The best books about midwives

4 authors have picked their favorite books about midwives and why they recommend each book.

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Baby Catcher

By Peggy Vincent,

Book cover of Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife

I could not put this book down. Vincent is a licensed home birth midwife in California, and Baby Catcher represents her accounts of many of her clients’ births. Her stories capture the diversity of experiences, the fears and joys of each mother who has opted for an out-of-hospital birth, and the beauty of bringing new life into the world. I have assigned this book in college courses and students love it; they come out angry at how broken our system is when it comes to maternity care.


Who am I?

I am a history professor at Purdue University and the author of several articles and three books that focus on controversies surrounding women’s reproductive health. I have also appeared on national television and radio, most recently on the PBS documentary, American Experience (the Eugenics Crusade), as well as the Vox/Netflix documentary “sex, explained.”


I wrote...

Coming Home: How Midwives Changed Birth

By Wendy Kline,

Book cover of Coming Home: How Midwives Changed Birth

What is my book about?

By the mid-twentieth century, two things appeared destined for extinction in the United States: the practice of home birth and the profession of midwifery. Who were these self-proclaimed midwives and how did they learn their trade? Because the United States had virtually eliminated midwifery in most areas by the mid-twentieth century, most of them had little knowledge of or exposure to the historic practice, drawing primarily on obstetrical texts, trial, and error, and sometimes instruction from aging home birth physicians to learn their craft. While their constituents were primarily drawn from the educated white middle class, their model of care (which ultimately drew on the wisdom and practice of a more diverse, global pool of midwives) had the potential to transform birth practices for all women, both in and out of the hospital.

The Midwife Crisis

By Lyndsey Gallagher,

Book cover of The Midwife Crisis: Following Labour you meet the love of you're life...but who could predict the fate of the midwife?

If you’re looking for a fresh and funny take on romance then, The Midwife Crisis is the book for you. Written in my family’s hometown of Galway, in Island, not only could I relate to this author's story, but it was a new take on a normal love genre.

Who am I?

Romance and chick-lit books hooked me as a young adult. It was this genre that inspired me to write. Since publishing my first book Gut Feeling in 2012 I’ve since written three chick-lit novels and a holiday rom-com screenplay. The fiction world of perfectly unperfect romance never fails.   


I wrote...

Gut Feeling

By Victoria Browne,

Book cover of Gut Feeling

What is my book about?

Ashleigh Lands has given up the chance for a new life in America with her family to stay in London with her boyfriend, Lee Preston. When Lee cheats on her and quickly becomes an ex-boyfriend, Ashleigh loses herself in work and alcohol. Five months later, she’s ready for change and decides to reach for a new, empowered self.

When window glazier Dave Croft shows up for a job where Ashleigh works, the two hit it off immediately. Lee has been harassing her to get her back, but the more she falls for Dave, the more she leaves Lee in her past. Reports of an encounter Dave had while she's on a trip in Ibiza makes her question his integrity—and her life choices. Can she trust her gut feeling?

The Light in the Window

By June Goulding,

Book cover of The Light in the Window

I came across this memoir while researching Irish mother and baby homes for my own novel. June Goulding was a young midwife in the 1950s when she was hired by the Sacred Heart Convent in Cork.  Here she found girls,  some as young as 13, punished for the sin of being pregnant, forced to work, tarring roads, scrubbing floors, and rearing their children until they were handed over for adoption – in exchange for a donation to the church often without their consent. Thirty years later, haunted by what she was party to, Goulding tells the story of how she tried to relieve the suffering of these unfortunate women. 


Who am I?

Aged eighteen and living in London my mother fell in love with an older man and was soon pregnant. Fearful of repercussions she kept the pregnancy secret from her Irish Catholic parents, and continued to keep this secret for many years. This was something I’d always known but it was only recently that I decided to investigate what happened to so many girls who went to the wrong people for help. What I found was devastating, and it gave me a greater understanding of the choices my mother made. I'm a writer who often draws on autobiographic material for my novels, plays, and stories. I like to feel a subject is truly mine.


I wrote...

