Family Relationships

Join other women in the sandwich generation - share ideas and solutions as you learn to nourish family relationships without starving yourself.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Blue Cotton Gown

Today we are happy to welcome to our blog Patricia Harman. She is a nurse and midwife and, with her husband OB/GYN Tom Harman, is the founder of a women's health clinic in West Virginia. A first-time author, her memoir immediately went to several best-seller lists. "The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir" celebrates the women who she sees in their blue cotton gowns in the examining rooms. She shares their stories as well as her own very personal journey.

NR: "The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir" is a book about women in trouble. Why did you write this book?

PH: I've always been so impressed with the courage of the ordinary women. Patients of all walks of life come into my exam room and I ask them, "So how are you doing? How's your stress level?" At first they may make a joke about it. "Oh, terrible, but isn't everyone's…." But then I draw my rolling exam stool forward and they tell me their stories. I leave the exam room shaken and in awe by the very difficult situations women are in and the courage they have to have just to march on. Since I had insomnia, I began to get up at night and write down their stories. I felt there was something majestic about them. These women, with all their imperfections, are like all of us, and they're my heroes.

NR: Who is "The Blue Cotton Gown" written for?

PH: I wrote "The Blue Cotton Gown" primarily for other women, but the men that have picked it up have been fascinated. That's partly because one of the male protagonist is my husband, a mild mannered physician, who like the women in the stories has his own troubles. I think, in addition to women of all ages, the book is interesting to health care providers because it illuminates some of the difficulties of trying to maintain a private practice in the midst of a health care system in crisis.

NR: Did it concern you that you might say more about your patients than they would want you to?

PH: I went to great lengths to disguise each patient. If you were an Asian Teacher I'd make you a Hispanic Bank President. I also let each major patient read her own chapters to see if she wanted them to be in the book, or if she wanted me to change anything. Not one said no. One women spoke for them all when she told me, 'If my story can help another woman not feel alone, I want it to be in there.'

NR: Of all the many problems that women have, and that you address in the book, what strikes you as the most difficult?

PH: Women carry great burdens, often in silence. When I ask patients about their stress level, most of the time it is a 9 or 10. This is not good for their health. I am also concerned that women have so little support and feel alone. All this affects their health. Women take care of everyone else and themselves last.

NR: How did you decide which women to write about?

PH: I chose women who came back to the office several times over the course of a year and women of all ages so there's someone in "The Blue Cotton Gown" that every reader can relate to.

NR: Most people think of nurse-midwives as providers that deliver babies, but you're taking care of women who aren't pregnant, is that unusual for a midwife?

PH: Traditionally midwives did only deliver babies and give care in the prenatal and postnatal period but more and more women see their nurse-midwives for gynecology because they appreciate the respectful, gentle and holistic approach they provide. I have patients that are 10 and patients that are 80.

NR: The book has a lot of information about you and your family. How did your husband, Dr. Harman, and your sons feel about this?

PH: My husband Tom is my partner and back-up physician in our practice. I didn't start out to write about myself, or the practice, the health care system or our marriage and family, but it turned out to be an integral part of "The Blue Cotton Gown." Our story is interwoven with the stories of patients. Tom and my boys were incredibly generous in letting me write about our difficulties and our love. I guess we all believe that honesty is the best policy and that people can learn from other's experiences.

NR: What's been the most rewarding thing about writing and getting "The Blue Cotton Gown" published?

PH: The letters from readers. "The Blue Cotton Gown" celebrates the courage of the ordinary women and all professionals who struggles to survive with their souls intact. I get emails every day from readers who are touched by the book. It makes a difference to their lives.

NR: Thank you, Patsy, for sharing your personal story along with those of your patients.

Readers and Sandwiched Boomers, if you have any questions for Patsy - about how women cope with their medical challenges, her reactions to the stories she's heard, her own personal challenges, or even the process of writing such an intimate book, please click on "Comments" and let us hear from you. Patsy will give you her feedback tomorrow.

Labels: , , , , , ,



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm working on a book too, but with the bad economy, I can't seem to get a publisher interested? How did get a publisher to take on your book?

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you manage to put your patients' stresses and crises behind you when you go home at night?

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What was the nicest experience you had with one of your patients? How about the scariest one?

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How hard was it to work with your husband every day? Did you start to get on each others nerves without the chance to be apart?

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been wanting to go back to school to study for a degree in nutrition but I'm afraid that I'm too old. How old were you when you went back to school to become a midwife? Was it hard to compete with younger students? Could you keep up with all the reading and the assignments? I worry that I will become overwhelmed by my classes and not be able to set aside the time I need to concentrate on them with all that is going on in my family life. How did you make it work for you?

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, am curious about how you put your concerns about your patients aside. I've just started working at a mental health center and I'm worried sick about some of my clients.

4:16 PM  
Anonymous patricia harman said...

Dear Anonymous, I got a publisher after I got an agent. It took me 80 query letters to get an agent. I kid you not. If you believe in what you have to say, keep trying. The best website I used for finding an agent was I am working on a new book called Broken Halleluia right now and am a little worried about the economy too. Patsy

5:21 PM  
Anonymous patricia harman said...

I have a hard time forgetting my patients problems. I try to pray for them and I have a little box I call my prayer box. I put their names in and light a candle. Patsy

5:25 PM  
Anonymous patricia harman said...

