A while back I noted that I might finally be going off memoirs. But every now and then, if I find the right one on the right subject, and it's not too long, I still enjoy munching through them the way you might enjoy crunching through a bowl of popcorn (or, if you have a sweet tooth like me, Easter candy) while relaxing.
I found this was the case with Linda Fairley's jauntily titled The Midwife's Here!: The Enchanting True Story of Britain's Longest Serving Midwife, which is billed on its cover as "the enchanting true story of one of Britain's longest-serving midwives." Now, normally I run away from the word "enchanting" the way other people might run away from the words "dark" or "bitter," but I've always had a little soft spot for midwife stories (and health narratives in general).
Here Fairley relates the story of her three years' of nursing training, followed by her midwife training, all of which took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She drops in enough period details to make it fun--miniskirts, fashions by Mary Quant, and go-go boots all make an appearance--but overall she was a serious student and was energized when she discovered her true vocation in life was to be a midwife. Her revelations regarding birthing and parenting trends of that time were fascinating--nobody made you feel bad for not breastfeeding in the sixties, that's for sure--and she tells a brisk little narrative full up with enough real characters to really keep you reading. One of my favorite anecdotes was about her and her mentor, midwife May Tattersall, attending a birth in a more rural area near Manchester, England, and how Mrs. Tattersall had to yell at the husband to get the chickens out of the room where his wife was giving birth (although she let the two dogs stay):
"'Well,' she said in a voice laden with prudence, 'it's like this. When you're a community midwife, you have to fit in with the community...If she wants her dogs there, then it's best to try to accommodate her, as far as possible.'
'Not hens, no, never hens,' Mrs. Tattersall said firmly.
I expected some pearls of wisdom about the dangers of toxoplasmosis or even salmonella poisoning, but Mrs. Tattersall simply said with a rasp, 'I flamin' well hate birds!'" (p. 219.)
Ha! I enjoyed that. I enjoyed the whole book. Ms. Fairley is clearly the optimistic, can-do, no-nonsense sort who might frighten me in real life, but she's written a book that's, well, okay, I guess I can go along with the publisher: enchanting.*
*Be warned: there are some sad stories too. Not all childbirth experiences end enchantingly, after all.