Saturday, 7 March 2015

Laboring by Ellen Cohen


Stories of a New York City Hospital Midwife

published 2013



Labouring


Pregnancy can be a time of infinite possibilities. A woman may do things for the baby she carries that she could not do for herself, end bad habits or patterns, reach higher to be her best self. When a baby is born so is a new mother. The gift I want to give her is awareness of her own strength and capabilities…

A big part of a midwife’s job is encouraging a woman to ask questions and express her fears. You can’t answer questions if your attitude prevents patients from asking them in the first place. Stop writing in the chart, stop looking at the computer, turn your full attention to everything a woman says – with words or body language. Listen as if there is all the time in the world for her questions, no matter how many other patients are waiting to be seen. Strive to understand what her question really is about. Thank her for asking questions. Point out that her observations and inquiries help you take better care of her and the baby. Show that she is getting ready to be a good mother by being tuned into and aware of what is going on with her body and her child. Reassure her if a strange or unexpected aspect of pregnancy is normal – but emphasize that she should never hesitate to ask if anything concerns her. Always remain on high alert for the most subtle signs of a problem. And listen to your own intuition when something just does not feel right.

 
observations: I recently did a post on Michael Chabon’s novel Telegraph Avenue – a book that features midwives and childbirth prominently. Blogfriend and regular commentator KathyD mentioned that a friend of hers, a retired midwife, had written a book about her real-life experiences in New York hospitals:
It's gritty, down to earth, nothing glossed over, and deals with the real problems mothers and midwives face in our city….Her book is being read by midwifery students and other students, as well as by experienced midwives to excellent reviews.
That sounded very interesting, so I downloaded it to my Kindle. (It’s available here.) And it’s an excellent book – a straightforward look at one woman’s career delivering babies, and the women she served. She had a passion for her calling, she took the needs of her patients and the demands of her job very seriously indeed, and she sounds exactly the woman you’d want at your side in labour.

The book outlines her different jobs, and then gives a series of anecdotes from each clinic, short powerful stories of women having their babies in every imaginable circumstance. It’s very real and authentic, and her voice comes through clearly. She is honest - quite often she says ‘I don’t remember exactly what happened then’ or that she doesn’t know how a certain case of patient ended up. But that gives you more faith in her – so many writers would have tidied up the anecdotes, made themselves ‘remember’ a few more helpful details. This has not been polished or over-edited: reading it is like hearing a friend chat to you, telling you stories about her day.

She tells about working on a project trying to prevent the transfer of the HIV virus to babies in the womb, and how she accidentally almost infected herself. She discusses caesarean births, and whether there are too many of them –in regard to a woman who was told she had a ‘small pelvis’
It made me angry that women were told such lies about their bodies; and even sadder that they believed these untruths.
She scarcely mentions getting paid for doing her job, but you know two things: 1) whatever it was it should have been doubled, but 2) you cannot buy that kind of care and attention – the people who do it right don’t do it for the money.

Ellen Cohen comes over as a warm and lovely person. I’m glad Kathy D introduced me to her, and I love the idea of her book being read by trainee midwives – I can’t imagine a better text for them.

And I couldn’t find a better picture than the cover of the book.

Jennifer Worth's memoirs of similar work in the 1950s, Call the Midwife, gave us an early blog entry (three years ago) - the book became the basis for a very successful TV series. 








12 comments:

  1. Moira, midwives played a key role during childbirth in rural India and even today, in spite of healthcare closer home, rural families depend on them for their experience. This book would be interesting from that point of view.

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    1. Yes indeed, Prashant. Midwives - in all places and cultures - are often the only people standing between pregnant women and disaster, and we should all cherish them for that reason.

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  2. Thank you, Moira, for such a laudatory and warm review. Ellen is a genuine, caring person, honest and principled. She is, as you say, a midwife whom one would want to be assisting in childbirth.

    I will let her know about your excellent review and kind words.

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    1. Thank YOU Kathy for introducing me to this book - it was such a good read, and a powerful reminder of the importance of midwives.

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  3. Oh, isn't this a great book, Moira!? I truly enjoyed learning about midwifery in New York. And I also really liked getting to 'meet' Ellen. I love her commitment to empowering women who are giving birth, too. She treats them with respect, and her writing style shows these as such great human stories.

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    1. Margot I'm so glad you have read it too. It's a book that would speak to anyone I think, but particularly women.

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  4. Very nice review, Moira. Sounds like the stories of a midwife working in a hospital would be interesting. I generally think of them in a home birth context. I love the part in the excerpt about truly paying attention and listening to the patient. More medical professionals should do that.

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    1. I know Tracy - that really hit home, and made me think about the differences between health professionals who have done that, and those that don't. In the UK the midwife would usually be someone who delivers baby in a hospital, but I thought that wasn't quite the same in the USA,. Anyway, it was most informative to read this, as well as nice to hear about the babies!

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    1. It probably is more of a woman's book - though anyone who has had children would recognize something in it.

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  6. Thank you Moira for the lovely review of my book, "Laboring: Stories of a New York City Hospital Midwife." Midwives are better known in England than here in the U.S. where most people think we just do home births. My patients were a diverse group including low-wage workers, teenagers, immigrants, prisoners, women with mental and physical disabilities, the HIV-infected, as well as the perfectly healthy. I wanted to tell their stories because the disadvantaged women for whom midwives often care are under-represented in literature about birth.

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    1. Thank you for dropping by Ellen: as I hope you can tell, I loved your book and was very grateful to Kathy D for introducing me to it. I think it is tremendously helpful in telling people so much about birth in such an accessible way. I hope it might become better known in the UK. As you say, we have a different system here - but we treasure our midwives just as much!

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