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Midwives Cover



Author Q & A

A Interview with Chris Bohjalian

Q: What made you choose to write a book about a midwife?

A: It wasn't so much midwifery that interested me as it was drama. About six months after my daughter was born--a perfectly fine hospital delivery--I was at a dinner party here in rural Vermont where I live, and I met the local lay midwife. She started teasing me very good-naturedly about the fact that my wife and I had traveled 32.4 miles to that hospital in the middle of the night to have our baby.

"If you had used me," she said, smiling, "you could have had your little girl at your home in Lincoln. Your bedroom, if you wanted. And you could have caught her."

I'd never heard the verb "catch" in the context of birth, and I grew fascinated. Then, as she told me little bits about her life--the sensations of delivering (or "catching") a baby in a bedroom, the wonderful drama that seems to attend almost any birth--I became hooked. Sitting beside me, I realized, was a woman who saw more sobbing men than any other professional I was likely to meet. After all, she was there from the moment a labor began until the baby arrived. She witnessed the absolutely momentous roller-coaster of emotion that seems to accompany every birth.

Of course I also learned in my research that midwives who specialize in home birth also shoulder enormous responsibility. They deliver babies far from the medical safety net we take for granted. Clearly they're extraordinary people, and clearly they're immensely gifted. But it is still a very special woman who can help a laboring mother remain focused and composed when the pain is intense and there's no epidural on the horizon. It's a rare woman indeed who--as one midwife who helped me with the book actually did--can successfully deliver a breech in a bedroom, with the knowledge that failure will result in head entrapment and death.

Q: Your book, MIDWIVES, is a dramatic story of a midwife who stands trial for manslaughter. Is this based upon a true story?

A: No. Fortunately, it is not.

But lay midwives are nevertheless beleaguered in many states. A season doesn't seem to go by when a lay midwife isn't on trial somewhere for simply doing what she has done fabulously well for years: Catch babies. Yet in the eyes of much of the medical community, she's "practicing medicine without a license," and subject to a prosecution that borders often on persecution.

Q: You give such descriptive details of the home-birthing process, did you actually work with a midwife to get such perspective?

A: I interviewed roughly 65 people while researching Midwives. I spent time with midwives and ob-gyns, prosecutors and defense attorneys, and literally dozens of people who had their babies at home.

Without exception, the midwives were wonderful: Forthcoming and honest, and rich with stories. Not only were they unfailingly patient (clearly a part of the job description), but they were very comfortable talking about the joys and risks that mark their profession.

Q: What reaction have you gotten from midwives about your book?

A: When the book was first published in hardcover, some midwives thought I was Satan. It's just that simple. There were some who thought I was the single worst thing to happen to birth since forceps.

And that's understandable: Few midwives are going to be wild about the notion of a novel in which a woman dies in a home birth, and is then tried for manslaughter.

But the midwives who read the book for me in manuscript form and who helped me with my research really loved it. They read it is a novel about the strength of one woman and one family, and they read it as a courtroom drama.

And once the book was a few months old, a great many midwives started backing the book, and--like me--really caring for my fictional midwife, Sibyl Danforth. Midwives is my fifth novel, and I've never loved a character as much as I loved Sibyl. (I'm working very hard to convince myself my infatuation is healthy.)

Moreover, I do not believe it will scare anyone away from home birth. When I was touring with the hardcover, a great many mothers came to my readings with their little babies born at home, and told me how the book had reinforced their faith in midwifery, home birth, and the love a midwife brings to the experience. They had really cherished the novel.

Q: After writing this book, would you and your wife consider using a midwife at the birth of your next child?

A: In a heartbeat. My wife and I would be very comfortable having a baby at home, or using one of the terrific nurse-midwives at the hospital.

Certainly we'd see an ob-gyn in the beginning as well, to make sure that Victoria (my wife) was a good candidate for a midwife-attended birth. But assuming it was a low-risk pregnancy, we'd be eager to call our neighbor--now friend and neighbor--who happens to be a midwife, and ask her to help us have our baby.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 6 comments:

Melinda Ott, September 19, 2013 (view all comments by Melinda Ott)
Review originally posted on my blog at
4.0 Stars

I actually first read this book over a decade ago when Oprah Winfrey chose it for her book club. All I really remembered of it was that it was set in Vermont, a midwife is on trial because a mother died, it is told from the daughter's point of view, and that it was a solid book that pretty much left me after I had turned the last page. Obviously, I was going to need to re-read it for my book club.

Because so much has happened in my life since I first read this book (moved to the east coast, moved back to the west coast, went through 3 jobs, got married, had 2 kids), I think my experiences enhanced what I read in this book. Unlike my first reading, this time the book stayed with me after I finished it--and it is still with me.

There is no argument that Bohjalian is a skilled writer--his prose is deep, but still readable. I enjoyed how he structured the book, with the main narration coming from Sibyl's daughter, but each chapter being prefaced with Sibyl's own words. The last half of the book mostly takes place in the courtroom and, as a reader, I felt as if I was a member of the jury.

I did not especially like Sibyl, but I understood her. I understood what drove her to midwifery and what led her to the fateful decision that landed her in a manslaughter trial. Sibyl's daughter, Connie, is exactly what I would picture a girl of her age who finds herself in her position would be. I do wish, however, that Sibyl's husband, Rand, was fleshed out a bit more.

I will say that I have questions about this book. Are non-certified midwives really as self-trained as Sibyl was? Does the medical community really have it out for midwives? Did Sibyl really do the best that she could? I'm looking forward to my book club discussion on this book because there will be at least one doctor with us.

All in all, this was a great book for me to re-read and I think it will be an excellent selection for our book club.
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Liz Childers, February 27, 2013 (view all comments by Liz Childers)
A page turner that forces you to choose sides regarding the practice of midwifery. Also, when things go bad, they go really bad. This is a story of a tragic event during a home delivery and the resulting emotions, reactions, and legal proceedings that evolve from it.
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Melissa-Mpls, August 29, 2009 (view all comments by Melissa-Mpls)
I was wary of reading this. I have pretty strong feelings about home births and thought that my opinions might overshadow the story for me. Not the case. No matter your feelings on the subject, Bohjalian has created characters that are likeable but flawed, and a story that pulls you right in.
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Product Details

Bohjalian, Chris
Vintage Books USA
Chris Bohjalian
Bohjalian, Chris A.
New York :
Legal stories
Medical novels
Vermont Fiction.
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage Contemporaries
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.01x5.22x.87 in. .70 lbs.

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Midwives Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.95 In Stock
Product details 384 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780375706776 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Superbly crafted and astonishingly powerful....It will thrill readers who cherish their worn copies of To Kill A Mockingbird."
"Review" by , "Astonishing...will keep readers up late at night until the last page is turned."
"Review" by , "The courtroom settings provide...ample suspense, but Bohjalian is equally adept at rendering...quieter, individual drama ... A writer of unusual heart."
"Review" by , "A treasure .... It is a rare pleasure when a finely written novel also grips us with sheer storytelling power."
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