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A midwife’s memoir of living free and naturally against all odds
In her first, highly praised memoir, Patricia Harman told us the stories patients brought into her exam room, and her own story of struggling to help women as a nurse-midwife in medical practice with her husband, an OB/GYN, in Appalachia. In this new book, Patsy reaches back to tell us how she first learned to deliver babies, and digs even deeper down to tell us of her youthful experiments with living a fully sustainable and natural life.
Drawing heavily on her journals, Arms Wide Open goes back to a time of counter-culture idealism that the boomer generation remembers well. Patsy opens with stories of living in the wilds of Minnesota in a log cabin she and her lover build with their own hands, the only running water being the nearby streams. They set up beehives and give chase to a bear competing for the honey. Patsy gives birth and learns to help her friends deliver as naturally as possible.
Weary of the cold and isolation, Patsy moves to a commune in West Virginia, where she becomes a self-taught midwife delivering babies in cabins and homes. Her stories sparkle with drama and intensity, but she wants to help more women than healthy hippie homesteaders. After a ten-year sojourn for professional training, Patsy and her husband, Tom, return to Appalachia, as a nurse-midwife and physician, where they set up a women’s-health practice. They deliver babies together, this time in hospitals; care for a wide variety of gyn patients; and live in a lakeside contemporary home--but their hearts are still firmly implanted in nature. The obstetrical climate is changing. The Harmans’ family is changing. The earth is changing, but Patsy’s arms remain wide open to life and all it offers.
Her memoir of living free and sustainably against all odds will be especially embraced by anyone who lived through the Vietnam War and commune era, and all those involved in the back-to-nature and natural-childbirth movements.
“There are more honest, revealing moments here than in many memoirs. Harman, whose prose is sparse but not simple, covers a span of decades, deftly revealing her own youthful struggles with identity through the children we witnessed her raising earlier in her book, revealing, in short, a full life.” –Publishers Weekly
“The heart of Arms Wide Open is birthing, but its soul is sustainable living and a spirit of environmentally friendly management of resources. Harman’s commitment to this theme permeates her book, and with similar focus on other contemporary issues, it is relevant for a vast array of readers.”–Rain Taxi
“This new memoir is a peek at midwife Patsy Harman’s early hippie days, a world where idealism and compassion never cease to matter, where her commune mates struggle–sometimes successfully, sometimes not–against an unjust/unwinable war with a limitless sense of personal commitment and self-sacrifice. It’s good to hear these stories, good to remember the fervor against the Vietnam War and our collective voices raised in protest. It’s heartening to know that the indomitable Midwife Harman still carries on the legacy of those years with a message that is still vital and necessary all these years later.”–Carol Leonard, Midwife and author of Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart, a Midwife’s Saga
“Patricia Harman’s unflinching honesty and soaring poetry unfold the dream and the reality of the rural communes, political activism, and urban counterculture in the 1970s, and what we, the veterans of that particular era of bohemian life, have become today. She weaves in the telling details–the songs we sang, the clothes we wore, the glories of nature we witnessed, and, most especially, the causes for which we organized and the austerities we endured willingly, for the sake of the earth and all her children.”–Alicia Bay Laurel, author and illustrator of Living on the Earth
“A sparkling, vivid story of how a midwife is born–and survives. This story takes you places you never expect to go.”–Tina Cassidy, author of Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born