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VINE VOICEon April 18, 2011
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. Most compelling, though, are stresses in their marriage. This last portion is where the book really got a hold on me and I couldn't stop reading until I found out how it ended.

Patsy Harman has written a thoughtful and lyrical story of her own transition from the 1970s to the 2000s and all the personal adjustments she had to make. I feel like some of the individual stories in this book will stay with me for a long time. Also it is the most believable and honest depiction of the hippie lifestyle that I have ever read. After finishing the book and continuing to think about it, my admiration is growing.
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VINE VOICEon April 3, 2011
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. The book ends with their renewed commitment and making a new "ten year plan".

This is an intimate look at the difficulties and rewards of living more simply, and perhaps of particular interest to people who lived through these times.

I couldn't put it down.
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VINE VOICEon March 22, 2011
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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on May 19, 2014
This is the last book by Harman that I have found on Amazon, and I am glad to have read all three. These stories take me to a different kind of life, and the lessons ring true despite the differences. This one moved a little more slowly and I skipped a page here and there, but there is still a thread of comfort smoothly winding through to the end as thoughts, wisdom and love bring peace to the spirits of the reader as the characters find their way along life's winding paths. I like this writer for this and for the hope that warms me as I finish each story with teary eyes.
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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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on March 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In her prequel to "The Blue Cotton Gown" Patricia Harman reflects on the people, events and ideals that shaped her life in general and her choice to become a midwife in particular. My sense has always been that we do not really change....we just become more or less the person that we are inherently created to be. The root of "midwife" means "Woman assisting", which is what Patsy was pretty much all about all of her life. Harman's core belief in the importance of living in a manner that is sustainable, peace seeking and respectful of people and the world in which they live was lived remained constant despite changes in her circumstances, understanding and expression of these values. Framed within seasons of the year, this book presents an honest look into 1970's communal living and the reasons why, despite real efforts, it was not a practical way to go for most people in the long run. As with many of us who grew up during this same time, Patsy and Tom struggle and come to terms with the issue of "selling out ideals" vs. finding ways to live them out with integrity in an ever-changing society. Well written and thought provoking on many levels.
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on July 4, 2015
I read the Goodreads reviews after reading the book and was fascinated by what appears to be an age gap in responses to Arms Wide Open. As someone who lived an ordinary, middle-class life during a period of social turbulence, I loved the book. Few of my high school and university friends joined the back-to-the-land movement, but in my middle to older adult years I have met many who did. So for me the book was an insider's look at the young, idealistic people who eschewed consumer culture and dreamed of a simpler, more sustainable life.

It would be easy to see their gradual return to cities and professions as a failure of their idealism. That would be short sighted. Most of them brought the same values that took them "back to the land" into the jobs and families they entered afterward. We do not have to change the entire world to make a difference to our piece of it.

This is a memoir, not an autobiography. That there are huge gaps in the narrative did not bother me. We do not need to know every detail of Harman's story to grasp the overarching themes. She writes in the present tense, not something I generally enjoy. It works here, as she writes candidly about her experience of life, her hopes and dashed dreams, her challenges and failures.
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on April 13, 2011
In the hands of a gifted storyteller, a memoir becomes more than a chronicle of the writer's life. It becomes the history of a time and a place. --Doris Kearns Goodwin

Arms Wide Open is the haunting story of Patricia Harman's personal journey from the rootlessness of her hippie life to the rooted, responsible life she leads now, as a nurse-midwife-educator. But it is much more than the story of her life: it is the history of a maturing philosophy and her counter-culture life during a period of remarkable cultural change.

Patricia Harman begins her story in 1971, in a log cabin on 80 acres in the woods of Minnesota, with her friend Stacy and their little boy Mica. The family was committed to living lightly and sustainably, without electricity, running water, power tools, or the financial cushion of work in town. The stories of this period are drawn, Harman tells us, from the Red Journal she kept at that time: stories of planting, harvesting, beekeeping, building; of winter isolation and summer visits to their commune friends in Duluth; of teaching natural birthing to the area women; of bears and river floods and terrible snows; of separating themselves as far as possible from the military-industrial complex that seemed to rule life in Vietnam-era America. But while Patricia loved life on the land, she also felt the need for community and the desire to work toward a social goal that was larger than the narrowly personal. The first chapter of her journey ends when she leaves Mica in the care of his father and sets off into an uncertain and nomadic future.

