On an icy winter night of 1981 in the rustic community of Reddington, Vermont, seasoned midwife Sibyl Danforth is forced to make a life-or-death decision that will change her world forever. Trapped by the weather in an isolated farmhouse, cut off from the hospital or even the emergency squad, she takes desperate measures to save the life of a baby, performing a cesarean section on a woman she believes has died of a stroke during a long and painful labor. But what if the woman was still alive during the surgery? What if Sibyl herself inadvertently killed her? The hair-raising story of Charlotte Bedford's death and of the subsequent trial of Sibyl Danforth is hauntingly told by Sibyl's fourteen-year-old daughter Connie, now an obstetrician. She is remembering, and it is through her intelligent and watchful eyes that we witness the tragic effects of Charlotte's death and Sibyl's trial. And as Sibyl faces the antagonism of the law, the hostility of the medical establishment, and the nagging accusations of her own conscience, we are compelled to confront questions of human responsibility that are fundamental to our society. As with all of the very best novels, Midwives provides no easy answers; rather, it consistently engages, moves, and challenges our ways of thinking.
This compulsively readable novel explores what happens when a woman who has devoted herself to ushering life into the world finds herself charged with responsibility in a patient's death. Sybil Danforth, with several hundred deliveries to her name, claims the mother was dead when she opened her to save the baby. The prosecution claims the mother was alive and the operation was illegal. The story is narrated by Sybil's daughter, portraying the trial as another round in the persecution of midwives by the New England medical profession.