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Crescent Blues Book ViewsScribners (Hardcover), ISBN 0743219333
Forget the picture of medieval midwife. Forget the mystic, spiritual woman versed only in herb lore. And forget the granny midwife, usually depicted as an old hag, trained by a shaman or witch doctor.

Book: Peggy Vincent, Baby Catcher, chronicles of a modern midwifeInstead, meet Peggy Vincent, graduate of Duke University School of Nursing and licensed midwife. Vincent worked 15 years as a delivery room nurse, 10 years as a natural childbirth teacher and three years as the director of the first alternative birth center in East Bay before hanging out her shingle as a private practice midwife. She writes of her experiences with authority and honesty, lacing her colorful stories with humor and pathos. Her first book, Baby Catcher (Chronicles of a Modern Midwife), proclaims her passion for childbirth and details her midwife experiences, which coincide with the rise and fall of modern home birth midwifery in the United States.

The book begins with "Z" for Zelda, who represents Vincent's ah-ha moment -- the moment Vincent realizes doctors shouldn't control birth, shouldn't strap women's feet in stirrups, and shouldn't knock them out with drugs and drag their stunned babies into a cold, sterile world. Vincent believes "birth is natural," quickly putting herself at odds with doctors who believe "normal birth is a retrospective diagnosis. No birth is normal until after the fact." With that epiphany, Vincent signs up for midwifery school and opens her own practice.

Vincent attends births at home, in cars, closets, bathtubs, elevators, on leaky boats and toilets. She assists a diverse group of women whose lifestyles run the gamut from obstetrical nurses, lesbians, teenagers, Hare Krishnas, Jewish astrophysicists to prostitutes, Christian Scientists, Muslims and blue collar wives. She faces irate doctors, naked husbands and attack cats, and concludes each birth with a celebratory feast of Berkeley's gourmet foods.

Not all the stories have happy endings, and the unhappiest may be the decline of private, autonomous midwifery such as Vincent's.

Told with a story-teller's enthusiasm and colorful commentary, these narratives, presented complete in each chapter, arise from a rare perspective: the medically-trained home birth midwife. The stories share many similarities -- how many ways can one present a birth? But the characters and underlying greater truth keep readers moving forward for the next dramatic scene.

Up to her elbows in bodily fluids, checking cervices as naturally as a mechanic checks the oil, Vincent helps readers accept topics only whispered by our mothers. Truly liberating, informative and down right entertaining, Vincent crafts a must-read for every woman who ever thought about childbirth. Men, if courageous enough to pick it up, will discover insights into the intimate world of women. In fact, everyone will find much to enjoy in this strong debut book that fills a remarkably empty niche on the bookshelf.

Dawn Goldsmith

Click here to read Dawn Goldsmith's interview with Peggy Vincent.

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