Midwives In Literature

A list of stories about midwives, collected by a midwife and literary historian.

midwives in literature

Note: Most books on this site have met the standard for classical or exceptional literature and are recommended for kids and/or young adults. This page is different. This is a list of literature books about midwives - many are new, not all are high quality, and only a few are classics. However, it is one of the few places where midwife literature is collected and reviewed. Visitors are encouraged to select books for kids based on their own discretion.

Midwife Stories for Children

Mary On Horseback

By Rosemary Wells
Setting: Appalachia WWI
Age: 4th to 6th Grade

The true story of Mary Breckenridge who traveled by horseback to take care of families that cars and modern medicine could not reach. As other nurses joined her mission, she trained them as midwives and founded the Frontier School of Midwifery (still in operation).

The Midwife's Apprentice

By Karen Cushman
Setting Medieval England
Age: 4th to 6th Grade

Brat is a nameless, homeless orphan who finds herself in the care of a greedy, mean-spirited village midwife; the only way she can sleep indoors in the cold winter. When hardwork, success, and then failure bring new opportunities to the despised and lonely girl, she discovers who she really is. A story of kindness and perseverence in a harsh era. An appendix provides a historical perspective on midwifery specific for kids.

Lost On Hope Island

The Amazing Tale of the Little Goat Midwives

By Patricia Harman
Modern Era
2 children stranded on a small, deserted Pacific Island

Trillium knows she will never be a midwife like her mother and grandmother because she can't stand the sight of blood. But when she and her little brother Jacob are shipwrecked on a deserted island, she learns lots of things about herself. The only neighbors of Trillium and Jacob are a herd of goats, and sometimes the children rescue a goat or help with a difficult delivery. Themes include nature and survival. The story continues in Books 2 and 3.

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True Midwife Stories for Adults

The King's Midwife : A History and Mystery of Madame du Coudray

by Nina Rattner Gelbart
Setting: France, 1700s

A detailed account of Madam du Courdray and her mission to teach safe midwifery to peasants throughout France. Commissioned by the king, she saw it as a patriotic duty to save babies from the ignorant and dangerous practices of her day. She embarked on a journey that took over twenty years and trained more than ten thousand midwives while energetically overcoming the forces against women in healthcare, eventually becoming one of the casualties of the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution. A readable biography by a historian that retraced her steps searching the official records and letters written two and a half centuries ago.

My only complaint is a desire to learn more of the methods of delivery taught by du Courdray (she wrote several textbooks) as well as her teaching methods (the enthusiasm of her students for her engaging instruction allowed her to overcome almost overwhelming opposition.) This account focuses primarily on the personal and political journey uncovered in the correspondance - a trail-blazing story in itself. A valuable documentary to any interested in the history of birthing.

Call the Midwife

by Jennifer Worth
Setting: London, East End, 1950s

Besides its role as a popular televison series, Jennifer Worth's narrative is an anthropological gold-mine describing the family life of the London dock-workers seventy years ago. She also gives an account of British midwifery from 1900 to the later part of the century. An agnostic with a comfortable West London background, she finds herself training in a midwifery convent serving a poor community, and observing unexpected joy and laughter in their poverty. Close-knit families struggled to help each other raise large families in neighborhoods beset with addiction, prostitution, and abandoned bombsites (though urban crime as we know it did not exist.) Her description of the Cockney dialect is a linguist's treasure trove. Highly recommended.

Lady's Hands, Lion's Heart

by Carol Leonard
New Hampshire: 1975-1987

A compelling account from one of the founders of Midwives of North America. Carol's tale begins with her own horrific hospital birth (she picked up her son and walked out immediately after delivery) and her journey to become the first licensed homebirth midwife in New Hampshire. Woven between the saga of her battle to make midwife care accessible, she shares birth stories that reiterate the uniqueness of each birth, each family, each home. The sometimes-friendly-often-hostile relationship between her and the local hospital is complicated by her romantic relationship with their most popular obstetrician. She shares the personal and tragic ending which terminated her practice for over a decade. A touching account that reveals some of the personal cost of delivering babies. Salty language and some content not appropriate for young readers.

Midwife Novels for Adults


By Chris Bohjalian
Setting: Vermont, 1981
A community midwife is charged with murder when a woman dies at a home-birth gone wrong. The narrator is the midwife's teenage daughter who watches her mother's life and reputation ruined as the trial approaches. An exceptional literary schema ends with climatic ambiguity.

The Amish Midwife

By Mindy Clark and Leslie Gould
Setting: Oregon and Pennsylvania, 2011
Lexi is a nurse-midwife practicing at a hospital in Oregon. When her adoptive father dies and she acquires an heirloom from her biological family, she decides to hunt for them and the unknown story behind her birth. Her search leads her to the Amish community in Lancaster, PA where she substitutes for an Amish midwife under investigation. Tangled clues lead her deeper into the mystery as she unravels an old drama lurking beneath the layers of the well-ordered community.

The Red Tent

By Anita Diamont
Setting: Canaan, 1300 B.C.

A novel from the era of the Biblical patriarchs, The Red Tent tells the story of Diana, the daughter of Jacob, who became a midwife in Palestine and was taken to Egypt at the same time her brother Joseph ruled with Pharoah. It is a very different tale from the Biblical account, that stresses the community of women around their menstrual cycle as they gathered in the red tent.

