Monday, November 30, 2009

Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife (memoir)

Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent: Yup, it's another midwife's memoir. I just can't get enough of this stuff. I swear, if I were younger, braver . . . would I love to catch babies. As it is, I'll settle for reading the real-life accounts of midwives.

I'm pretty sure every single birth story in this book had me crying. There's something so universal about the birth experience . . . and yet each is utterly unique and gorgeous in its own way.

And of course I am partial to the home birth experience. It's hard for me to imagine anyone reading a book like this and not wanting to bring forth new life in the sweet comfort of their own home.

I'm happy to pass this gem along to anyone who wants it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Infidel (memoir/autobiography)

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali: In this book, the author tells of her traditional Muslim upbringing in Africa and Saudi Arabia, her flight from a forced marriage as a young adult, her years of questions about God and Islam and her ultimate rejection of both, her political activism, and finally, her life being under constant threat of death because of her outspoken ridicule of Islam.

I found this book riveting on so many levels, not the least of which was the author's intellectual and emotional journey to her ultimate rejection of both religion and the notion of God. This passage regarding the author's final acceptance and acknowledgement of her atheism, especially, spoke to my own feelings:

"It felt right. There was no pain, but a real clarity. The long process of seeing the flaws in my belief structure and carefully tiptoeing around the frayed edges as parts of it were torn out, piece by piece - that was all over. The angels, watching from my shoulders . . . they were gone. The ever-present prospect of hellfire lifted, and my horizon seemed broader. God, Satan, angels: these were all figments of human imagination. From now on I could step firmly on the ground that was under my feet and navigate based on my own reason and self-respect. My moral compass was within myself, not in the pages of a sacred book."

I still clearly remember the incredulous look on a Christian woman's face upon my telling her that I don't believe in God, and her asking me, "Where in the world do you get your morals from then?" As if without God, morals are impossible. I try to be a good person, a moral person, for the sake of being good and moral, because it makes the world a better place for everyone - not out of some sense of fear of being punished in the afterlife, or out of the hope of being rewarded in the afterlife. I don't believe in God, and I don't believe in an afterlife - which, to me, makes it all the more important to make the most of this one chance at life we have on this Earth.

I have yet to encounter a religion in which hypocrisy, intolerance, and judgment are not integral. How many friends do I have who proudly label themselves by this or that religion but only apply those rules that suit them? How many wars are started by non-believers? How many hate crimes are committed by atheists? Too often, these acts are committed in the name of God. It boggles my mind that so many otherwise educated, intelligent people still subscribe to these notions that I am convinced were created as a means to control the masses.

Hirsi Ali describes life as a Muslim - especially a Muslim female - as often humiliating, violent, oppressed, and brutal. She talks at length about the wide-spread practice of female circumcision (also called excision) in the Muslim faith. Most Westerners are horrified by the concept that young girls' genitals are mutilated in the name of God . . . and yet, many of us think nothing of mutilating our baby boys' genitals in the name of God or social acceptance, and we find ways to rationalize it as being humane in the way it's performed in modern times. Even my own husband remarked that a circumcised penis "looks better" than an uncircumcised one. So genital mutilation for the sake of vanity is okay? Personally, I have a lot of guilt and regret about having my two oldest boys circumcised at birth without any thought except, "That's what everyone does, so that's what we'll do." Circumcision, absent a medical necessity, is a barbaric practice, period.

Eventually, Hirsi Ali escapes her arranged marriage, her homeland, and her religion, and finds peace in being true to herself and in being a good person for the sake of being a member of the human race. But these things do not come without a great price: she is cut off by her family and lives under constant death threats, and therefore heavy security, for speaking out against that which she sees as unjust.

A very compelling and thought-provoking book. Highly recommend it. Say the word if you want it, and I'll be happy to pass it along.