One woman's path through doula training, childrearing, and a computer science Ph. D. program

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book report: Motherwit

Onnie Lee Logan (as told to Katherine Clark). Motherwit: An Alabama Midwife's Story, 1991
My score

My review

This is not an inspirational book. This is a book that seeds a few ugly, shocking birth stories, while attempting at some history. It is hard to read, anticlimactic, and lacking useful information.

Imagine a hot summer day, humidity in the high-nineties. You are on the front porch of a hand-built house in the middle of rural Alabama. There are 14 or so children running around -- all borne from the same mother. On the porch swing sits Onnie, a large black woman in her sixties, sipping sweet iced tea with fresh mint, the ice cubes ringing gaily in her glass. Onnie's slow, southern drawl is telling you her life story. Slowly. Meanwhile, mosquitoes as big as your fist are buzzing around your head, and you have a nagging feeling you have to be somewhere else.

The tone of Motherwit is just that: Onnie Lee Logan dictating her memoirs. The southern drawl, the slang, and the verbal self-corrections are all immaculately captured. I literally had to read the book aloud to myself on several occasions to see what on earth some words were supposed to be. Pick'n some co'n -- oh!

Onnie portrays a black-hating, rural, poverty-ridden world in Alabama. She introduces her large family (her mother spent almost all her adult life pregnant), and talks about her early days as first a home-care, and, later, midwife assistant.

In the second half of the book, however, the tone takes a turn for the worse. Since when did "memoirs" become synonymous with "here, let me describe to you the things that were so awful, so terrible, so heart-wrenching, that I cannot get them out of my mind -- and you should suffer with me?" That which has been read, cannot be unread.

Unlike Ina May's guides, which are full of information for anyone interested in how midwives function, or in labor, or in labor customs, Onnie's memoirs have virtually no useful information. I was hoping to discover the labor techniques for poor women living in squalor, or read some inspiring or heartening birth stories told from a black midwife's perspective, but alas. The setting was a background on which to paint an ugly canvas and dig up painful memories that just will not die.

I hate posting bad reviews of books, and I was hesitant to post this one. But there you go.

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