Sybil Danforth is a respected midwife in a small Vermont town. One night a delivery goes horribly wrong. A violent storm has knocked out the power and left the roads slick with black ice. Sylvia is unable to get her patient to the hospital despite trying her hardest. She takes drastic measures to save the baby from the dead mother’s womb. However, the following morning, in the stark light of day, suspicions are cast on what really went down. Sybil is charged with manslaughter. Sybil—and her profession—are now on trial.
After a string of lackluster book club reads, finally, a compelling story back on the lineup! Midwives is narrated by Sybil’s daughter Connie. The story shifts back and forth in time; the time of the trial; moments in the past; occasionally the present. Connie is a precocious narrator and weaves the story in a crafty way. We slowly get pieces of Sybil’s history; how she discovered midwifery; her past as an activist. We experience Sybil’s trial through conversations overheard while standing in shadows in the stairwell, the fights between Sybil’s parents, the angry activists and the equally angry doctors. The story really puts on the stand the hostility the medical community feels towards home births and the catch-22 situation the state of Vermont puts lay midwives in.
The characters were well-drawn, the story well-researched. Vermont came to life and I learned loads about the midwifery profession in the course of enjoying a good story. Also, any story that revolves around a court trial is usually exciting and anxiety-inducing. Another plus, was the ending completely blew me away. I completely expected one outcome and had my own thoughts about what happened that night. I was completely shocked when I read the final page.
All the ladies enjoyed this book. The discussion was very lively as we discussed home births, midwifery, the medical profession, eastern medicine v western medicine, and feminism among other things. It was very interesting hearing everyone’s viewpoint, especially the women who had experienced labor. Everyone was in agreement in that we thought Charlotte was truly dead, and we shared our theories about what happened and what the last page of the story signified.
An intriguing story about the business of labor with well-drawn characters and relationships. Also, there is courtroom drama, hippies, activists, enduring relationships with a satisfying ending. And, it provides much fodder for discussion. A stimulating read indeed.