Arms Wide Open
A Midwife's Journey
By Patricia Harman
(Beacon Press, Hardcover, 9780807001387, 324pp.)
Publication Date: April 12, 2011
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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A midwife’s memoir of living free and naturally against all odds
In her first, highly praised memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown, Patricia Harman recounted the stories that patients brought into her exam room, and her own story of struggling to help women as a nurse-midwife. In Arms Wide Open, a prequel to that acclaimed book, Patsy tells the story of growing up during one of the most turbulent times in America and becoming an idealistic home-birth midwife.
Drawing heavily on her journals, 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 in living a fully sustainable and natural life. In the 1960s and ’70s, she spent over a decade with her first partner living in rural areas in Minnesota and Ohio before eventually purchasing a farm with Tom Harman in West Virginia.
Patsy recounts the hardships and the freedom of living in the wilds of Minnesota in a log cabin she and her lover built with their own hands, the only running water hauled from nearby streams. She describes long treks in the snow with her infant son strapped to her chest, setting up beehives for honey, and giving chase to a thieving bear. Eventually, yearning for more connection, Patsy moves into communal life, forming alliances with the eco-minded and antiwar counterculture that was both loved and reviled in those days.
As a young mother on the commune, Patsy offers her personal experience and assistance to other women who, like her, wish to have safe, natural births. In time, she becomes a self-taught midwife, delivering babies in cabins and on farms, sometimes in harrowing circumstances. But her passion for the work drives her to want to help more, to do more. And so she begins the professional training that will fully accredit her to assist in childbirth. In a final section, Patsy takes us into the present day, facing the challenges of running a women’s health clinic with her husband, mothering adult sons, and holding true to their principles and passions in the twenty-first century
More than a personal memoir, Arms Wide Open paints a portrait of a generation’s desperate struggle to realize their ideals as they battled against the elements and against the conservative society that labeled them “hippies” and belittled their ecological and pacifist beliefs. Her memoir is a beautiful recollection of the convictions of the baby boom generation, a riveting account of surviving in the wild, and a triumphant story of living responsibly in our over-consuming society.
PATRICIA HARMAN, CNM, has published in the Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health and Journal of Sigma Theta Tau for Nursing Scholarship as well as in alternative publications. She is a regular presenter at national midwifery conferences. Her first book, The Blue Cotton Gown (Beacon / 7291-2 / $16.00 pb), was published to acclaim. Harman lives and works near Morgantown, West Virginia, and has three sons.
Praise for Arms Wide Open
“Harman is a gifted storyteller. Her writing is honest, vivid, and moving.”—Natural Child Magazine
“A sparkling, vivid story of how a midwife is born—and survives. This story takes you places you never expect to go.”—Tina Cassidy, author of Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born
“It’s good to hear these stories, good to remember the fervor against the Vietnam War and our collective voices raised in protest. It’s heartening to know that the indomitable Midwife Harman still carries on the legacy of those years with a message that is still vital and necessary all these years later.”—Carol Leonard, author of Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart: A Midwife’s Saga
“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.”—Publishers Weekly
“Patricia Harman’s unflinching honesty and soaring poetry unfold the dream and the reality of the rural communes, political activism, and urban counterculture in the 1970s, and what we, the veterans of that particular era of bohemian life, have become today. She weaves in the telling details—the songs we sang, the clothes we wore, the glories of nature we witnessed, and, most especially, the causes for which we organized, and the austerities we endured willingly, for the sake of the earth and all her children.”—Alicia Bay Laurel, author and illustrator of Living on the Earth
“The heart of Arms Wide Open is birthing, but its soul is sustainable living and a spirit of environmentally friendly management of resources. Harman’s commitment to this theme permeates her book, and with similar focus on other contemporary issues, it is relevant for a vast array of readers.”—Rain Taxi
Praise for The Blue Cotton Gown
“This luminescent, ruthlessly authentic, humane, and brilliantly written account of a midwife in rough-hewn Appalachia, a passionate healer plying her art and struggling to live a life of spirit, stands as a model for all of us, doctors and patients alike, of how to offer good care.”—Samuel Shem, MD, author of The House of God, Mount Misery, and The Spirit of the Place
“Harman has a gift for storytelling, and The Blue Cotton Gown is a moving, percipient book.”—Karen R. Long, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“As the mother of seven children and veteran of eight pregnancy losses, I knew when I ran my bath that I would be unable to resist Patricia Harman’s memoir of midwifery, The Blue Cotton Gown. What I didn’t realize was that it would cause me, a sensible person, to get into her bath with one sock still on and rise from it when the candle was gone and the water cold. Utterly true and lyrical as any novel, Harman’s book should be a little classic.”—Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and Cage of Stars
“Arms Wide Open is more than a book about delivering babies and bringing new life into the world; it’s about the deterioration of the optimism once so prevalent in the cracks and crevices of this country. It’s about the human spirit, and the desire to do good unto others. But most importantly, it’s about Mother Earth, the time we spend here, the things we plant, the mark we leave and the power she has over all of us.”—Hippocampus Magazine