Review of The Women Who Caught The Babies from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
“Midwives have been in the world probably as long as there have been human babies on earth.” Thus opens The Women Who Caught the Babies, a picture book by the legendary Eloise Greenfield, coming to shelves in September (Alazar Press) and illustrated by Daniel Minter. A five-page introduction kicks things off and is followed by a series of poems that follows African American midwives from slavery to the early 2000s. The book closes with a poem about the midwife who caught Greenfield herself, as well as some family photos.
A poem called “The Women” (the one under the image at the top of this post) opens and closes this collection. In between, Greenfield’s free verse poetry captures the work of women in Africa (“before the shackles”) who caught babies; the slaves brought to America who continued the work; the women after Emancipation who caught babies “born into freedom”; and midwives of the early 1900s and 2000s. It’s a spare, short collection with unfussy, direct language; the verses capture the powerful, loving, and unwavering work of these women, who guided humans into the world “with gentle, loving hands.” The verses are accompanied by Minter’s dramatic portraits — dominated by rich shades of blue — of women and babies, though one features a black man holding his “first child born into freedom,” and they are filled with symbolic patterns and images.