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Born for Life: Midwife in Africa by Julie Watson


Palmerston North midwife Julie Watson recounts her experience of living and working in the heart of Africa. The memoir takes readers on Watson’s journey to Kalene Mission Hospital in Zambia, where she worked for five months caring for African women and their babies.


It is full of joy and heartbreak, as well as being a fascinating insight into the battles other women face when growing their family.


Watson’s first book Born for Life: A Midwife's Story followed her journey to overcome challenges and become the midwife that she was born to be. This second book builds on that.


Her immense dedication and passion for the profession shines through, as does her love and kindness to women and their families.


It was hard to read at times. Watson is very matter of fact, recounting the numerous deaths and heartbreak she witnessed while in Africa. The hard truth that a lot of these deaths might not have happened had the women been in New Zealand was especially hard to read.


Watson’s first day at the hospital was something of a baptism of fire – thrown straight into the deep end and into the stark reality of operating in the heart of Africa. Her compassion, and the ingenuity and dedication of other volunteers at the hospital, is plain to see.


There were parts of the book that seemed a little repetitive – we are told many times that women come from Angola and Congo for treatment at Kalene – while other parts that would aid reader’s understanding are missing, only to be found in Watson’s first book.


The book almost stands alone, however, readers will gain a much better understanding of Watson’s life and history by reading the first book first. Here is where you will understand parts of her emotional and mental reactions in Africa – at the age of 20 Watson lost her own newborn baby. This is only briefly touched on in her second book.


Reading the story I began wishing for photographs to help me picture some of the settings Watson was working on. Right when it started to frustrate me that there were none, they appeared. Bright, colourful pictures that really drive home the conditions Watson worked and lived in, and that make you appreciate even more how precious these babies are.


Her recollection of her time at Kalene is just as interesting as the stark differences between maternity care here and in Africa. A handy glossary at the end of the book allows those of us outside of the profession knowledge of what the technical words mean.


Born For Life: Midwife in Africa is a fascinating read. Watson’s compassion and dedication in inspirational.


Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser

Cherry Hinton Limited, RRP $34.99

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