Delivering babies runs in the family. For three generations, Floss, Grace and Neva have been helping women in their role as midwives. Much has changed over the decades, but the need for women to feel supported as they bring their children into the world has remained a constant necessity. In her novel, The Secrets of Midwives, Sally Hepworth shares a heartwarming story of these three women, complete with joys, trials and secrets.
Floss began her career as a midwife in the 1950’s in England. While still quite young herself and apparently widowed, she took her infant daughter, Grace, across the ocean to begin a new life in the United States where she continued to practice as a midwife. But there is something about Floss; there are things she doesn’t like to talk about and conveniently evades in conversation. She has since retired and currently living with her partner Lil.
Grace grew up without her father. As such, that is a prized relationship that she has envied her whole life. As a young child, she was jealous of her friends – they had daddies. As a mother herself now, she sees her daughter, Neva, connecting with her husband and feels that twinge. Its always there…a wound that never quite heals. In her professional life, Grace practices as a homebirth midwife.
Neva never planned to be a midwife. She wasn’t going to carry on the family tradition until an experience at fourteen years old changed her mind. Her mother was delivering a baby but didn’t have an assistant that day. She invited Neva to help her and in so doing, Neva finds her calling. She practices as a midwife in a birthing center attached to a hospital. But, when Neva turns up pregnant herself and won’t name the father, it causes the women of the family to go topsy turvy. They begin to struggle anew with their own feelings of loss, as well as the secrets they hold close. When she is determined to raise her child as a single mother, Neva’s friend, Patrick, comes alongside offering his support and more, which adds a sweet romantic element to this story.
Despite all their struggles, secrets and disagreements, this family comes to realize that there is nothing more special and nothing more valuable than each other. By working through their insecurities, mistakes and failures, they grow even closer and discover that how they define family may not always fit the dictionary definition.
Having used the services of midwives with my own children, I enjoyed reading about these women’s professional and personal lives. It was a well done, authentic representation of the different ways midwives have supported women historically as well as currently. The descriptions of homebirth, birth centers and hospital deliveries made for an interesting comparison. Although the story is told from all three women’s first person perspectives, it doesn’t feel cluttered or confusing. The author clearly titles each chapter as “Floss”, “Grace” or “Neva,” so there is no confusion as to who is speaking. This is among the very best women’s fiction I have read in quite some time. I highly recommend it.
Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Macmillan. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.