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The Blue Cotton Gown

A Midwife's Memoir

Patricia Harman


List Price: 24.95*
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Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (10/1/2009)
MP3 CD (2/21/2017)

October 2008 Indie Next List

“Here is an intimate account of a woman, both her career as a midwife and her life as the wife of a doctor in West Virginia. Her patients' lives are stories of hope and loss; her marriage is a story of love and faith accompanied, too by debt and tension. Well written and heartfelt.”
— Annie Philbrick, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT
View the List

Indie Next List Highlights 2008

“Here is an intimate account of a woman, both her career as a midwife and her life as the wife of a doctor in West Virginia. Her patients' lives are stories of hope and loss; her marriage is a story of love and faith accompanied, too by debt and tension. Well written and heartfelt.”
— Annie Philbrick, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT
View the List


Heather is pale and thin, seventeen and pregnant with twins when Patricia Harman begins to care for her. Over the course of the next five seasons Patsy will see Heather through the loss of both babies and their father. She will also care for her longtime patient Nila, pregnant for the eighth time and trying to make a new life without her abusive husband. And Patsy will try to find some comfort to offer Holly, whose teenage daughter struggles with bulimia. She will help Rebba learn to find pleasure in her body and help Kaz transition into a new body. She will do noisy battle with the IRS in the very few moments she has to spare, and wage her own private battle with uterine cancer.

Patricia Harman, a nurse-midwife, manages a women's health clinic with her husband, Tom, an ob-gyn, in West Virginia-a practice where patients open their hearts, where they find care and sometimes refuge. Patsy's memoir juxtaposes the tales of these women with her own story of keeping a small medical practice solvent and coping with personal challenges. Her patients range from Appalachian mothers who haven't had the opportunity to attend secondary school to Ph.D.'s on cell phones. They come to Patsy's small, windowless exam room and sit covered only by blue cotton gowns, and their infinitely varied stories are in equal parts heartbreaking and uplifting. The nurse-midwife tells of their lives over the course of a year and a quarter, a time when her outwardly successful practice is in deep financial trouble, when she is coping with malpractice threats, confronting her own serious medical problems, and fearing that her thirty-year marriage may be on the verge of collapse. In the words of Jacqueline Mitchard, this memoir, "utterly true and lyrical as any novel . . . should be a little classic."

Praise For The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir

The many moving stories of the women that Patricia Harman cares for as a nurse-midwife add up to a remarkable account of a life spent listening, helping, and taking care. Inviting us into her clinic in rural West Virginia, she shows us the joys and sorrows of listening to women's stories and attending to their bodies, and she leads us through the complicated life of a healer who is profoundly shaped by her patients and their journeys. —Perri Klass, author of The Mercy Rule and Treatment Kind and Fair

"Nobody writes with more candor and compassion about women's woes and women's triumphs than nurse-midwife Patricia Harman. Her behind-the-exam-room-door memoir is a bittersweet valentine to every woman-young and old-who has ever donned that thin blue cotton gown, to every dedicated healthcare provider, and to every husband-wife medical team. I couldn't put The Blue Cotton Gown down."—Sara Pritchard, author of Crackpots and Lately

"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, M.D., author of The House of God, Mount Misery, and The Spirit of the Place

"Patricia Harman has opened for us a window, a glimpse into her life as a midwife and the lives of those women who have entered her exam room. And as the touch of her careful and caring hands learned the story of their bodies, into her heart they poured their life stories-stories of joy, of sorrow, those bright with promise, those dimmed with grief and pain."—Sheila Kay Adams, author of My Old True Love

"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. What I didn't realize was that it would cause me, a sensible person, to get into the 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

"Patsy has the ability to put a knife in your gut, to make you long for things you have experienced and things you have not." —Penny Armstrong, co-author of A Midwife's Story

"In The Blue Cotton Gown, Patsy Harman, midwife and women's health care specialist, reveals herself as a real person-a wife and mother who has trouble sleeping, who has financial worries, who has suffered betrayal and loss, and who always runs late-someone with whom we can identify. But her faults and troubles seem inconsequential when we witness her compassion, wisdom, and good judgment in this gripping and heartwarming 'love song to women.' Through her clients' compelling stories of misfortune, survival, and triumph, Patsy Harman has composed an unromantic, down-to-earth idealization of women as told through their stories of loss and triumph." —Penny Simkin, childbirth educator, doula, and author of The Birth Partner: Everything You Need to Know to Help a Woman Through Labor

"Patricia Harman, Certified Nurse-Midwife, writes a book that tells the story of the reality of life as a midwife in private practice with her obstetrician/gynecologist husband. She also tells the stories of the women for whom she provides health care. Patsy Harman tracks her life, the lives of the women, and her periodic interaction with them through the seasons of the year. With compassion, forthright honesty, an eye for detail, and talented writing, the author draws the reader into all of their lives-the memories of whom last long after the book is finished." —Helen Varney Burst, CNM, original author of Varney's Midwifery

"The Blue Cotton Gown is a seductive read! Read it to understand the fragile thinness between the care-giver and the cared-for. Patsy Harman does not shy away from her narrative. She does not shy away from controversial topics. She grabs the reader by the literary throat." —Judy Schaefer, editor of The Poetry of Nursing

Beacon Press, 9780807072899, 296pp.

Publication Date: October 1, 2008