The second part of Harman's memoir, based on her Green Journal, is set in the late 1970s. Patsy has moved to a commune on a wooded ridge in West Virginia, into marriage with Tom, the birth of two more sons and a reunion with Mica, and the self-taught (and later fully credentialed) vocation of midwifery. She is living life on the land and in community, but the commune, like so many of that era, comes apart as people move on to another stage of their lives. Patsy and Tom move on, too, into what seems like an impossible ten-year plan that will take them into the medical profession.

But they persevere, and succeed. The third part of the memoir, based on her Silver Journal, takes place thirty years later, in 2008-2009. By this time, the Harmans are a successful husband-wife team of women's health care practioners, with a thriving practice in Appalachia, a lovely home on Hope Lake and a summer cottage on an island on Lake Erie. "I laugh at myself," Harman writes. "Once we lived in a log cabin, before that a barn with a dirt floor, then there was the butterfly tent. What yuppies we are, with two lakeside homes!"

But with success come the challenges of practicing medicine in rural America--challenges which are every bit as real and difficult as bears and river floods and life-threatening winters. Successful as they are, the Harmans don't live an easy life, especially since they have become uncomfortably aware of the looming climate change, the need for alternative energy, and the need to defend their practice against those who don't share their commitment to rural women. "I can't sing 'We shall overcome' anymore," Harman tells her husband. "I used to think I had the answers, knew how to make the world better." Now, the world seems unredeemable. But her husband doesn't agree. "We should move ahead," he says. "Nothing will change if everyone waits...We just need to do what we can."

Like Harman's first memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown, this one is rich with compassion, understanding, and--yes--joy. It is the story of a remarkable life lived with unflinching self-awareness and well and truly told.

by Susan Wittig Albert
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
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VINE VOICEon April 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
When I ordered this book, I assumed that it would be primarily about birth based on the title, but particularly the subtitled, "a midwife's journey". I am a doula and am pregnant so I was looking forward to reading an Ina May Gaskin-like book about birth. I was especially curious to learn about her transition from homebirth midwifery into birth in a hospital setting. While these kind of stories were sprinkled into parts of the book, birth was *not* the central focus of this book. The book was divided into three sections - life as a nuclear family living off the grid in a log cabin, life in a commune, then, 30 years later (with little account of where the time went) life as a self-proclaimed yuppie working in gynecology not midwifery.

This said, I found the book to be fascinating. I enjoyed Patsy's writing style. I felt her depiction of life was balanced - neither romanticized nor exaggerated to the negative. I enjoyed reading about the joys and challenges that she faced in the three varied settings in which she lived.

To echo some of the other reviewers - if you are looking for a book that is only all about birth, this is not it. If you are interested in learning more about life off the grid, or life in the commune, or life as a medical practitioner where patients may be addicted to pain medications then this book is incredibly interesting and honest. I saw an interview with Patsy where she said the title of the book was Broken Hallelujah: An Earth Mother's Song and I think that particular title would have been much more fitting. Still, I really enjoyed this book.
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on March 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
My first encounter with Patricia Harman was when I read her first book "The Blue Cotton Gown". She is a wonderful storyteller and if you liked her first work then "Arms Wide Open" will be enjoyable as well. Harman's second book details her journey of becoming a midwife. That story is even more interesting because it is set against the backdrop of the 70's and the hippie era. Harman herself was a full fledged hippie who was committed to living off the land. This idea seems somewhat popular again today and reading this book is a great reality check for anyone considering going it alone. The author explains the struggles that her family faced while trying to create an independent and sustainable lifestyle. Of course Harman's early midwifery experiences make up the other fascinating half of this book. She becomes involved in childbirth because of her interest in teaching women how to have a natural and pleasant child birth experience. Somewhat out of necessity she learns how to deliver the babies of her friends and in turn develops a passion for this line of work. The lessons that she learns along the way are very insightful and thought provoking. Eventually the author becomes disillusioned with the hippie lifestyle and along with her husband decides to start a women's health practice instead. The only thing that I found a bit disappointing is the fact that the author doesn't give any kind of analysis of why the communal green living didn't work over the long term. I would have liked to read her thoughts on that. But overall, it was a great read that I can only recommend.
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