cover image Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey

Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey

Patricia Harman. Beacon, $24.95 (287p) ISBN 978-0-8070-0138-7

Harman's first memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown, revealed the struggles of a modern midwife who began with no training but eventually became a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) in practice with her OB-Gyn husband, Tom. Her wonderful second memoir is ostensibly about discovering her calling as a midwife, but it is just as much about her life%E2%80%94with lovers and friends, in communes, raising her young children, struggling, flawed, and free. While she may have been disaffected by the times (sections 1 and 2 span the 1970s), she's not bitter, or hardly even negative. It's a tough line to toe. Songs well-worn in our collective memory punctuate chapters, profound moments, and the many births that Harman recounts. The facts of her subsistence life in Appalachia both push the reader away and draw them in (as when the almost unbearable cold of winter makes sap break in the trees so that the forest sounds like a symphony of marimba music). Since she has drawn from her color-coded, time-stamped journals ("From the Red Journal: Little Cabin in the North Woods, 1971-1972, Fall," for instance), there are more honest, revealing moments here than in many memoirs. Harman, whose prose is sparse but not simple, covers a span of decades, deftly revealing her own youthful struggles with identity through the children we witnessed her raising earlier in her book, revealing, in short, a full life. (Apr.)