Thursday, February 26, 2009

Book Review: "Playing Catch: A Midwife's Memoirs" by Sally Urang

"Playing Catch: A Midwife's Memoirs"
Sally Urang
2005, 407 pages

I was actually three quarters of the way through this book before I realized, quite accidentally, that it was a novel rather than an autobiographical work - which is a compliment to the author, as it was written realistically in autobiographical style - like Peggy Vincent's "Babycatcher." I did lose a lot of interest when I learned it was a novel, though - I'm just not interested in reading novels about midwives. I love reading midwives' autobiographies. However, I'm glad that this was a novel because I'm hoping there aren't too many midwives out there like this. God help us all if there are.

I finished reading this book in less than 24 hours. I'd like to say that it was because the book was riveting (and it was well-written), but the truth is that I read like the wind because I was in a battle with my conscience, which was nudging me constantly and saying, "Should you really be reading this?" I won out over my conscience in that I finished the book (an accomplishment definitely not worth bragging about).

I ended up having a love-hate relationship with this work, or rather, a like-disgust relationship. The reason for all of the above is simply that this book, as well as being a novel about hospital midwifery, is also a personal tale that involves a highly detailed saga of the heroine's trashy sex life, in extremely crude and vulgar detail, which an abundance of extremely foul language. I was really put off by this, and it is one of the reasons that this book will not be making my "highly recommended" list. I know that other people would not have the least problem with this, so I wanted to mention my bias so that it was known.

Aside from the detailed sexual exploits of this novel, it is the story of a hospital-based CNM and the midwifery work she does as a hospital midwife. It is, as I said, pretty well-written and interesting to read. I love the fact that when she uses clinical midwifery terms, she will immediately include a paragraph in parenthesis explaining the terminology in layman's terms so the reader can both follow the story and learn. I picked up a few that I didn't know myself! That was really great. However, I have read from other reviewers that there are a lot of inaccuracies in her midwifery knowledge as stated. I was reading so quickly that I didn't notice too much of that, although I did question the midwife's methods in a lot of the scenarios portrayed.

The author is herself an experienced CNM (certified nurse-midwife), so one suspects that much of the work is autobiographical - not in the specific details, but in the overall experience. Urang is obviously an experienced and knowledgable midwife, and it was great to have her knowledge so well-displayed in this work.

For me this was an interesting work in that it spoke of a different type of midwifery than the midwifery community with which I am familiar, that is, the homebirth midwifery community. The main character is a university-trained, hospital-practicing midwife, who I suspect would be termed by the natural birth community as a "med-wife." There's a lot of hospital protocol, pitocin, epidurals, and c-sections, and while the main character does advocate on the part of her patients, it is a much more medicalized atmosphere than the midwifery community I know. In fact, if a few sentences had been changed around and the book called "Memoirs of an OB/GYN," I never would have batted an eye, because in a lot of circumstances she seems to be more of an OB than a midwife. From what I have heard of hospital midwifery and nurse-midwifery, it is a common scenario for nurse-midwives to be caught in the middle in these working environments, both philosphically and practically. It's hard to practice the midwives' model of care in-hospital.

Don't get me wrong. We need hospital midwives - need them badly. They care for women who want midwifery care but aren't ready for (or desirous at all of) homebirth. They work to humanize the hospital maternity system and do amazing work. Here in Phoenix we have some great hospital midwives who do great work at some of our local hospitals. But oftentimes, hospital protocol succeeds in chipping away at true midwifery care, and midwifery in its purest form is often (though not always) only found in the homebirth community.

In a lot of ways, this book is an attack on true midwifery. The author, through the heroine, speaks scornfully and disdainfully of doulas, of self-educated patients, and of patients who don't want to accept her interventions or who question her advice in any way. There is one entire chapter which she spends attacking the author of a natural childbirth book, which seems (to me) to be a thinly veiled attack on Henci Goer (the fictitious author's name is "Harriet Ganci").

Do I recommend this book? Mmmmm.... No. For the crudeness, vulgarity and explicit sexuality, I could never recommend it. Other than that, it's a good book - I guess. I wish she had kept her heroine's sex life to herself (or just stopped outside the bedroom door) and focussed on midwifery. But this book is not a glimpse into "real" midwifery - that is, the holistic, woman-centered, evidence-based midwifery model of maternity care. Anyone reading this book without good background knowledge of true midwifery would come out with a really warped view of midwifery. I won't be reading the book again, and I definitely won't be recommending it personally. As one reviewer on Amazon said, "The good, decent, informative parts of the book were so surrounded by the sewage that I could never recommend this book to anyone." Too bad. Try "Baby Catcher" by Vincent instead.

1 comment:

  1. Funny that you just posted this and I was just seeking more info on the author. Everything you said in your review hits home to what I am thinking of the book right now. It's entertaining, but the "midwifery" is not what I see as "midwifery". I was curious since her knowledge is so deep in birth, but it's a novel. I avoided buying this one for quite awhile cuz it was a novel...I too prefer autobiographies...but my school's midwifery reading room was reading it and I forgot it was the one I was not going to buy and rushed out to get it and join in the discussion...Have to admit I too was bummed when I realized which book it was. Oh well...entertaining for moment...but there are certainly better midwifery memoirs out there =)

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