Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart: A Midwife’s Saga

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Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart: A Midwife’s Saga

By: Carol Leonard 
Publisher: Bad Beaver Publishing 
Publication Date: 2008 
ISBN: 978-0-615-19550-6 
Reviewed by: Pamela Victor 
Review Date: January 2009 

Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart has it all. It’s part memoir, part American history, part textbook, part spiritual journey, part love story. Carol Leonard relays her life story as a midwife, a mother, a wife and a health care activist from 1975 (the year her son was born) to 1987 (the year of her deepest, darkest time.) The yarn that winds seamlessly thorough this book is the moment of birth. As a midwife who has delivered hundreds of babies, Carol Leonard tells the best birth stories! By their very nature, birth stories are the ultimate adventure tales, full of fraught emotion and drama that would make any Hollywood producer envious. Danger, romance, mystery, comedy and sometimes, sadly, tragedy – Leonard’s stories will keep you turning the pages with anticipation.

Carol Leonard is an outstanding midwife, in addition, she is an accomplished writer. She has a keen ability to tell a story cleanly with just the right amount of detail, humor and intrigue. Each chapter contains a nice mix of personal narrative, midwife history, and many splendid and suspenseful birth stories. Leonard applies an unflinching truthfulness to the telling as she bravely shines a cold, hard light into her past, warts-and-all. Leonard reveals her finest achievements as well as her heart-wrenching mistakes in a devastatingly honest, heroic manner.

Did I mention she is really funny too? Leonard has a charming ability to laugh at herself and the outlandish foibles she gets herself into in a manner that feels like she’s giving the reader a little, knowing wink. Like the time she delivered an unexpected Halloween baby while she was dressed in a stork costume. Or the time one mother decided the best place to deliver her baby was balanced like a gymnast between her washer and dryer in the laundry room. Always willing to accommodate the needs of the mother, Leonard caught the baby while wedged between the two appliances. She writes, “I am trying my best in these cramped quarters to guide the baby out. The amniotic fluid is dripping on my head. Dryer lint is sticking in my wet hair. I am covered, head to toe, with fuzz balls. When I finally stand up, I look like a gray Yeti.”

Carol Leonard is a remarkable woman. Her enormous dedication to the physical and emotional health of women and babies is profound and admirable. Whether directly or indirectly, Carol Leonard had a hand in the shaping of the way all women are treated by their health care workers during their labor and delivery to this day, whether in hospitals or at home. Most readers will learn a lot from this book about the evolution of child birth in the mid- to late-1900’s, and they may gain an appreciation for the herculean efforts of pioneers like Leonard.

Not only does she reveal her personal and professional life, but Carol Leonard shares her spiritual journey as well. If you are put off by granola-head Earth Mothers, then you might not connect with her. But if you are on her wavelength then you will be broadened by her attunement to the universe. She is intuitive to the point of a mystic with an unfailing sixth sense that she learns to trust more and more as her story unfolds. Her ability to trust her inner guide stands out as a take-away lesson to us all.

OK, I just have to say it: I wish Carol Leonard had been my midwife, both as a baby and as a mother! All health care workers would do well to read Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart to learn from Leonard’s deep respect for women and her implicit trust in their bodies’ ability to know how to bring their children into this world. As one of her apprentice midwives tells her after a particularly touch-and-go delivery, “…somehow you knew to trust the process and to just sit it out. Jesus, that’s a tough thing to do – nothing. You’re crazy, Leonard, you really are. But that was a miracle, and it only happened that way because it was you.” All women should be grateful there are crazy, wonderful, wise women like Carol Leonard in this world.

Quill says: Adventure, mystery, history, comedy, romance, tragedy – this midwife’s memoir has it all!

For more information on Lady's Hands, Lion's Heart, please visit the author's website at: Bad Beaver Publishing

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