home be a factor rather than being in a hospital? There is the opinion that having a child at home is imposing a lifestyle choice on a child that could effect its life. Countered with the opinion that things go wrong in a hospital setting . Does a new first-time mother know how intense a birth can be, and how things can fall apart? Circumstances sometimes drive the decision.

ML wants someone with more knowledge than a lay midwife. At last, someone has brought up the notion that birth is considered a disease or a sickness rather than a natural process. Statistically, midwives and hospitals have equal risks. The position assumed during birth is not a natural position. Male doctors have developed the modern birth process.

A midwife gets to know and understand the patient, unlike the modern doctor. At the birth, you may not get the doctor you’ve been seeing.

In the book, the midwife was experience but not lisenced. The assistant couldn’t do CPR. It was the first time the midwife had cut open a body. The question: shouldn’t there have been some consequences, some punishment. She saw the body twitch after she has made the initial cut, but proceeded anyway. Felt the person could’ve been alive, even though there was no heartbeat or pulse. Dead bodies do twitch, say the nurses in the group. L is creeped out by this and wonders what was she supposed to do. M: what gives her the right to do what she did to save the baby? In that moment, she believed the woman was dead, but later second guessed herself, possibly rationalized her opinion. Could she have left the thing alone and let the baby die? She did what she felt was right.

The daughter: she doubted her mother’s responsibility in this death. Is her becoming an obstetritian a result of her mother’s case? She says she becomes a doctor to be a support to midwives.

The apprentice was too young and inexperienced. She didn’t help in the situation and then turned the midwife in later.

Sibyl (the midwife) didn’t know the mother was high-risk, because she wouldn’t have allowed the home birth. The mother had high blood pressure and didn’t tell Sibyl. Does this mean the husband and wife are culpable?

Serving jail time wouldn’t have done anyone any good. It eventually turned into a political situation. The daughter turned the case by revealing the page of her mother’s journal. Was this too much of an invasion of privacy? She turned everything over that pertained to the birth. With a search warrant, the police can only bring out anything pertaining to the case. Why did the judge not send an officer to the house to get the journal? Wasn’t the diary personal? Not once she mentioned it on the stand, under oath.

Relationship between Sibyl and her husband: has he moved away from their “hippie” lifestyle? Seems so, but they were making it work. What about the flirtation with the lawyer? Did the author put it in for a distraction or comic relief? Was Sibyl thinking of the lawyer as her savior? He was very “establishment”, but envied the family’s lifestyle. They were polar opposites, but attracted to each other. Was it only how the daughter saw things? Everything in the story is filtered through the daughter, and she saw him as the savior, the knight in shining armor. She possibly romanticized the relationship, as a 13-year-old girl will do.

Reporters avert their eyes from the breasts of the nursing mothers: has this changed. The whole group choruses: NO! L says our culture is much more restricted than in Europe. Folks relate stories of nursing problems.

MC: thought it was effective that the narrator is the daughter, rather than a third-person. This made the story more powerful to her. She can tell the story dispassionately from a distance of years. Also the character of the baby’s father was powerful.

How could Sibyl have put her journals in the attic and never looked at them again? The opinion is that this was her past life, and that she didn’t need to do this any more. Would any of us have kept journals, thinking others would read them?

Discussion’s done. Next month’s book is When the Emperor was Divine, by Julie Otsuka. See you on June 28th!


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