I had the pleasure of working with Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew during my time in the Foreword Program at the Loft Literary Center. She was one of the creative non-fiction mentors but was hard at work on her novel Hannah, Delivered, a book about which she clearly had great passion. That novel has now been published and I'm thrilled to share some of her insights into what drew her to the topic of midwifery and birth. With that, I will turn it over to Elizabeth herself who wrote the following for me to share.
Why would a queer adoptive mom write a novel about a lot of hetero women giving birth?
Trust me, it’s not because I like hanging out with pregnant women. Just this morning at the splash pad with my daughter, I was on a bench reading when I was suddenly surrounded by ripe bellies in fashionable bathing suits. I should have jumped up and said, “Hey! I just wrote a book about midwives that you’d love!” Instead I crossed my unshaven legs and buried my nose in The Writer’s Chronicle.
I came out bisexual more than two decades ago, and since then have been amazed that the world doesn’t continually celebrate queer wisdom. GLBT folk know how to respect desire. We heed the body’s wisdom and adore its variations despite a culture that recommends otherwise. We know how to love whomever we love. I wrote a memoir about coming out and ever since I’ve been on a mission to apply what I learned to as many arenas of life as possible.
So when I heard a midwife say, “I think birth is feminism’s final frontier—if our culture loved women, we’d trust their bodies,” I had to find out what she meant. Was it possible that birth practices in the U.S. alienate women from their bodies in the same way that prejudice and denial alienate so many queer people?
In fact, yes—with dire consequences to the health of women and our children. So I wrote Hannah, Delivered to explore what that final frontier might look like.
Here are five things I discovered:
1. It’s great fun to write about a gay man who wears wrap-around skirts and becomes a fabulous midwife.
2. There is a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong. (Thanks to Laura Stavoe Harm.)
3. We don’t need to be afraid of birth pain. A midwife I observed said to a woman in labor, “Push through your pain. Your baby’s on the other side of that pain.” Reminds me of the pain of coming out, which was awful but sure worth it. I suspect this is true for much of the pain we avoid.
4. Natural birth makes for great bumper stickers: “Midwives do it in any position.” “Delivery? Or take-out?” “Push ahead with midwives.” “Say no to drugs—beginning with birth.”
5. Women in labor need other women. The single factor affecting women’s satisfaction with their births—at home, in the hospital, natural or surgical—is whether or not someone familiar with birth has stayed with them the entire time. Ladies, isn’t this true for all our tough times? We just want someone there.
Lest you worry, I did stick in a scene of Hannah assisting a lesbian couple with their insemination—birth in the queer community is quirky and difficult and fun. I remain forever grateful to the midwives of St. Joseph’s hospital who gave my partner and me our own, free room a few doors down from where our daughter was being born. They knew that we needed midwifing, too, since we were being born into new roles as parents. I wish everyone giving birth to something new could experience that kind of love and trust.