Jolina Petersheim on Her Sophomore Novel, The Midwife
WHERE DID YOU GET THE INITIAL IDEA FOR THIS NOVEL?
My dear friend in college discussed using a gestational surrogate in the future because she would be unable to carry a child of her own due to the medication she was taking for a heart transplant.
This made me contemplate all of the many obstacles in surrogacy that everyone involved would have to overcome:
What if the surrogate became attached to the child? What if, God forbid, something happened to one of the parents, or if there was a chromosomal abnormality, and the parents decided they did not want the child any longer?
All of these disparate ideas coalesced into the concept for The Midwife once I gave birth to a child of my own. I knew that even if I was of no relation to the child, if my body had sustained her for nine months, she would still be my daughter, even if we shared no genetic connection.
From there, the story went on to expound upon the heights and depths a mother will go to protect that child, and what is the definition of motherhood: genetics or love.
AS A MOM (WITH ONE ON THE WAY!) DID YOU DRAW FROM YOUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WHILE WRITING?
Absolutely. When my toddler-age daughter was first born, something as simple as reading headlines about child abuse devastated me, and I struggled with feeling that I could protect her in our fallen world. I believed that God was helping me overcome fear with faith, just like Rhoda Mummau’s character—the head midwife of Hopen Haus, a home for unwed mothers—in The Midwife.
However, during the editorial process, I miscarried a child at ten weeks, and suddenly Rhoda Mummau’s story about healing from loss and learning to let others in wasn’t just a story; it became my story, too.
Tyndale, my publisher, kindly granted me an extension, but reading over the scenes my own fingers had typed helped me understand that God had portended the loss I would experience and was using The Midwife’s story to bring healing to my soul.
It was a beautiful time of transformation, and I know I will never be the same because of this story. I pray that The Midwife will bring healing to my readers’ hearts as well.
THIS IS YOUR SECOND NOVEL TO DATE. AFTER THE SUCCESS OF THE OUTCAST, WAS IT DIFFICULT TO GET STARTED ON THIS NOVEL?
Thankfully, I turned The Midwife in to my publisher on June 1, 2013, and The Outcast released one month later on July 1, 2013. I had no idea The Outcast would do so well, and therefore—having completed my novel—didn’t have the opportunity to haggle with writing insecurity, which unfortunately rears its ugly head if your novel does well or not.
This before-launch deadline worked so well for me, I am planning to turn in another work-in-progress right before The Midwife’s June 1release. As we all know, the publishing process takes a lot of time, and the way to prevent stagnation—or, in other words, writer’s block — is to keep the words flowing.
HOW DID WRITING THIS BOOK CHANGE YOU?
It really opened my heart to single, pregnant mothers who are struggling with the unbearable question of whether to keep their child or surrender their child for adoption.
How do you answer such a question? How do you move on after you have?
Rhoda Mummau, the midwife, has struggled all of her life to move on after her son’s adoption. This is one of the reasons she refuses to leave Hopen Haus—even though the Dry Hollow Old Order Mennonite community has all but abandoned the two-hundred acre property—and the Civil War-era plantation house where Hopen Haus is founded is crumbling all around her, a metaphor for the crumbling of her façade of self-preservation.
Through mining the depths of Rhoda’s psyche, I was able to understand why single mothers would give their children up for adoption and how sometimes this surrendering is far less selfish than we think.
THERE SEEMS TO BE A REAL INTEREST IN MIDWIFERY RIGHT NOW WITH THE POPULARITY OF THE BRITISH SERIES "CALL THE MIDWIFE." ARE YOU A FAN PERSONALLY AND DID THIS GIVE YOU IDEAS FOR THE NOVEL?
I didn’t discover “Call the Midwife” until I was almost completed with the first draft of The Midwife, but I absolutely fell in love once I did start watching and wished I had started earlier for “research”! My husband, on the other hand, is not a fan. He has to leave the room whenever the birthing scenes come on because the sounds bring back too many memories of my own birthing experience; he was my greatest supporter—never leaving my side for a moment—but it was quite traumatic for the poor man!
WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH DID YOU CONDUCT FOR THIS BOOK?
Well, I gave birth to our daughter!
No, seriously, throughout my pregnancy I read books by Ina May Gaskin, the internationally renowned midwife, who is based in a commune in Summertown, Tennessee. I watched videos and signed up for the birthing center located in the city near where I live, imagining this hold-hands-and-sway experience complete with electric candles (the birthing center wasn’t allowed to have real ones) and soft music.
Each of my prenatal appointments were held at this birthing center, so I became very familiar with its surroundings as well as with the midwives who worked there (loved them!).
I spent the first twelve hours of my twenty-four hour labor at this birthing center, conducting “research” if you will. However, the midwife then sent me to the hospital because, regardless of how many stairs I ran, I wasn’t progressing at a rate she was comfortable with.
Surprisingly enough, I also have many friends and family who have given birth at home or want to be midwives or doulas (assistant to the midwife), and so I asked them a barrage of intimate questions. It’s amazing how many times people will open up for “research,” which is perfect for me because I love being nosy!