Patricia Harman - A Passion for Midwifery
Patricia Harman has spent over thirty years caring for women as a midwife, first as a lay-midwife, delivering babies in cabins and on communal farms in West Virginia, and later as a nurse-midwife in teaching hospitals and in a community hospital birthing center. She lives and works with her husband, Ob/Gyn Thomas Harman, in West Virginia. Though she no longer attends births, she provides care for women in early pregnancy and through-out the life span. She brings to this work the same dedication and compassion she brought to obstetrics. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, A Midwife's Song.
Please give us a short introduction of what A Midwife's Song is about.
A Midwife’s Song, Oh Freedom, the fourth in the series of my Midwife of Hope River novels, is a story about strong women facing the challenges of their times.
It’s 1956, the beginning of the Civil Rights movement and the middle of the cold war. Patience and Bitsy, midwives, one white and one black, are partners, in a rural community in the Liberty, West Virginia. As they go about their work delivering babies in the homes of rich and poor, they also face challenges with their young adult children. Willie returns wounded from the war in Korea and isn’t coping well. Mira is pregnant “out of wedlock” and Danny has a problem with booze.
One morning, a mysterious box appears on Patience’s porch containing the journals of Mrs. Potts, an elderly midwife in the community, who passed away twenty years ago. Mrs. Potts, they learn, was born a slave. As they read her diaries, the two experience what it must have been like for the young Gracie Potts, who risked everything to escape slavery. Meanwhile, the news is full civil rights protests in the South and the anger of white Americans who oppose equality. Race relations in Liberty, where black and white men have worked in the coalmines side by side, has been relatively peaceful, but is the community ready to accept the national mandate to integrate schools? Bitsy and Patience join the local NAACP protests in favor of civil rights and face the backlash of neighbors and friends.
What inspired you to write this story?
Mrs. Potts, the old black midwife, was a strong character in the first Hope River novel. At her funeral, the reader learns she was born before the Civil War. For the last twelve years, I wondered about that. What was her story? Was she emancipated after the Civil War? Was she born free? Did she escape slavery on her own or with others? How did she come to West Virginia, which was a free state? Since no one could give me the answers, I had to write the book myself.
All my books are written in the first person as diaries. I wanted to tell Grace Potts story as she lived it as a young slave. But who would be reading her diary? I decided to pick Patience and Bitsy, beloved characters in the earlier Hope River novels and I chose the 1950s as a time when they also would be facing issues of racism.
What fascinates you about midwives?
Midwives are great heroines. They’re women who stand on a line between birth and death and often face challenges from physicians and other healthcare providers who see them as threats. At the same time, they’re ordinary women with families and kids, who face the same challenges we all face. It helps that I am a midwife myself and have delivered over a thousand babies.
How much research did this book require from you?
My research on slavery in the United States was extensive. Like most of us, I learned about this terrible history in school, but the details of the brutality were vague. Slave narratives, first person accounts written by educated escaped slaves, were the most helpful source. I probably read twenty books. The rest of the research I could get on-line, particularly about the workings of the Underground Railroad. I used newspaper articles and photos of the protests in the 1950s to imagine what it would be like to face the tension of the Civil Rights era.
Besides writing, what are your other skills?
I play the piano and guitar. I’m a pretty good gardener. I’m a midwife and an RN. I can sew and I’m a good hugger when we don’t have a pandemic.
Tell us more about the cover and how it came about.
I love the cover of A Midwife’s Song! I found the photo on-line. You can buy them on a website for a few hundred dollars. It so expressed the joy of the escaped slave, but also just said something about freedom. It is particularly relevant in these days of Black Lives Matter.
When working on a new book, what’s the first thing you do?
Before I start a book, I come up with a vague idea of what it will be about. I imagine the setting and the time and I usually focus on some big event or issue, like the Great Depression, World War 2, or the Civil Rights Movement. I’m interested in how such events affect ordinary people in their communities. I start with a central character and put her in the middle of conflict or extreme situation. The thing is, I honestly have no outline or anything. Its as much fun for me to write a book as it is for the reader to read it. I don’t know what is going to happen next either.
What is an average writing day like for you?
My average writing day, when things are going well, is…I sit in a big chair in front of a window with a cup of tea and my laptop and start back and few paragraphs and just go from there, telling the story. After five novels, I’ve learned that around the middle of the book is where I have a major insight. Sometimes it comes in the night…an aha moment where I realize what the book is really about…not just the events and mystery or challenges of the characters, but something bigger…like hope, or love, or facing loss and despair, or growing older, or realizing we are more alike than we are different.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
You Tube Video of Patricia Harman talking about her books