|The best midwifery book:
An Alabama Midwife's Story
by Onnie Lee Logan as told to Katherine Clark
1991, Plume Books
"An amazing story. A heroic woman
and life after my own heart."
- Alice Walker
"A life well lived unfolds in this exuberant, unfettered telling of a midwife's story.
Logan, born circa 1910 into a large, rural, God-fearing family in Sweetwater, Ala.,
recalls how, only a generation removed from slavery, she entered into her life's
work. During 40 years she delivered hundreds of babies, mostly to poor white and
black mothers in the depths of the Depression, providing help when doctors were
either scarce or unwilling. Her oral biography is at once a mini-history of Southern
midwifery, essentially a black phenomenon in the region, and a full-circle view of her
career from initial toleration to lauded acceptance by medical professionals. In
Logan's rich, regional speech as she talks with Clark, who teaches at the University of
Alabama, a strong, faith-filled woman is heard; her eloquent memoir is vivid
- Publisher's Weekly
Onnie Lee Logan story interweaves hard work, an abiding faith in God, a deep
respect for Afro-American folklore and tradition, and myriad details of the process of
midwifery. Interviewer Katherine Clark stitches together the flow of words
seamlessly without cleaning them up; Logan comes across as a garrulous old friend
rocking on the porch, whiling away a hot afternoon talking in southern Black dialect.
Born around 1910 in Alabama, Onnie Lee Logan was in her 70s when she reluctantly
slowed her lifework as a midwife. In this remarkable, electric oral history of a
woman, a time, and a place, she passes on stories of the women whose babies she
"caught," folk remedies for female troubles, and the faith and "Motherwit" she drew
on as babies made their way toward the world.
"Despite an impeccable record as a non-technological and non-professional granny
midwife (Onnie's regular income came from working as a housekeeper), in 1984
Onnie was stripped of her vocation and barred from performing a service as old as
the human race, after traditional midwifery was outlawed in Alabama. This occurred
amid an American backdrop of professional competition in the increasingly lucrative
medical birth business enterprises of obstetricians and medical midwives, and the
marketing and legislating of technologically-driven views of the normal birth process
in healthy women."
- Mary Ceallaigh
Quotes from Onnie Lee:
"I do whatever is suitable for that minute or that hour or that situation. I do
it... I do it. Whether I've seen it in a book or read it or not, I do it. And it
works. Alot of mothers says, "I didn't do that with my other baby." I say,
"That was that baby, honey. This is this one. They are all different... Honey,
everything, it changes. And you got to have knowledge and wisdom
which come from God on high, enough to change with it. When it says 'do
this,' you do that, and don't think about what you done last time... I've seen
so many, and there are so many different ways a baby can come into the
world until I'll be lookin' for a different every time. This is the beautiful part
"Now, this is the way I did it. There was a beautiful setup with mother and
daddy when their baby was conceived. They enjoyed it. When she get into
labor - another beautiful setup. I think the husband and wife should be by
themselves during the first stage of labor. That mother and daddy is
together quietly by themselves at her beginnin' of labor until labor get so
severe... Even though some of 'em get kinda skittish and want me to come
right on in. I tells 'em this: "It was you and yo' husband in the beginnin' and
it was fine. It's you and yo' husband should be in the beginnin' of the birth
of the baby, quiet and easy, talkin' and lovin' and happy with one another.
You don't need nobody there. Me nor nobody else until a certain length of
"...I look for the first two contractions befo' I move to do anything when I first
get there... I see how they're percolatin' along, and then I start to work."
"...I tell you one thing that's very impo'tant that I do that the doctors don't do
and the nurses doesn't do because they doesn't take time to do it. And that
is I'm with my patients at all times with a smile and keepin' her feelin' good
with kind words. The very words that she need to hear comes up and come
out. And that means alot....It's from my heart and they can feel me."
"As far as having a laceration, nature's supposed to take care of that and it
does along with me knowing what to do so she won't have a laceration, and
that's to use my hot towels and my oil. Be sho' to let her take her time and
breathe and not push too hard. That's where the laceration comes from.
When it gets to the point where she start dilatin' beautiful, then she get to the
place that she don't wanna breathe or cain't breathe. She get that urge to
push instead of breathin'.
I tell 'em to stop if they get the urge to push... I don't let 'em do it in hurry.
Just enough to give 'em a lil' relief. Because you do mo' harm pushin' right
now than you do good. You prolong the labor... That baby's head got to
make its own way. Breathe and let it come down itself. Contractions will
pull it... When you can look and see the head (crowning) you know then that
baby is not going to get trapped behind [the bones]... I tell 'em how much to
give and how much not to give... When they get that baby's head crowned,
then that's when they're supposed to push. If that shoulder is a lil' wider
than the head, they got another stage there that they gt to put a lil' pressure
on. And when they get that shoulder through, then the body will just slide
"In the last stages of labor when the baby is fixin' to crown, that's when
really, they get really irritable. They don't want to be bothered and they
easily gets furious. Just like I had one girl, I says, "Well, honey, you're doin'
fine." "Mrs. Logan, you don't know what you're talkin' about. You ain't
never had no babies!" - Well that wasn't her. That was the stage she was in
at the time, see. When they get in that last stage of labor just most anything
they say would come up. And all at the same time the baby was crownin', it
was comin' out! I stay cool and calm... I know better and I just keep my
calm. Smile and say something' to 'em . Finally they get right along with
"When they get in that last stage of labor they sometime get to cryin' and
start to say what they cain't do. "I just cain't - I done tried. I done all I could.
There ain't n mo' I can do." That is the worst feelin' for the mother at that
stage of labor. Mostly those contractions is the worst. I just tell 'em to leave
the rest to God. "All I want you to do is be calm and easy." Plenty time I
say, "All you got to do is hush yo' mouth and you'll see it ain't worth the
vibration you're makin', you'll be through. They done had all the
contractions it takes to bring that baby down comin' through the birth canal.
All they have to do is be a lil' patient. Just a lil' patient. You see who
gonna handle the rest of it. I say, "Now right here is where God come in.
You say you done all you could. You done beared as much as you could.
Leave the rest to God. God'll do it."