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Arms Wide Open: A Midwife's Journey Hardcover – April 12, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 89 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Nurse-midwife Harman pens a sort of prequel to her first memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown (2008), in which she revealed the trials of her patients and of her and husband Tom�s Appalachian ob-gyn clinic. This time she recounts, via a combination of personal journals and memory, the sometimes rocky road she took from being a card-carrying hippie/Vietnam War protester to matron midwife mentor. In the dusky haze of Harman�s recollections of the 1970s, the fact that there really was a movement espousing sustainable living and peace to all people easily gets lost. But Harman�s crystal-clear depiction of her not-so-halcyon days as a struggling earth mother living in a remote log cabin without electricity or indoor plumbing in a bona fide commune serves as an eye-opening reminder of an entire generation�s idealism. Moreover, as Patsy and Tom have aged, so, too, has their idealism, jaded by the hard facts of life in the medical profession. Harman is as candid as ever in this meaningful account of a woman dedicated to the service and support of her sister women. --Donna Chavez


Praise for Arms Wide Open

“Harman is a gifted storyteller. Her writing is honest, vivid, and moving.”—Natural Child Magazine 

“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

“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, author of Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart: A Midwife’s Saga
“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
“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

“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 

Praise for The Blue Cotton Gown

“This luminescent, ruthlessly authentic, humane, and brilliantly written account of a midwife in rough-hewn Appalachia, a passionate healer plying her art and struggling to live a life of spirit, stands as a model for all of us, doctors and patients alike, of how to offer good care.”—Samuel Shem, MD, author of The House of God, Mount Misery, and The Spirit of the Place
“Harman has a gift for storytelling, and The Blue Cotton Gown is a moving, percipient book.”—Karen R. Long, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“As the mother of seven children and veteran of eight pregnancy losses, I knew when I ran my bath that I would be unable to resist Patricia Harman’s memoir of midwifery, The Blue Cotton Gown. What I didn’t realize was that it would cause me, a sensible person, to get into her bath with one sock still on and rise from it when the candle was gone and the water cold. Utterly true and lyrical as any novel, Harman’s book should be a little classic.”—Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and Cage of Stars
Arms Wide Open is more than a book about delivering babies and bringing new life into the world; it’s about the deterioration of the optimism once so prevalent in the cracks and crevices of this country. It’s about the human spirit, and the desire to do good unto others. But most importantly, it’s about Mother Earth, the time we spend here, the things we plant, the mark we leave and the power she has over all of us.”—Hippocampus Magazine


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (April 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807001384
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807001387
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,352,252 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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 spent over a decade in the sixties and seventies in her wild youth living in rural communes in Washington (Tolstoy Farm), Connecticut (The Committee for Non-Violent Action) and Minnesota (Free Folk). During the Vietnam years, she and her husband, Tom Harman, traveled the country, often hitch-hiking, as they looked for a place to settle. In 1974 they purchased a farm with a group of like-minded friends on top of a ridge in Roane County, West Virginia. Here on the commune, they built log houses, dug a pond, grew and preserved their own food and started the Growing Tree Natural Foods Cooperative.

It was during this time that Patsy attended her first home birth, more or less by accident. "Some people are destined," she has written. "I was staying at a woman friend's commune when she went into labor and I ended up delivering my first baby." Soon after, Harman traveled to Austin, Texas to train with a collective of home-birth midwives. When she returned, she became one of the founding members of The West Virginia Cooperative of Midwives. Her passion for caring for women and babies led her to become an RN as the first step in getting licensed as certified nurse midwife. In 1985, with her children, a yowling cat and her husband she traveled north, pulling a broken down trailer to begin her training at the University of Minnesota where she received her MSN in Nurse-Midwifery.

Patricia Harman still 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.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book comes out at the same time as This Life Is in Your Hands. Both are memoirs of the hippie era. Both are good books, but the perspectives are very different.