Recently a patient told me she really liked my book, The Blue Cotton Gown...This was the best review I ever got...I laughed, I cried, I was inspired. Is that sweet or what?

The worst experience I've had...too many to mention. Babies that died, teens that overdosed, women that were abused. It is a hard world out there. I do what I can. Patsy

5:28 PM  
Anonymous patricia harman said...

Yes, some days it is hard. I have to try hard not to be like a wife, but another professional. In The Blue Cotton Gown you will see some examples.

Fortunately, we are seeing our own patients, so we don't rub elbows too often.

Really, he is a great doctor and I am honored to work with him. Patsy

5:30 PM  
Anonymous patricia harman said...

I was . I had three kids. I was 37 when I went back to become an RN and graduated with my masters when I was 41. Midwifery is really physically demanding, but I have a lot of energy so I was ok. I also love to study.

If you haven't been in school for awhile, I would just look up the courses that are part of the major you are interested in. Maybe take a few classes at a community college. I bet you will do fine. You might even do better than some of the younger students because they are out partying. Never give up on your dreams. Patsy

5:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your book and loved it! I didn't know anything about midwifery (correct term?) before -- do you hear from many fans that wish they'd had a midwife deliver their babies or provide their health care after reading your book?

6:24 PM  
Anonymous patricia harman said...

I do hear from lots of women who are surprised that midwives care for women through out their lives and women who wish they'd had a midwife for their deliveries. If people want to find a midwife for OB or Gyn go to the American College of Nurse Midwives on line and you can find one near you. I don't mean to say that doctors aren't as good. Some are, but they don't have time to talk to you as much and they aren't used to answering as many questions or dealing with intimate issues. xoxo Patsy

7:58 PM  
Anonymous patricia said...

Going back to the comment about the person who just started working in a mental health center. How hard that must be. Most of my patients are "normal" normal as any of us...and still it is hard, especially for someone who isn't a trained counselor. If you haven't read The Blue Cotton Gown, I hope you will. I think you will find it supportive. Patsy

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Tom Harman M.D. said...

This is Tom, Patsy's husband. We each had a dream, and we helped each other
reach those goals. There were a lot of sacrifices, and you have to ignore your own fatigue, do what you have to. I'd work literally nonstop for 36 hours without sitting down (like most Ob/Gyn residents did then), then go home, and stay up with Patsy and the kids for 3 to 4 hours, sleep for 6 hours, then do it again. It was terrible, but you can do much more than you imagine if you really want to.

8:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been an obstetrician-gynecologist for many years and took pride in taking the time to speak with patients and successfully deal with the intimate details of their lives. I'm sure there are many nurse-midwives who are quite capable but many caring ob-gyns are too! After all, isn't it the individual personality and efforts of the provider - as well as knowledge, ability and experience - that determines the quality of the care that is provided and the relationship that is formed. Generalizing about doctors as a group is inappropriate and potentially dangerous.

12:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved "The Blue Cotton Gown"! As a midwife I appreciate the fact that you gave us a peek into the office visit, instead of focusing on "birth" stories. You demonstrated that midwives are truly "with women, for a lifetime".

As a working mother I appreciate the fact that you gave us a glimpse into the challenging world of balancing work, home and relationships.

As a woman I appreciate your counseling and (if I didn't already know better) would be encouraged to seek a midwife for my health care needs.

Congratulations on a job well done! Lyn

3:57 AM  
Anonymous patricia harman said...

Dear Ob/Gyn, You are right. It is wrong to generalize. I have worked in the medical system for 30 years and I know that there are many docs that sit with patients and listen to their stories and try to help them with more than their physical needs. I think if you read the The Blue Cotton Gown that you will find that it is written in honor of every health care provider who struggles to maintain that balance between caring and getting the job done. You will also relate with the struggle to provide holistic quality care in a health care system that is way out of kilter. All my best in the important work that you do. Patsy

5:22 AM  
Anonymous patricia harman said...

Thanks Lyn, The life of a working mother is really stressful and with the economic crisis in the US and the rest of the world it's not getting better for any of us, guys included. We need to give each other all the support we can. Peace, Patsy

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved your book, Patsy, and talking to you as well. Amazed by your candid writing about not only your own reactions regarding your patients, but your own relationship with your rather amazing sounding husband, too . . .a very touching and heartfelt book. Thank you for writing it.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous patricia harman said...

Many people have asked how my family felt about me writing personal things about them. I wish I had said in the forward to the book that I let them, as well as the patients, see their chapters before I sent the The Blue Cotton Gown out. My husband and my kids feel like I do. The truth shall make us free. Patsy

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Heather said...

Hi Pats!
I loved your book - it felt like I was having a conversation with you! I think that the balance between the deeply personal and the practice issues is wonderful. I thank you and Tom and the boys for being willing to be so open.
Having had both of my boys caught by a nurse-midwife friend - the first in a birth center and the second unintentionally at home - I related to your stories and felt like I could relive some of the feelings of those precious times.
I can't wait to read your next book!

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Heather said...

I loved your book and felt that the balance of your own life and your work life were perfect. The patients came to life so beautifully in your writing, and the real deep care and concern that you have for each of them.
Having had both of my boys "caught" by a midwife, I know the wholistic care that a nurse-midwife can offer. I hope that this book is read by the broader public, as it is such a wonderfully compelling account of your life and work, and the vital place that midwives have in our health care system. Thank you, Patsy!

7:09 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home