So by now you’ve heard me talking enough about this book that you likely don’t need much background explanation. “Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart” by Carol Leonard is a fascinating and powerful memoir weaving together a beautifully tragic love story with tales of women’s births, and the birth of the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA).
Carol stole my heart within the first few pages of the book. Like most birth workers, Carol’s journey into midwifery begins with her own birth, which is where the book begins. Her perfect balance of snarky, feisty descriptions combined with righteous indignation had me alternately laughing out loud and clenching my fists.
Anyone can write a book full of birth stories, and no matter how poorly written, it can still be good – because birth stories are just good reads. This book, as a memoir, though, delivers a full and colorful pallet of the many dimensions of this midwife. We not only get to read the expected birth and professional stories, but Carol reveals herself as a passionate lover, mother, mentor, and leader. It is through the well developed characterization that this book is so incredibly brilliant.
At every turn, Carol won me over. As a mother, I felt a sense of unease as she talked of her busy early months and years learning her craft and trying to balance motherhood. At one point, she talks about her young son building a pyramid out of blocks intentionally blocking her way and crying as she tried to leave. I literally wept with relief as I read on….
“… I look into his deep brown eyes, and I see the anguish there. He truly cannot tolerate my leaving him this much any longer. There is no way I can deny those eyes. I scoop him up in one arm and grab my birth bag with the other, and I take him with me. By the time Milan is six years old, he will have been to over five hundred births.”
In this moment, she becomes my hero.
I relate to her mothering; to her passion for birth; to her un-minced words about the misogyny within the obstetrics practice. I’m intrigued by her stories of the unfolding of MANA and the many challenges in legislating for women’s choice in birth. But, honestly, what drew me back every time is the love story. Carol hints about midway through the book that something tragic will happen, and she dangles it over the cliff until the very end of the book. When I arrive, I leap hard and fast, tearing through the pages, as though I might get there before anyone else and avert the tragedy. This is how invested I have become in this story. It is the effect that a gifted writer has on her reader.
Read this book. You will laugh. You will guffaw. You will weep. And you will certainly lavish in the strength of not only this woman, but the strength of every Woman that is perfectly painted through these stories.
“I realize that birth is an initiation for women, an opening to our deeper powers.”
- Carol Leonard