Author: Sally Hepworth
The Secrets of Midwives is the insightful debut novel of Melbourne author Sally Hepworth. It tells the stories of three generations of midwives, 3 very different women with very different ideas.
Birth is a beautiful thing, a glorious miracle that sometimes doesn’t go to plan. There are always going to be people who are strongly opinionated when it comes to birthing methods, and that’s okay, as far as I’m concerned as long as the end result is a healthy mum and a healthy bub I’m happy. Hepworth manages to explore many different births and birthing methods and show them all for the miracles that they are.
Floss practised midwifery for decades, she has now retired from practice but still teaches. Her training took place in England in an era very different from the one we birth in these days. A much simpler time when the midwives would attend the mother in her home without doctors and all of the interventions that are becoming so common.
Her daughter Grace is a midwife advocating home births and running her own home birth clinic, far from the interfering hands of doctors. She is a force in all aspects of her life and it has affected her relationships with the ones she loves the most. Grace grew up with a single mother and no extended family, we are left wondering if this is the basis of her overly dramatic nature and need to be at the centre of everything. Grace is a character that it took me a long time to warm to, almost as long as it took for me to begin to understand her.
Neva is the real centre of the story, midwife in a birthing center attached to a major hospital and heavily pregnant to an unnamed man. She is strong, independent and extremely good at her job. She believes strongly in the miracle of birth away from the clinical setting of a hospital, a birth led by the wishes of the parents and free from intervention but she is also a firm believer that modern medicine, and doctors, play an important role – sometimes the ideal birth needs to be compromised to ensure a healthy baby and a healthy mother.
Much of this novel revolves around birth and it was fascinating. Neva is an accomplished midwife whom even her familial predecessors look up to yet she has never had children of her own, that is all set to change with the huge secret Neva has been hiding under her increasingly larger hospital issue shirts.
Neva suffers from PCOS, a condition I am very familiar with being a fellow sufferer, which means that her cycle is irregular to say the least and she was never sure she would be able to conceive naturally. Discovering that she has conceived is fantastic news but considering she is not in a relationship it makes life interesting to say the least. To begin with, she can’t pinpoint the date of her last cycle with any accuracy which makes it very difficult to establish conception date. Neva manages her own antenatal care almost exclusively so there is no-one else taking measurements that could help in calculating dates. The care system in America must also be different to what we are accustomed to as there were no scans performed to refute the dates she had calculated.
Each of the midwives are hiding a secret, one that could be very damaging if it was to be revealed. Of course, secrets like that can’t be kept forever and the slow unfolding of the story up to that point is well paced and gives multiple opportunities to jump to conclusions, I was on the right track but still completely wrong which is something that I love – that ability to still be surprised.
The Secrets of Midwives is told in the first person by all three midwives which was sometimes a little difficult to keep up with but I think a lot of the impact would have been lost if it wasn’t a first person narrative; or 3 first person narratives as the case may be. Each of the women has equal centre stage time with their stories told in alternating chapters.
The way Hepworth has tied the stories together, aside from the familial connection of the characters, is compelling and insightful. It brings the women closer together and allows for strengthening of the bonds between them.
The Secrets of Midwives is a heartfelt story that I think will touch the heartstrings of everyone that reads it. This celebrates life and the magical profession of midwifery, the joy of birth in all its forms and the bond of family that is so much deeper than DNA. I look forward to seeing what Hepworth has in store for us next, I think she will definitely be a new Australian author to watch out for.
The Secrets of Midwives is book #20 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.
The Secrets of Midwives is available now from Pan Macmillan and where all good books are sold.