About 35 years along in her medical career, Patsy Harman found the journals she kept in the 1970s when she was a young adult. As the title suggests, she used the journals to trace her journey in life.

As the story opens Patsy, her boy friend Stacy, and their young son Mica are living in a cabin in Appalachia. Their values are to live lightly on the land, i.e., to take just what they need to live, and to find a communal living experience that works for them. Far from a hippy-dippy drop-out experience, this is a serious effort to live according to their ideals. Among their challenges: finding the right combination of personalities and abilities to create an effective communal living experience, and of course, the fact that they have practically no money. Patsy cares deeply about helping women to have the best possible birthing experience. She reads books. She catches a few babies. But it is quite a while before midwifery is a way to make a living.

The first 2/3 of the book sort of meander along. There are birth experiences, both good and bad. Patsy marries Tom and they have a son together. They both become more seriously involved in medicine, including formal education.

Fast forward 30 years. Patsy and Tom are living in a gated community in Ohio. They have a medical practice focusing on women's health issues. They have not lost their original values, but in many ways real life has intruded. Their children are grown, and many parents can relate to their challenges they face. They have to deal with the ugly prospect of medical malpractice claims.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I read this book in two days, picking it up to read whenever I had a minute. I ordered, but have not yet read the author's previous book (The Blue Cotton Gown) which details her life as a certified nurse-midwife in a rural practice in West Virginia with her husband, an OB/GYN.

This book covers the period just after giving birth to her first son, living in a cabin in the woods, and tells the story of her sympathetic awakening to the need for the humane treatment of women during their birth experience. Having attended childbirth education classes with her partner, she comes to believe that expectant women can benefit from understanding of the process and support.

Their political activism (opposition to the Vietnam war) and philosophical beliefs lead to a series of communes where the adults conserve resources and "make-do" with the over-riding intention to live with less. This puts her in contact with other women similarly inclined and, setting up classes in a library, she begins her "practice" by attending and coaching these women.

Money is scarce and when a course to become an L.P.N. is suggested she begins on a path to educate herself and, along with her partner, bring some regular income to the commune. There is a 20+ year gap when she and her husband go to school (covered in her previous book), that resumes with their now three grown sons and a middle-class lifestyle.

Having lived without running water or reliable transportation, with a daily life that was physically demanding on a limited diet, here is an ongoing theme of questioning whether they have "sold-out" to the mainstream. Their practice serves the rural poor and has some "rocky moments" balancing the needs of women with chronic pelvic pain with, say, drug-seeking patients.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Arms Wide Open - A Midwife's Journey by Patricia Harman
This story is so captivating when you think of how much has changed in the world since the start of the book in the early 1970's to the last journal entry in 2009. The author's life mirrored many of the changes I have experienced in my own views on childbirth, women's rights, health care and politics. It brought back memories of my first visit to a commune in the late 1970's. Throughout the book the author captures the earth's natural cycles along with the childbirth stories to bring emphasis to how the two are intertwined. This journal preserves the important mentoring experience that midwifes (wise women) can have on our lives.
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Format: Kindle Edition
From a tiny cabin in the forest to a commune to a gated community, I got to read about the life of Patsy Harman. Pacifist starting during the Vietnam War (a time I lived through also), her story resonated through me.

Her and the men in her life, including her three sons, were hippies during the Flower Child movement. She and her family and friends feel extremely close to the glories of nature and the protection of our planet and actually live a life that takes that into account.

The story was a little disjointed. I understand the author went back and wrote this book, depending on her memory and journals she kept over the years. So I think she did amazingly well based on that.

I especially liked the portions of the book dedicated to her philosophy and practice of midwifery. I have read the author's fiction offering The Midwife of Hope River and especially enjoyed it. I am going to read her other non-fiction book The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir next.

If you are interested in books about peaceful protest, communal living, sustainable living and/or midwifery, you should enjoy "Arms Open Wide."
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