“The Reluctant Midwife” by Patricia Harman, is a sequel to “The Midwife of Hope River” (which I have not yet read, but that did not affect my reading of this book).
Becky Myers is now taking care of Isaac Blum, the physician whom she assisted in both surgery and outpatient practice. Dr. Blum has suffered a catatonic seizure after the tragic accidental death of his wife. His brother lost patience with Isaac’s mute state and cut him off completely, so, with no one else to care for him, Becky takes on his care. However, due to Dr. Blum’s loss of his practice and home, they are in deep financial arrears. Throughout the book, Becky is faced with the challenge of providing a living for them both while making sure that Isaac Blum is not left to wander off on his own.
This book brought home to me how deep the Depression years were and the difficulties that faced so many. Set in the mountains of Appalachia, with a nation-wide unemployment rate of twenty percent (that rate is going to climb throughout the book), this particular WV county had a eighty percent unemployment rate (unbelievable!)
“I wake just as the sun is peeking over the mountains, thinking about President Roosevelt’s fireside chat last night. The Hesters had us over to dinner and just like old times we sat around the radio listening, along with all the other worried Americans. In his quiet, reassuring way, Roosevelt talked about the Public Works Project, about getting people off the dole, about a new program called Social Security. Most important, he gives us hope that these dark days will not last forever.”
Isaac Blum comes out of his catatonic state long enough to suggest (in a one-word sentence), that they turn to Patience Murphy for help.
“The midwife of Hope River, Patience Murphy, was one of my only friends when I lived in Liberty four years ago. You’d think there be others, but for a single professional woman in a small mountain town, there weren’t many options….
Maybe Patience will allow us to stay with her for a few days. I’d be grateful even to sleep in her barn.”
Patience (now married to a veterinarian, Daniel Hester), helps Becky and Isaac find a place to live and, although she would rather set a broken bone or suture a wound, Becky finds herself assisting Patience in deliveries. When Patience herself has a medical emergency, Dr. Blum and Becky move into the Hester’s home to help care for her and their five year old son.
The book has some medical details that might be difficult to read (depending upon the reader’s stomach tolerance), but for me, I didn’t they them overly graphic. Knowing that this book is about childbirth, there are difficulties that arise that are quite simply, realistically portrayed.
There are many stories of delivering babies with various challenges of the times and limits of the medical field, and later on, administering first aid in an all-men’s Civilian Conservation camp. Interspersed with the medical scenes are vignettes of what is happening in Becky’s own life and the lives of her neighbors and friends, Patience and Daniel Hester.
How Becky manages to hold down a difficult job, help Patience through her medical challenges, and keep Dr. Blum going makes for an interesting read! One thing that kept me going was wanting to know if Dr. Blum would ever recover. I was quickly caught up in the lives of the characters and reading about the challenges of the Depression years.
I enjoyed reading “The Reluctant Midwife”!
“Dark night and the wind slams into our little house from the west. I’ve been awake in bed for hours, my mind skittering from one worry to another. It’s not like we’re starving. We get tomatoes, carrots, new potatoes, and greens from the garden. Daniel brings us eggs and milk twice a week in exchange for Isaac’s help with the vet work, and the fish have been a great addition to our diet, but we have so little cash money for kerosene, gasoline, sugar, corn meal, and beans. I am really worried about what we will do this winter.”
My thanks to the publisher and the Library Thing Early Reviews Program in providing this (very interesting) copy for my review! “The Reluctant Midwife” comes out in March 2015.