A midwife’s memoir of living free and naturally against all odds
In her first, highly praised memoir, Patricia Harman told us the stories patients brought into her exam room, and her own story of struggling to help women as a nurse-midwife in medical practice with her husband, an OB/GYN, in Appalachia. In this new book, Patsy reaches back to tell us how she first learned to deliver babies, and digs even deeper down to tell us of her youthful experiments with living a fully sustainable and natural life.
Drawing heavily on her journals, Arms Wide Open goes back to a time of counter-culture idealism that the boomer generation remembers well. Patsy opens with stories of living in the wilds of Minnesota in a log cabin she and her lover build with their own hands, the only running water being the nearby streams. They set up beehives and give chase to a bear competing for the honey. Patsy gives birth and learns to help her friends deliver as naturally as possible.
Weary of the cold and isolation, Patsy moves to a commune in West Virginia, where she becomes a self-taught midwife delivering babies in cabins and homes. Her stories sparkle with drama and intensity, but she wants to help more women than healthy hippie homesteaders. After a ten-year sojourn for professional training, Patsy and her husband, Tom, return to Appalachia, as a nurse-midwife and physician, where they set up a women's-health practice. They deliver babies together, this time in hospitals; care for a wide variety of gyn patients; and live in a lakeside contemporary home--but their hearts are still firmly implanted in nature. The obstetrical climate is changing. The Harmans' family is changing. The earth is changing, but Patsy's arms remain wide open to life and all it offers.
Her memoir of living free and sustainably against all odds will be especially embraced by anyone who lived through the Vietnam War and commune era, and all those involved in the back-to-nature and natural-childbirth movements.
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 with 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.