I Couldn't Love You More: A Novel

By Esther Freud,

Book cover of I Couldn't Love You More: A Novel

What is my book about?

Aoife Kelly runs pubs with her brusque husband, Cash. Their courtship began in wartime London, before they returned to Ireland with their daughters. One daughter—fiery, independent-minded Rosaleen—moves back to London, where she meets and begins an affair with the famous sculptor Felix Lehmann, a German-Jewish refugee artist over twice her eighteen years. When Rosaleen finds herself pregnant, she's evicted from her flat, dismissed from her job, and desperate to hide the secret from her family. 

Meanwhile, Kate lives in present-day London with her young daughter and husband, an unsuccessful musician and destructive alcoholic. Adopted and floundering to find a sense of herself, Kate sets out to track down her birth mother, a search that leads her to a Magdalene Laundry in Ireland and the harrowing history that it holds.

A Midwife through the Dying Process

By Timothy E. Quill,

Book cover of A Midwife through the Dying Process: Stories of Healing and Hard Choices at the End of Life

In 1991 I was a young lawyer, just learning about the death-with-dignity movement. I had practiced nursing and medicine for 20 years and tended many dying patients. But I’d thought little about patient choice and empowerment at the end of life. In my ignorance, I turned to Dr. Timothy Quill and was struck by his clarity and courage. Tim was the first mainstream physician to be candid and compassionate about patients’ legitimate wish to advance the time of death if cancer or other illness traps them in “their worst nightmare.” This book, and his earlier Death with Dignity, are the definitive primers into the hows and whys of medical aid in dying, a practice that is authorized in many states now, but was a felony everywhere when Dr. Quill brought it to light.


Who am I?

I first started tending patients at age 15, as a candy striper at St. Joseph Hospital. That was a long time ago, and since then I’ve learned much at patients’ bedsides, in Congress, statehouses and courtrooms. Through sequential careers in nursing, medicine, law, and advocacy, I learned that end-of-life experiences have the most to teach us about being truly present to our lives, about learning to love well and growing in wisdom. Personal autonomy, individual empowerment, and guided planning are all key to moving past our fear of death. In the end, as Seneca observed, “The art of living well and dying well are one.”


I wrote...

Finish Strong: Putting Your Priorities First at Life's End

By Barbara Coombs Lee,

Book cover of Finish Strong: Putting Your Priorities First at Life's End

What is my book about?

It’s hard to talk about death in America. But even though the topic has been taboo, life’s end is an eventual reality for us all. So why not shape it to your values? Written with candor and clarity by a nurse, physician assistant, and attorney who became a leading advocate for end-of-life options, this book will guide you through: finding a partner-doctor to honor your values and beliefs; identifying and documenting what matters most; having meaningful conversations with doctors and family about expectations and wishes; staying off the “overtreatment conveyor belt”; understanding “slow medicine”; navigating home hospice; using recommended free resources and tools to take charge.

Finish Strong is for those of us who want an end-of-life experience to match the life we’ve enjoyed.

The Midwife

By Jennifer Worth,

Book cover of The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

I think many Americans didn’t even realize midwives were still “a thing” until the emergence of the award-winning British television series, Call the Midwife. That series is based on Jennifer Worth’s memoir, which details her experiences as a young woman who moves into a convent and becomes a midwife in the slums of London’s East End. Like the other firsthand accounts I’ve mentioned here (Martha Ballard’s diary; Peggy Vincent’s memoir), this book humanizes birth, and reminds us of the important role midwives have played in making mothers feel safe and empowered in a wide variety of times and settings.


Who am I?

I am a history professor at Purdue University and the author of several articles and three books that focus on controversies surrounding women’s reproductive health. I have also appeared on national television and radio, most recently on the PBS documentary, American Experience (the Eugenics Crusade), as well as the Vox/Netflix documentary “sex, explained.”


I wrote...

Coming Home: How Midwives Changed Birth

By Wendy Kline,

Book cover of Coming Home: How Midwives Changed Birth

What is my book about?

