Why did you choose to write about a midwife?
My sister is a homebirth midwife in New Mexico. I admire her and her colleagues tremendously. They get to kneel at the entrance to life, which is a mysterious and wondrous place. They also have to face the possibility of death, witness tremendous pain, and open their hearts to the breadth of human relationships. Midwives tend to be earthy and wise in ways few people are anymore. They must have profound faith in women’s bodies.
It was this last fact that hooked me. I’m interested in faith in all its forms, and midwives work with an intriguing, countercultural form of faith. I wanted to explore how this faith might work and set it next to traditional, Christian faith to see what the differences are.
Maybe I also secretly want to become a midwife but know that’s completely impossible. So I lived out that fantasy by writing Hannah’s story!
You’ve written mostly spiritual memoir thus far. Why fiction? How was the transition from nonfiction to fiction?
On the one hand, I feel like I haven’t strayed at all from spiritual memoir. Hannah is really a fictionalized spiritual memoir. I wanted to explore spiritual terrain that was beyond my personal experience.
On the other hand, I am floored by how difficult it was to write and publish this book. From conception to print, Hannah took me twelve years. I traveled a steep learning curve. And now that it’s out in the world, I feel far more exposed than I ever did with my memoirs or essays—which says a lot, since Swinging on the Garden Gate is about coming out bisexual. Hannah feels like I’m dreaming out loud. The whole public can analyze my psyche!
How much of this story is true?
Literally? Almost none. The only birth stories in here that actually happened are the crazy stories that Maria and Sunny tell Stuart and Hannah in the café—the woman who gave birth in her pants, the man who held a gun to the midwife’s back as she was catching his girlfriend’s baby, and the couple who thought they’d been impregnated by aliens. Reality is always stranger than fiction.
But I interviewed a lot of midwives and mothers as part of my research, and tried to represent their emotional truths within my characters’ lives. So Hannah shares her terror of drawing blood with a number of midwifery apprentices, and Melinda shares her rebelliousness and stubbornness with a lot of mothers.