Questions for book groups
1. What did you hear/know about midwives when you were growing up? Was anyone in your family born with a midwife in attendance? Was anyone in your family born at home?
2. Lovie's story illustrates how the experience of birth in the United States has changed over the years. What has been your experience of birth? Have you heard stories from your mother or grandmothers about their birth experiences? How do you see current birth practices from the perspective of this history? How important is it, do you think, for a woman to have a good birth experience?
3. Lisa and Lovie appear at first blush to be quite dissimilar. Do you think they had anything in common? If so, what? Did you find yourself identifying more with Lisa or with Lovie? Why do you think that was the case?
4. The author wrote herself into the book as a character. Why do you think she did that? What would the book have been like if it had been a more straightforward biography of Lovie?
5. Lovie notes that she is "well acquainted with grief." Did you see evidence of Lovie's grief? If so, was it in ways you expected?
6. In Chapter 16, Lovie reflects on the death of her husband. "Trust in the Lord. If you just do the best you can, he'll make a way for you....And if he doesn't make a way for you, he'll take you out of it. And taking you out of it, you're going to be better than if you stay here, so what did I have to lose?" How does this passage affect you? Have you been through experiences in your own life that called for this kind of faith and perseverance?
7. The narrator describes Lovie as "naive." Do you agree with this description of Lovie's character? Do you think the narrator's handling of Lovie's character (for example, her faith, her racism) is fair? Do you know anyone like Lovie?
8. How would you describe Lovie's approach to work? How about Lisa's? Is your own approach/experience closer to Lovie's or to Lisa's?
9. As she aged and faced retirement, Lovie worried about becoming useless, like a "fig tree that doesn't produce." Where do you think Lovie got her ideas about work and about being of service/value in the world? How much do culture, society and family influence one's ideas about work and retirement? Do you think women and men face similar or different challenges as they age and face retirement and/or an "empty nest"?
10. In Chapter 3, the author writes, "Lovie's yard was a sanctuary and something of a stage, a place where her dreams and faith spilled out into three dimensions." Do you have a sacred space? If so, what inspired you to create it? If not, what would you put in such a space? How would it look if your "dreams and faith spilled out into three dimensions?"
11. At 75 Lovie was feeling the burden of constantly being on call, the fatigue of having worked hard her whole life. Yet she felt compelled to keep attending births. On pages 56-57, the narrator asks, "Where were the limits? What if your faith tradition never let you off the hook? What if she drove and sacrificed herself not so much out of choice, but out of rigid habit? How much well-doing is any of us responsible for?" Could Lovie have received more help along the way? Would she have accepted it? In what ways did she take care of herself? In what ways did her community return the help and care she had given over the years? When people have a calling or a mission, such as Lovie did, are their needs for self-care different? What is your experience of caring for others and caring for yourself?
12. In Chapter 11, Lisa is pulled into an uncomfortable conversation with Lovie about race. The narrator writes: "I had a choice then: I could say nothing, I could argue, I could employ my standard technique of changing the subject, or I could try to offer what I saw as correct information in the hopes of changing her mind. Looking back, what might have been most useful was the one thing that didn’t occur to me: I could have kept her talking, and I could have listened." What do you think might have happened if Lisa had simply listened to Lovie? Describe your experiences with situations like this, in which people expressed beliefs radically different from your own. How did you feel? What did you say or do? What do you wish you would have said or done differently? Do you think your participation in the conversation moved it forward? Did you gain a new perspective?
13. On page 81, Lovie recalls, "I had a sort of state of shock the first time I saw a midwife deliver a woman. Her face turned red, and she would push and strain and push and strain. And I thought, 'Oh this is terrible.'" Lovie notes that many medical practices around labor were for the convenience of doctors and nurses, rather than for the laboring woman. Do you think this is still the case today? This passage also illustrates our culture's discomfort with discomfort. In what other areas do we opt for medications and other interventions to alleviate pain and discomfort? Do you think we alleviate pain for the sake of the one feeling the pain, or for those who are witnessing it?
14. Lovie describes the ways in which traditional African American midwives were effectively forced out of practice. While she believed that some may have been inadequately trained and posed some risk to women and children, she also knew that this tradition of women caring for women had been essential in their communities. Do you see areas in our current medical model in which credentials or licensing is used as a way to weed out lay practitioners or other kinds of healers? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this regulation?
15. If you could have asked Lovie anything you wanted, what would you have asked? What questions do you think the author left unexplored?
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