The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth
Pub. Date: February 10, 2015
Source: ARC and finished copy via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!!)
Summary: THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES tells the story of three generations of women devoted to delivering new life into the world—and the secrets they keep that threaten to change their own lives forever. Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is determined to keep the details surrounding her own pregnancy—including the identity of the baby’s father— hidden from her family and co-workers for as long as possible. Her mother, Grace, finds it impossible to let this secret rest. For Floss, Neva’s grandmother and a retired midwife, Neva’s situation thrusts her back 60 years in time to a secret that eerily mirrors her granddaughter’s—a secret which, if revealed, will have life-changing consequences for them all. Will these women reveal their secrets and deal with the inevitable consequences? Or are some secrets best kept hidden?
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Recommended for: Fans of multi-generational stories, multiple narratives, and those who don’t mind seeing the Big Reveal coming from a mile away
When I first received an advanced copy of The Secrets of Midwives, I was a little hesitant to read it – what do I know about childbirth? Is this really the story for me? Then a month or two later a finished copy arrived at my door, complete with a lovely cover (very reminiscent of my favorite WWII historical novels) and blurbs by Liane Moriarty and Christina Baker Kline. Still, I put off reading it, always opting for something shorter, something I felt would be more me. Over the weekend I was at a standstill – I had finished one book and was in that limbo area, eager to choose my next read and finally decided to pick up the novel I had been putting off for months. You know what? I really ought to trust St. Martin’s publicists. All my fears and worries went out the door as I settled in and devoured the entire book in one sitting.
Neva comes from a family of midwives. Her mother Grace is a practicing midwife – one of the best around – and her grandmother Floss has long since retired, but practiced for decades, first in England, then later in America. Neva’s relationship with her mother (always called Grace, never Mom) is precarious at best, and it comes as a shock to everyone when it’s discovered that, not only is Neva pregnant, but she’s just a few short months away from giving birth. She’s determined to keep the father’s identity a secret and Grace makes it her own personal mission to get to the bottom of it. While Grace is preoccupied with solving this mystery, Floss is struggling with her own secret – the reason she left England all those years ago.
As I said, my reservations were all for naught – turns out The Secrets of Midwives has less to do with midwifery and more to do with – wait for it – the secrets these midwives have locked away. Now you know me: I am ALL about multiple perspectives (the more, the merrier!), and I usually find myself happy with each voice. Here, however, I found myself looking forward to Floss’s chapters. I enjoyed her story so much, in fact, that I could have easily read an entire book devoted to her past. Her upbringing in England, watching her friends marry while Floss comes to terms with her sexuality, that fateful night when she knew she needed to get as far away as possible. She was wonderfully fleshed out and hands down the best character in this book.
Grace, on the other hand, infuriated me to no end. She becomes obsessed with getting answers from Neva – she even tries to get her husband (who always had a much stronger bond with Neva) to force it out of her daughter. Neva’s made up her mind to raise the child on her own, yet Grace makes it her life’s work to find the father. I…just didn’t get it. Her need for answers completely rubbed me the wrong way; what does it matter to her if Neva doesn’t want to share that information? She said the father isn’t in the picture, that the baby is hers and hers alone, yet Grace can’t seem to drop it. She shows up at the hospital where Neva works, watching her interact with doctors and nurses, trying to see which ones have ~chemistry~ When she’s not playing detective, she’s acting like a child. Had I not known better, I would have assumed Grace was the daughter (more of a tween rather than late 20s) while Neva was the adult.
The Secrets of Midwives is largely devoted to Neva and while I loved Floss, I was okay with this. I enjoyed the bit of mystery that came with her story – who was the baby’s father? I had my suspicions and was more than a little appalled by the actions some characters took when the truth (and half-truths) came out. I was also incredibly disheartened to see how midwives were portrayed. The doctors (all men) were always referred to as Doctor, while the midwives were address by their first names. They received little and in some cases no respect from the medical community, cast aside and considered annoyances who get in the way of the real experts.
The Big Reveal didn’t come as much of a shock to me, but, again, I didn’t mind. I enjoyed the journey the story took to get to that point. The Secrets of Midwives came as a pleasant surprise – I honestly wasn’t expecting to enjoy this story as much as I did! – and actually opened my eyes to a world I knew virtually nothing about. With vaccinations playing a large role in the news these days, I felt as though this book played a bit of a companion role in a sense – an alternative to hospitals, opting to have a home birth, etc. While The Secrets of Midwives wasn’t a flawless novel, it was still one I tore though in an afternoon and I can easily see fans of Kate Morton and Lucinda Riley enjoying Sally Hepworth as well.