Starred Review from Kirkus
This poetic tale chronicles the presence and contributions of African American midwives.
A five-page historical introduction explains a few specific details of the role of the midwife, including noting their contributions dating back to the time of slavery; this is accompanied by archival, black-and-white photographs. Seven poems follow, celebrating midwives through history. First, Greenfield describes the trans-Atlantic slave journey and how, in America, the elder women taught the younger girls the knowledge and skill of assisting in childbirth, or “catching the babies.” The poem “After Emancipation, 1863” speaks to the special exuberance expressed by parents whose children were at last born free from slavery: The midwife “felt the / excitement circling through / the room. / …it was more than / the joy of a new baby coming.” In “The Early 1900s,” the midwife now had more than her hands for the job; she had a stethoscope, scales, and, most likely, her husband, who would transport her via horse and buggy to deliver babies. The poems are accompanied by colorful, symbolic artwork by Minter. One striking image depicts five women connected by sinuous, draping robes, heads bowed in concentration, “gentle, loving” hands at the ends of muscular arms “guid[ing babies] into the world.” Greenfield also includes black-and-white photographs of her childhood self, a nod to “Miss Rovenia Mayo,” the midwife who “caught” her in 1929.
Rites of passage incandescently brought to light. (Picture book/poetry. 7-12)
Review of The Women Who Caught The Babies from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
“Midwives have been in the world probably as long as there have been human babies on earth.” Thus opens The Women Who Caught the Babies, a picture book by the legendary Eloise Greenfield, coming to shelves in September (Alazar Press) and illustrated by Daniel Minter. A five-page introduction kicks things off and is followed by a series of poems that follows African American midwives from slavery to the early 2000s. The book closes with a poem about the midwife who caught Greenfield herself, as well as some family photos.
A poem called “The Women” (the one under the image at the top of this post) opens and closes this collection. In between, Greenfield’s free verse poetry captures the work of women in Africa (“before the shackles”) who caught babies; the slaves brought to America who continued the work; the women after Emancipation who caught babies “born into freedom”; and midwives of the early 1900s and 2000s. It’s a spare, short collection with unfussy, direct language; the verses capture the powerful, loving, and unwavering work of these women, who guided humans into the world “with gentle, loving hands.” The verses are accompanied by Minter’s dramatic portraits — dominated by rich shades of blue — of women and babies, though one features a black man holding his “first child born into freedom,” and they are filled with symbolic patterns and images.
Praise from Ashley Bryan
“The Women Who Caught The Babies is a Masterpiece of Art and Writing! It deserves RESOUNDING Praise and Awards!” – letter from the author/artist on 23 March 2019
Praise from Shirikiana
I am so gratified to see such a beautiful treatment of a little recognized African American tradition, combining the poetic verse of the woman who loves words, Eloise Greenfield, with the amazing artistic eye of illustrator, Daniel Minter.
Ms. Greenfield is so adept at picking jewels from the African heritage and illuminating them for us all. Like so many such traditions, mid-wifery is one that could have been lost in our rush to shed all things country during the great migration in order to be seen as “proper” in white, northern cities. Luckily, the tradition has been fought for in alternative health circles, restoring its reputation as a warm, healthy way to usher babies into the world, “to be loved.” The Woman Who Caught the Babies firmly grounds this tradition in our African roots, reminding us that some of our greatest traditions were brought with us on the boat, sustaining us now and into the future.
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