The Midwife

By Gay Courter
Setting: Turn of the 20th Century
Russian and New York
Adult Fiction

Hannah is a Jewish midwife who flees Russia and immigrates to America. Befriended by a Russian doctor, she sets up her midwife practice in the New York City. But her license is lost as she is falsely accused of the actions of an unscrupulous untrained midwife. And her affairs with three different men cloud her future.

The Midwife

By Jolina Petersheim
Setting: United States 1995 to 2014
Here is a fast-paced novel with an alternating point of view, diverse characters contrasting modern life with the plains people, and a Dickens-like twist of the plot. Beth is a gestational carrier for an infertile couple. But when the couple decides to abort due to a possible genetic problem, she flees to a community of Old Order Mennonites and changes her name. Remaining in their home for unwed mothers that originally sheltered her, she joins the Mennonite community and is apprenticed as a midwife. Unable to escape her troubled past or the couple who now want their child, she struggles with isolation and bitterness. Themes include family, isolation, and forgiveness.

Hannah: A Midwife's Tale

By Robin Salter
Setting: Newfoundland Coast, 1948
Adult Fiction

Hannah is married to a fisherman on the harsh eastern coast and has carried on in her mother's footsteps as the local midwife. Called to provide different services to the coastal population, she finds herself attracted to the doctor of the closest hospital. More a story of romance than midwifery (she only delivers two babies in the timeframe of the narrative) it provides a close look at the life of the outport people prior to joining Canada.

The Midwife of Hope River

By Patricia Harman
Setting: Appalachia, USA; Depression Era

This is the first in a series of three books by Patricia Harmon, a certified nurse midwife herself.

Patience Murphy is a rural midwife, though in the first chapter you learn that is not her real name and she is hiding from the law while delivering babies in the homes of the rich and poor alike. The author uses a series of flashbacks on Patience's tumultous life, early widow-hood, and apprenticeship under her deceased mentor to bring the reader to the current political situation facing the families of her new hometown. It is an interesting literary device keeping the reader hooked to find out what mystery brings the young, widowed midwife to Applachia. Themes include social and racial justice, unions, the Great Depression, and the main character's own sexual and romantic issues.

The second book continues the story of Patience, now a married woman with four children and a busy midwife practice in the Hope River Valley. Themes of patriotism vs pacifism divide Patience's household as well as her community as America is plunged into World War II.

The Secrets of Midwives

By Sally Hepworth
Modern US

Neva and her mother and grandmother are all midwives. All of them have secrets they are keeping, but Neva in particular is determined not to reveal the paternity of the baby she carries - even to the men who might be the father. But Neva's reticence brings to the forefront a mystery her grandmother has kept shrouded for decades. All three discover that the scandals they keep hidden still affect others.

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Midwives as Detectives

Why and how could a midwife be a detective?

They knew how to keep the secrets of the women in their communities. They slept with their ears alert for a knock on the door and walked the back alleys in the dark of night.

If anyone knew what was happening, it would be them.

The Midwife's Tale: A Mystery

By Sam Thomas
Setting: England 1644

Twice widowed, Bridget is a midwife of genteel birth. When her close friend is accused of murder, Bridget's pronouncement of pregnancy is all that delays her execution. With England on the verge of war, the town surrounded by hostile forces, and murder and violence in the city, Bridget needs to sift through the political intrigue to save her friend. But it is more than just her friend who needs her help.

Delivering the Truth

By Edith Maxwell
Setting: Amesbury, Massachusetts, 1880
First book in the Quaker Midwife Mystery Series

Rose Carroll is a late 19th century midwife who serves women in and outside of her Quaker community. Like all the townspeople, Rose's suspicions are aroused by arson and murder in their town. But when it is found that the murder weapon came from Rose's delivery bag, attention is turned to her. The story is a little slow in getting started, but hastens to a quick pace halfway through as new crimes and suspects are added. Currently there are five books in the series which follow Rose and her practice.

The Midwife Murders

By James Patterson
Setting: New York City, 2020
Lucy is a hospital-based Certified Nurse Midwife in Brooklyn, NY. It's a hectic life between her small, crowded one bedroom apartment she shares with her 9 year old son and her demanding job as senior midwife in a busy urban practice. But when kidnappings and deadly assault comes to her maternity floor, she gets caught up in an unexpected drama. Written by a popular author, this is a fast-paced who-dunn-it that keeps the reader moving to the next chapter. I won't complain that the story has quite a few details about midwifery and deliveries that aren't accurate. No illict romances or horrifying murder scenes but the language can be questionable for younger readers.

Murder on Astor Place

By Victoria Thompson
Setting: Manhatten, 1900
First book in the Gaslight Mysteries Series

Sarah has left her aristocratic family to serve as a midwife among the poor of New York City. When a girl is murdered, Sarah is determined to find what happened, even though the entire police department stands in her way. The first book in a series of over 20 stories of a midwife and detective in turn-of-the-century New York. Some potentially objectionable content (example: the solution to one crime involved incest.)

Love Detective Stories?
We have an entire page of awesome, classical detective stories to satisfy the sleuth in all of us.

Before the midwife, there was a romance. Here's a list of classic romance for young adults and above.

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