Dec 9, 2009

The Midwife's Tale

an Oral History from Handywoman to Professional Midwife
by Nicky Leap and Billie Hunter

When I borrowed this book from the library to read (several years ago) I thought it was going to be a narrative about a midwife's experiences, something like Babycatcher by Peggy Vincent, or a nonfiction version of Bohjalian's Midwives. It's not. The Midwife's Tale is a look at the practice of midwifery in England before the National Health Service was established in the early 1940's. It is drawn mostly from oral histories and interviews with women who were midwives, or women who recall being tended by midwives during that time. It's not only a book about how midwives practiced and how women experienced childbirth in an earlier era, but how women (and society in general) viewed related issues like contraception, abortion, intercourse, motherhood and work outside the home. Also how midwifery contrasted to early doctors' more scientific methods and hospitalization of women, and how midwives were edged out of their profession by men. Overall a very interesting read, if a bit dry in parts.

Rating: 3/5                      215 pages, 1993

anyone written a blog review about this book? let me know and I'll post a link here


  1. I love oral history! I guess in that case it doesn't go back very far in history, but just talks about midwives in the time shortly before the NHS got going? Sounds fascinating!

  2. I think the information went back two generations, but I'm not sure.

  3. This reallysounds fascinating. I love social/historical stuff like this!

  4. My mum was a midwife and even though it was only 30 years ago some of the things they did then were shocking (like chopping up one twin, to save the other, if they got stuck)

    I find all things about midwives a bit scary, perhaps it is best to read this book when the memories of birth have faded a bit!

  5. Stefanie- It really had me enthralled.

    Farmlanebooks- That does sound horrific. I don't remember any stories quite that brutal in this book, but it's been a few years so I may have just forgotten the worst parts.

  6. I was just going to say that I think midwifery back then must have been terrifying, then I read Jackie's comment! Ugh! It's hard enough to push that kid out, even with modern medicine on your side!

  7. This sounds like such an interesting book. I find it so interesting, how practices and beliefs have changed over the years. I often wonder what our descendents will think of medicine today in 30 years.

  8. Sandy Nawrot- My feelings exactly.

    Literary Feline- I have wondered the same thing. I'm sure there's techniques and methods we use all the time that in a decade or so will seem outdated and archaic, not to mention less effective- but I have no idea what they are!


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