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Midwives on Oprah.

During the month of December the Oprah Winfrey Show chose the novel Midwives as their book of the month. Massachusetts Friends of Midwives (MFOM), as well as many other friends of midwives, was concerned about this choice. Though the novel is very well written and suspenseful it does tell a frightening story about a midwife and about homebirth. We felt it was very important that the show include a midwife to answer any questions and to speak to the difference between fiction and reality. Oprah Winfrey received 5,000 letters and emails regarding this book! We were very pleased to learn that Oprah did include a midwife on the show, and to top it off, she is from Massachusetts! Her name is Patricia Ann Wallace. She is the mother of homebirthed sons, and a CNM with Urban Midwives Associates. Patricia Wallace said that although she felt the novel was "a good read," it was her civic duty to respond in defense of midwifery.

The show aired on Monday, December 7, 1998. The actual book club discussion was preceded by an interview with the author, Chris Bohjalian. He stated emphatically that the book is all fiction, not derived from any actual case he had researched. Next, Oprah included some brief footage of a homebirth midwife, Carol Gibson Warnock, with a pregnant couple. Carol Gibson Warnock explained positive facts and statistics about the safety of homebirth.

The book club discussion took place at the Inn at Sawmill Farm in Dover, Vermont. (The novel itself takes place in Vermont.) Oprah Winfrey, Chris Bohjalian, Patricia Wallace, and three other women convened in a cozy sitting area to talk about the book. The discussion began with Patricia asking the author what his agenda had been in writing the book and having this midwife's character destroyed by the end. (Interestingly, the rest of the group disagreed that the character had been destroyed. Most of the women supported the midwife.) The author responded that he had had no agenda, and that "in a heartbeat ... he and his wife would choose a midwife." He also stated, "I am not scared of home birth and midwifery."

Oprah's response to this was strong: "Ninety percent of the planet has had their children at home ... and I'm one of them."

Patricia shouted "Yes!" and Oprah joined her, then emphasized the above statistic. The group continued to discuss points about the trial and what they would have done if they had been on the jury. In closing, the group toasted Sibyl, the midwife of the novel.

Before the show was broadcast, Patricia Wallace reported that there had been two hours of taping to be edited down to less than ten minutes. MFOM was concerned about how the footage would be edited, but the final result was great. I say cheers to the show's editors who allowed a significant portion of the discussion in favor of home birth to be shown in the final cut for the show. Chris Bohjalian's reminder that the book is purely fiction, as well as the show's emphasis on the safety of homebirth were additional bonuses from the point of view of educating the public. We've heard that the author has sold film rights to the novel. A movie version of Midwives could mean many more opportunities to publicize midwifery.

--Buffy Meliment is the secretary for the Massachusetts Friends of Midwives. She works as an emergency room nurse, but her real goal is to become a midwife. She will be embarking on a midwifery education program this coming spring. Buffy and her husband live a few blocks away from the Cambridge Birth Center, (in Cambridge, Massachusetts) where she also works on a per diem basis as a postpartum nurse.

For more information about MFOM, write to P.O. Box 440470, Sommerville, MA 02144.
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Author:Meliment, Buffy
Publication:Special Delivery
Article Type:Interview
Date:Mar 22, 1999
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Next Article:Book Review: Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing.

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