By Sally Hepworth

St. Martin’s Press (February 10, 2015)

Reviewed by Linda Lindsey Davis

The Secrets of MidwivesThe Secrets of Midwives, Sally Hepworth’s first novel, focuses on women: their lives, their work, their cross-generational connections and conflicts, and their secrets.

The story is told in sequential chapters by three generations of women in one family: Neva, Grace and Floss. They have three things in common: They all are midwives by profession, they are all strong, independent women, and they all have a secret.

Twenty-nine year old Neva loves being a midwife in a busy birthing center, and her patients and their families are unanimous in their praise of her contributions to their birthing experience. Neva has kept her own pregnancy secret for almost eight months. Her growing belly makes it impossible to continue to keep that secret, but she refuses to tell family or friends who the father is.

Fiftyish Grace, Neva’s mother, had a busy and successful midwifery practice, but the State Board of Nursing just suspended her license to practice, pending resolution of a complaint about one of her home deliveries. Grace’s pregnant patients continue to call her. She cannot bring herself to admit she cannot deliver babies until the complaint is settled, but how can she say no to expectant women who have come to depend on her?

Floss is the 83 year-old matriarch of the family. She is retired from active midwifery and contents herself with teaching natural childbirth classes for expectant couples. Eight years ago, when the widowed Floss confessed her personal orientation and invited another woman to move in with her, her daughter and granddaughter both accepted the situation without thought or comment. What Neva and Grace don’t know is that Floss’s long-hidden secret is much bigger than this.

The story begins with the discovery of Neva’s pregnancy, the challenges it presents to her well-meaning colleagues at the birthing center, and the meanings her refusal to identify the baby’s father presents to Grace and Floss who now must reexamine their own past life decisions and untold secrets. The precipitous birth of Neva’s baby in the midst of a blizzard brings the three women together to share the experience as well as their secrets with each other.

Hepworth’s book is a well-written, thoughtful exploration of women’s work, women’s connections and women’s secrets. A good beach read.

LINDA LINDSEY DAVIS is a contributing editor of LitChat. Read her full bio here.