Blog Tour: Belly Woman by Benjamin Black

Today is the last day of The Write Reads blog tour for BELLY WOMAN by Benjamin Black, for which I have a review. BELLY WOMAN is a memoir of Black’s time on the frontlines of the ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. While there he advocated for the importance of maternal healthcare during and after the epidemic.

Author: Benjamin Black
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Neem Tree Press
Publish Date: May 7, 2024
Print Length: 368

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Official Synopsis

Courage meets crisis in a doctor’s extraordinary true account on the frontlines of maternal healthcare during a deadly epidemic in Sierra Leone.

In May 2014, Dr. Benjamin Black finds himself at the centre of the Ebola outbreak, grappling with the highest maternal mortality rate globally amid a new, invisible threat. From the life-and-death decisions on the maternity ward to moral dilemmas in the Ebola Treatment Centers, every moment is a crossroads where a single choice could tip the balance between survival and catastrophe. The tension is palpable, and the stakes are unimaginably high. One mistake, one error of judgment, could spell disaster.

Belly Woman is a powerful piece of reportage and advocacy that draws parallels between two global outbreaks of infectious diseases: Ebola and COVID-19. Black’s firsthand experience on the frontlines of a global health crisis bears witness to the raw emotions, tough decisions, such as the need to carry out medically-mandated abortions to save lives, and the unwavering dedication that defines the lives of those who step up when the world needs them most.

A compelling read for those with an interest in medical memoirs, social justice, and humanitarianism, as well as healthcare professionals and maternal health caregivers.

My Review

Thank you to The Write Reads, the author, and the publisher for providing me with an e-copy of this book. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

BELLY WOMAN is a memoir by Benjamin Black about his time spent on the frontlines of the 2014-2015 ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. Black’s recollection focuses on maternal healthcare and how to safely and effectively provide life-saving actions during an epidemic. He advocates for sexual reproductive health rights to be integrated into epidemics.

Prior to recounting events, Black includes a thoughtful Author’s Note. He acknowledges that he wrote this memoir from a place of privilege, hailing from a high-income country. He also clearly states that he does not intend for his account to represent a Sierra Leone native. Nor is his intention to play the “white saviour.” Rather, his memoir also provides a narration of the perils of pregnancy not only during an epidemic, but also when care is far from home or facilities lack basic supplies.

First, BELLY WOMAN contains some graphic medical descriptions. Readers who are sensitive to this type of content should take heed. However, these descriptions are not for shock factor. Instead, Black includes them to provide examples of the types of emergencies he and his colleagues faced. They also show the types of emergencies faced by pregnant women in Sierra Leone. Many of these might not have been fatal if they had had better access to effective maternal healthcare. He also outlines how difficult it could be to perform surgeries, particularly due to the required personal protective equipment (PPE).

Black also sporadically delves into the psychological toll working in these perilous conditions can cause. It was good to see that he and his colleagues had access to counselors, including when debriefing from a medical mission and returning home. He mentions he felt a sort of detachment discussing it with counselors. And I think that comes through a bit in this memoir. While it doesn’t feel emotionless, the memoir does feel mildly clinical. It reads rather matter-of-factly, which at times made it feel a little slow and repetitive.

Additionally, Black also tries to draw some parallels and differences between maternal healthcare during the ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone and the COVID-19 pandemic in London. The point of this, I believe, shows the importance of maternal heathcare during widespread emergencies. To turn away pregnant women, particularly those who are ill, only serves to increase their chance of mortality. However, I felt the segue between the two times and worlds needed a more editing to better illustrate this point. The sporadic insertion of maternal healthcare stories in London prior to and during COVID-19 didn’t quite seem to mesh seamlessly with telling the stories of Sierra Leone.

That said, I believe BELLY WOMAN is an important memoir, particularly for those interested in frontline medicine. It’s an incredible recount of hundreds of selfless medical personnel who devoted their time and expertise during an ebola epidemic. Furthermore, it highlights a number of reasons why so many women die during childbirth in Sierra Leone. It also portrays Black’s and others’ fight to obtain support to expand maternal healthcare and prevent deaths from causes that could be mitigated.

Rating: 3.75
Content warnings: death, medical trauma, child death, pandemic/epidemic, blood, medical content
Reading format: Kindle e-book

About the Author

Benjamin Black, author of Belly Woman.Dr Benjamin Black is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and a specialist advisor to international aid organisations – including Médecins Sans Frontières. His focus on sexual, reproductive and maternal healthcare for populations in times of crisis has taken him to many countries working with humanitarian organisations, UN bodies and government departments. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic he provided frontline healthcare to pregnant women and developed international guidelines. Benjamin was a member of the expert panel for the inquiry into racial injustice in UK maternity care.

Belly Woman blog tour line up of reviewers.

6 thoughts on “Blog Tour: Belly Woman by Benjamin Black

  1. I’m fascinated by memoirs like this, even though I don’t read non fiction. I’m awed by doctors who can jump into the middle of awful outbreaks like ebola or covid. And I love the emphasis on women’s healthcare.

    1. I hadn’t either, and I’d also read Richard Preston’s books about the ebola outbreaks (HOT ZONE and CRISIS IN THE RED ZONE). Perhaps I hadn’t heard of this because it’s from an indie press and we know it’s harder for them to get word out about their books.

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