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the blue cotton gown: a midwife's memoir
ISBN: 978-0-8070-7289-9
By Patricia Harman
Review by: Melissa Doffing


The blue cotton gown recounts the events of midwife, Patricia Harman's life during perhaps her roughest sixteen months. She takes an honest look at the complexities of the modern woman through her role as partner, wife, mother, health care professional, friend and lover. Harman is shockingly honest about her insomnia, medicinal drinking, sex life, professional and marital burnout and all the challenges of owning a private practice with your husband in rough financial times.

Harman is a true healer and that comes across vividly in her text. She treats the whole woman, and is intimately invested in her patients' lives. As a result, patients seem to open up to Harman - she claims the magic of the blue cotton gown, but it is obvious from the first few pages that it is Harman who is magic. The exam room is transformed into a confessional in her gentle presence.

Women tell her deeply personal things about themselves. They confide about past and current abuses, inability to achieve orgasms, strained relationships and even the emotional rollercoaster of dealing with a sex change. Harman treats them all with an open heart; tucking notes about the most troubled into her prayer box at night.

It is these women that Harman chooses to tell her story through. All of their stories, their lives are intertwined. And through this collective truth telling, the book becomes a truly feminist endeavor; one voice speaking for many. She sheds light on a random sampling of the women's issues in Appalachia and everywhere. Most importantly, Harman reminds us that, as women, we are not alone.

The memoir reads like a fast-paced novel. It is well written, raw and emotional. Harman crafts some of the most beautiful figurative language I've read in a long while. Her prose is eloquent, lyrical and unique. Her descriptions of nature are especially brilliant; her insight into the human condition unparalleled. In the intense, climatic final scene; the truth of her life is laid bare. Harman's memoir is a shining example of what can happen when life meets the page head on.


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