All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Secrets Of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

on February 24, 2015

Secrets Of MidwivesThe Secrets Of Midwives
Sally Hepworth
St Martin’s Press
2015, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Three generations of midwives, each generation with their own secrets. Neva Bradley is the youngest, a third generation midwife who works in a birthing centre. She’s been keeping a secret from everyone, including her mother and grandmother. She’s pregnant herself and she’s determined that the truth surrounding the baby’s conception be kept secret. But her mother Grace is equally determined to find out exactly who the baby’s father is and what has been going on in Neva’s life. She’s desperate for Neva to let her in, so that they can have the mother-daughter relationship that she’s always craved.

Grace works as a home birthing midwife and she’s passionate about her job. She has always promoted the power of a woman making her own choices in her own environment but that doesn’t mean she’s irresponsible. She might not like medical intervention but she’s willing to admit that it’s sometimes necessary. When Grace finds herself on the end of an investigation for a homebirth she attended, she’s suspended until the inquiry is resolved. However that leaves her loyal clients without a homebirthing option and with financial pressures at home, Grace finds herself torn.

Grace’s mother Floss is keeping perhaps the biggest secret of all – it’s definitely the longest. Neva’s condition forces Floss back some 60 years into her past as a young, just qualified midwife in England and the sacrifices she made. She’s thought that keeping the secret all these years was the best thing to do but as the stress begins to mount and she watches Grace’s desperation to connect and her issues with not having had a father, she wonders if she did the right thing at all.

Before I had my own children, nothing about nursing interested me at all. Especially not delivering babies. But having had two now and been through the births, I actually think it’s a wonderful process and it must be most days, quite a wonderful career. Sometimes I think it’s what I should do, if I ignore the fact that I’d be well into my late thirties by the time I was even qualified. I’ve read a couple of books featuring midwives recently and I have really enjoyed them. This one is no exception.

The book kicks off with Neva who is about 30 give or take and going to dinner with her mother and grandmother. At the dinner it’s finally revealed (inadvertently, not by Neva’s choice) that she’s pregnant. Decidedly pregnant with only just over two months to go. Grace is stunned, shocked that Neva has chosen to keep it a secret and also a bit incensed that she won’t really volunteer any information. She wants to know who the baby’s father is but Neva is adamant that the baby won’t have one. She’ll be raising it on her own. Immediately then I had a fair idea what the reason would be for Neva to decide this but it seems that Grace is bringing her own issues being raised without a father into this new situation. She doesn’t seem to realise that this is how she alienates Neva, by being so needy.

When I was pregnant with my youngest I was a member of a birthing and parenting forum and quite a few of them had homebirths and I felt that they were always interesting experiences to read. I think it’s a good idea in theory and I would probably be a candidate having had 2 complication free (quick) births. But I have to admit, there’s just a part of me that isn’t comfortable with it. I’ve never had a problem with anyone pressuring me into things I didn’t want in either of my births but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen. Both times I had my babies with midwives through the public system. The first time I saw an OB at 36wks for about 10 minutes and one popped their head into my delivery room when I was in labour and basically said “call me if you need me”. The second pregnancy I didn’t see a single OB at all. I had all my appointments with the local community midwife, who happened to be on duty at the hospital when I presented in labour. However she had a woman ahead of me who was delivering so she left for about 15-20m. When she came back, Rory had already been born and we were discharged from the hospital 4 hours later into outpatient care. I can imagine however, that for women who have not had the birthing experience that they desired, the idea of being able to take back control in their own homes would be very empowering and a choice that would seem very positive and ideal to them.  Grace is very passionate about her job, very good at it too but I have to admit, I was uncomfortable with the choices she made during her suspension, even though she might’ve felt like she didn’t have much of a choice. I think I would’ve also liked a deeper exploration of her issues with her husband because they’re at odds or distance from each other for much of the book but then it seems to be resolved far too easily.

Floss’s secret was also rather easy for the reader to guess but that didn’t really detract from how interesting I found her story. It had shaped Grace’s life in the deepest of ways and had impacted on her and her relationship with her own child and I understood Floss’s reluctance, after all these years, to finally set the story straight. She had done what she believed was the right thing but secrets often have a way of festering. With Grace’s personality I think that Floss was probably right to feel the fears that she did and the narrative did a good job of expressing her motivations and also the own emotions and feelings she would’ve been experiencing as a young girl who gave up everything to raise a baby on her own. That part of the story was really quite beautifully done and I enjoyed all of their interactions with each other.

I did find some parts a little far fetched – given Neva’s medical issue I could maybe believe that she had her dates mixed up but not that she wouldn’t realise she was in labour. That was all a bit convenient, given the circumstances that Neva believed surrounded her child’s conception and I think the romance with Patrick could’ve been developed a little more, particularly their feelings prior to Neva finding out she was pregnant. The story needed to give the reader a little more there, to really get behind them and want them to be able to work through the conflict that Patrick believed they had. I really enjoyed the story though and the ideas of the three midwives of the different generations and how their careers were shaped by their personalities as well.


Book #40 of 2015


The Secrets Of Midwives is book #15 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015


3 responses to “Review: The Secrets Of Midwives by Sally Hepworth

  1. […] Kathryn at The Book Date. “I did find some parts a little far fetched..”; writes Bree of All the Books I Can Read, “I really enjoyed the story though and the ideas of the three midwives of the different […]

  2. […] You can see my review of The Secrets Of Midwives here […]

  3. […] And my review for Sally’s The Family Next Door is here, The Things We Keep here and The Secrets Of Midwives here. […]

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