By the mid-twentieth century, two things appeared destined for extinction in the United States: the practice of home birth and the profession of midwifery. Who were these self-proclaimed midwives and how did they learn their trade? Because the United States had virtually eliminated midwifery in most areas by the mid-twentieth century, most of them had little knowledge of or exposure to the historic practice, drawing primarily on obstetrical texts, trial, and error, and sometimes instruction from aging home birth physicians to learn their craft. While their constituents were primarily drawn from the educated white middle class, their model of care (which ultimately drew on the wisdom and practice of a more diverse, global pool of midwives) had the potential to transform birth practices for all women, both in and out of the hospital.

Murder on Astor Place

By Victoria Thompson,

Book cover of Murder on Astor Place: A Gaslight Mystery

This book begins a long-running mystery series featuring another unusual protagonist—midwife Sarah Brandt. This is one of the first historical mysteries I read, and it made me come back for more! It also fascinated me with details about policing in that era. It was more business than service. If someone wants a crime solved, they are offered a reward—or bribe. Policemen themselves had to pay to work their way up the department ladder. I love the chemistry between Sarah and police sergeant, Frank Malloy. She often serves as his conscience while he keeps her safe. 


Who am I?

I’m the author of the Countess of Harleigh Mystery series. I’ve been fascinated by the Gilded Age/Victorian Era/Belle Epoque since reading my first Edith Wharton novel, The Buccaneers, which followed the lives of four American heiresses of the late 19th century, who crossed the Atlantic to marry British lords. Love and marriage almost never went together in Wharton’s world, but with all the loveless marriages, the social climbing, and the haves and have-nots, I find it makes an excellent setting for a mystery.


I wrote...

A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder

By Dianne Freeman,

Book cover of A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder

What is my book about?

This is the first book in the Countess of Harleigh mystery series, featuring amateur sleuth, Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh. Frances comes from Gilded Age New York and was one of the hundreds of American heiresses who crossed the Atlantic to marry a man who needed her fortune and had a title to trade. 

The series opens ten years after the wedding. Frances is now a widow and is eager to break with her in-laws, but the ghosts of the past follow her to her new home in Belgravia. Frances must unravel the truth about her husband’s death and unmask the killer in her midst before the season—and her life—comes to an unseemly end.

A Midwife's Tale

By Laurel Thatcher Ulrich,

Book cover of A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812

This widely acclaimed book uses the opaque diary of an obscure midwife from rural Maine in the decades after the Revolution to transform how we think about women's lives and women's work. A tour de force of the historian's craft, written with skill, compassion, and a flair for drama. As a professional historian, one of the things I love most about this book is the way that every chapter is such a revelation. Each chapter begins with a passage from the diary that at first seems mundane and uninteresting—until Ulrich starts working her magic. Soon, there is a puzzle to be solved. And by the end of each chapter, she's rummaged around in her hat and pulled out another rabbit. A revelation!


Who am I?

I'm an American historian and former director of UNC-Chapel Hill's Program in Sexuality Studies—and former pizza maker, gas pumper, park ranger, and tour guide at the house in which Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women. As a historian, I've spent my career trying to understand the lives of people in early American history who weren't well known at the time. In writing the Sewing Girl's Tale, which focuses on a survivor of a sexual assault, it was especially important to keep her at the center of the story. Ultimately, I wanted to know: What was life in the aftermath of the American Revolution like—not for some Founding Father—but for an ordinary young woman.


I wrote...

The Sewing Girl's Tale: A Story of Crime and Consequences in Revolutionary America

By John Wood Sweet,

Book cover of The Sewing Girl's Tale: A Story of Crime and Consequences in Revolutionary America

What is my book about?

On a moonless night in the summer of 1793, a crime in the back room of a New York brothel transformed Lanah Sawyer’s life. It was the kind of crime that even victims usually kept secret. Instead, the seventeen-year-old seamstress did what virtually no one else dared to do: she charged a gentleman with rape. The trial rocked the city and nearly cost Lanah her life. And that was just the start.

The Sewing Girl's Tale is the story of an extraordinary prosecution in the aftermath of the American Revolution—and its contemporary relevance. Reviewers have hailed the book as “a masterpiece” (Wall Street Journal), “decidedly pro-woman” (Atlanta Journal Constitution), and “excellent and absorbing” (New York Times).

