The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives, by Eloise Greenfield. Artwork by Daniel Minter. 2019. (Chicago: Alazar Press, $17.95, 32 pages, hardcover.)
This lovely book is a visual treat! I imagine the reader snuggled in with a child, both of them marveling at the gorgeous illustrations. I considered the accompanying words as neither prose nor poetry, but rather an homage.
In the course of just 32 pages, Greenfield transports us from Africa to America, through Emancipation and the 1900s right up to and including the author’s own homebirth in 1929. The midwives she describes do more than catch babies—they are spiritual healers, family counselors, nutritionists, and postpartum doulas.
The author expresses reverence for the women who catch the babies using language that is simple yet evocative. We feel the midwife’s responsibility, weariness, and triumph. She is your midwife, your ancestor’s midwife, or the midwife you hope to become.
The midwife’s story would be universal if it weren’t for the fact that her journey begins in Africa and includes slavery. When we talk in 2019 about paths to midwifery we are humbled by the “women who caught the babies” who learned these skills by watching and learning from their mothers and grandmothers.
The illustrations are luminous! I returned to them over and over. Minter uses symbols and icons that respect African and African‐American culture. He creates an exciting visual vocabulary that is infused with place and emotion. I had new insights each time I returned to the book.
This small volume is truly multi-faceted. There is a five-page introduction to midwifery, several chapters of unrhymed “poetry,” personal narratives, archival photos, and the incredible artwork of Daniel Minter. What an important addition to African American history, American history, and birth history.
(I was curious about the QR code on the back of the book. Scanning it, I was rewarded by hearing author Eloise Greenfield reading the introduction and poems from her book. That was a first!)
What God Is Honored Here? Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss by and for Native Women and Women of Color, Shannon Gibney and Kao Kalia Yang, editors. 2019. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, $19.95, 274 pages, softcover.)
Both love and pain are reflected in these stories and poems by women who have lost a baby as a result of miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects, or SIDS. Regardless of religious or cultural background, there is a commonality in these heartbreaking experiences—despite the different way each mother handles her grief. As noted by many of the authors, this is a subject that often is hidden or that the culture fails to acknowledge. This is undoubtedly because of our overall avoidance of discussing or even accepting that death occurs and, in part, because of our ignorance of the impact that it has on the mothers who experience such a loss. While those same reasons may stop some from reading this book, I think it would be a mistake. Each author is talented in her own right, and each provides insight on what she has experienced and why it is important to hear these stories.
—Cheryl K. Smith
Safe Infant Sleep: Expert Answers to Your Cosleeping Questions, by James J. McKenna. 2019. (Washington, DC: Platypus Media, $14.95, 283 pages, softcover.)
Written by the founder and former director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame, this is the definitive guide to co-sleeping with your baby. Rather than claiming that it is always dangerous and should be avoided at all costs, Dr. McKenna instead uses evidence-based recommendations to guide parents on how to safely co-sleep—a practice with a long history throughout the world. According to McKenna, there are many positive effects from co-sleeping, including improved breastfeeding, nighttime contact for the baby, enhanced cognitive development, intuitive backsleeping for the baby, temperature regulation, more sleep and less crying for baby, and more. The book also discusses when bed sharing is not safe, including if anyone in the bed smokes, drinks, or uses a substance that makes them drowsy; when pets are sharing the bed; if a parent is markedly obese; or in other unsafe situations. It also shows the safest way to co-sleep, even with twins. This is a great book to recommend to moms and to include in your midwifery library.
—Cheryl K. Smith
Titles of Note
Homebirth: Safe and Sacred, by Kim Woodard Osterholzer. 2019. (Self-published, $9.99, 116 pages, softcover.) Homebirth—Commonly Asked Questions, by Kim Woodard Osterholzer. 2019. (Self-published, free from safesacredbirth.com, 52 pages, e-book.)
These two slim books are a concise and clear introduction to homebirth for the unschooled. Homebirth: Safe and Sacred illustrates the safety of homebirth for low-risk moms through discussion of an actual birth as well as contrasting differences between home- and hospital birth. The volume on commonly asked questions addresses the training of midwives, what happens if transport is needed, the role of the rest of the family in a homebirth, and what happens if there are complications, and more. Taken together, these two books are an inexpensive way to help mothers begin their journey toward a good birth.
Heart & Hands: A Midwife’s Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, 5th Edition, by Elizabeth Davis. (Emeryville, California: Penguin Random House, $35.00, 308 pages, softcover.)
Over the past 30 years, this book has been a must-have resource for midwives, aspiring midwives, and parents-to-be. This fifth edition has been updated to include new sections on the microbiome, updated lab tests, VBAC considerations, postdates, protocols, fetal heart tones in labor, undisturbed birth, and trauma. In addition, the entire book has been updated to reflect current evidence and guidelines for the art and practice of midwifery. Easy to read and comprehensive, this book is a must for midwives, doulas, and moms who want to know what is happening at all stages of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.
—Cheryl K. Smith