The King's Midwife

By Nina Rattner Gelbart,

Book cover of The King's Midwife: A History and Mystery of Madame Du Coudray

Too many babies were dying at birth (or shortly thereafter) and French authorities had become obsessed with increasing the country’s population. Who would have thought, though, that King Louis XV of France would decide to sponsor and finance (for over 20 years) a remarkable Paris-trained midwife to tour France on behalf of the re-education of peasant midwives? As the King’s envoy, Angélique Marguerite Le Boursier du Coudray (born c. 1715) toured France from 1760 to 1783 carrying out her mission in some 40 cities and large towns.

Her important textbook on obstetrics, first published in 1759 (5 editions by 1785) and her invention of an obstetrical cloth female mannequin (she called it her “machine”) facilitated her revolutionary hands-on method of teaching the craft of delivering babies. Du Coudray was an imposing presence and a remarkable exception amidst the ongoing illiteracy and superstition that plagued peasant women. Nina Gelbart’s biography, the…


Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by France and things French. In graduate school, no women’s history was on our required reading lists. As a young woman, though, entering a professional field in which women were few on the ground, much less studied, I became an avid reader of biographies of achieving women – partly to learn how they were able to surmount (or not) the obstacles that confronted them in a male-dominated world. The five stellar biographies of French women I present here are products of the newer work in retrieving women’s histories. They are deeply researched and engagingly written. They confirm the saying that “truth is stranger than fiction.”


I wrote...

Debating the Woman Question in the French Third Republic, 1870-1920

By Karen Offen,

Book cover of Debating the Woman Question in the French Third Republic, 1870-1920

What is my book about?

“No one has done more over the past forty years to establish women’s history in the scholarship of the French Third Republic than Karen Offen. Now, in Debating the Woman Question, we have her chef d’oeuvre. It was worth the wait: a deeply thought-out analysis of many sides of the 'woman question' from maternity through education to religion and economics. It is a must-read for anyone interested in modern France.”

- Steven C. Hause, Professor Emeritus, Washington University, St. Louis and the University of Missouri, St. Louis.

Frog

By Mo Yan, Howard Goldblatt (translator),

Book cover of Frog

As a writer who works under China’s censorship, Mo Yan spins literary gold in his novel Frog by blending high farce with social commentary. Narrator Tadpole’s aunt Gugu, a feisty woman with extraordinary gifts, evolves from a legendary midwife to a demonic one-child policy enforcer, then becomes an incorrigible go-between for surrogate and intentional parents. Readers see how China and rural Gaomi townships have changed, almost beyond description, from Maoist times to the current hyper-capitalistic phase. Much of the story is funny, brutal, yet firmly grounded, as people endure, and many perish during a half-century of social and political turmoil.


Who am I?

I grew up in China during the years of the one-child policy. In 1989 I joined millions of people in the pro-democracy protests. Our hope and joy were crushed by the Tiananmen Square Massacre. A year later, I left China and came to the States. I wanted to write a story about the students’ fight but create a more meaningful arc. It took me twenty years of soul searching to find my story. At the heart of my novel Living Treasures is a metaphor for the Tiananmen Square Massacre. My heroine continues the fight by doing grassroots work and helping rural women, who are victimized by the one-child policy.


I wrote...

Living Treasures

By Yang Huang,

Book cover of Living Treasures

What is my book about?

Eighteen-year-old Gu Bao is a first-year law student facing major crises during the tumultuous Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. One of her friends is killed in the June Fourth Massacre. Bao finds herself pregnant and faces the end of her academic career. Her grieving parents arrange for a secret abortion and ship her off to her grandparents’ house in the countryside. There, Bao befriends a village woman named Orchid who, in defiance of the one-child policy, is hiding in the woods until she can give birth to her second baby. After Orchid is captured, Bao devises a daring plan to protect her unborn child.

Living Treasures heightens Bao’s journey from a timid student to a defiant adversary against the canvas of China’s struggle toward modernity.

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