I’m still not quite ready to write Molly’s birth story. I’ve started several times, but can’t find a good way to balance the facts and analysis with the wonder, the amazement, the relief. I have relived it several times in retrospect, something I don’t remember doing with my other births. I mentioned this to Chrysanthemum (who acted as my lay doula — though Tom was so supportive and the nurses and my midwife were so attentive and sympathetic that she didn’t get to do much — also because it went so fast) on one of our walks. Chrysanthemum said that she couldn’t sleep the two nights after the birth for thinking about it too.
I guess I am writing about it, a little. It was intense, and the whole process of learning about childbirth in general this past year was immensely satisfying and worthwhile. I always have big plans to do courses of study in different subjects (gardening, ancient carpets, the history of Scandinavia, cheese making (which turns out to look like way too much trouble)), and then life gets in the way. But with this there was a physical and chronological imperative, plus a compelling interest. Chrysanthemum, who had three c-sections and went above-and-beyond as a sounding board and pregnancy-and-birth companion, now wants to train as a midwife once her children are a bit older. That’s how convincing and inspiring our discoveries and shift in perspectives have been. ‘
Anyway, these are the books and movies and blogs that I studied. I have to thank Rixa, once again, for getting me interested in the first place, and for sending me a box with several of these resources (and apologies again for keeping them so long!).
Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent
I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading, whether interested in childbirth or not. It’s a hilarious, gripping memoir of a nurse-turned-midwife (CNM) in Berkley in the 70s and 80s. It’s totally story-driven and entertaining, candid, and moving. It’s also full of the sights and sounds and movements of natural, normal birth, which gave me a frame of reference for imagining what my birth might be like. Vincent doesn’t shrink from addressing difficult topics like birth injuries and getting sued; it’s not a rosy fantasy about home birth, but a real record of an astonishing array of births.
Birthing from Within by Pam England
I preferred this how-to-prepare book to Hypnobirthing. It makes no promises about being able to avoid pain completely in birth; instead it teaches several coping techniques and gives good advice about how to practice them enough to be helpful. ( I should have trusted the book and practiced more.) England also encourages the creation of birth art. I was skeptical about this; I’m not an artist, and I hate doing things poorly. Then I turned a page and read that sometimes the people who are most resistant to the idea of creating birth art (drawings, paintings, etc) are often those who would most benefit — because if you think of childbirth as art — as something that you only want to do if you can do it perfectly, well . . . that’s not a helpful way of viewing childbirth. You don’t give birth a certain way (or prepare to give birth a certain way) in order to impress people or to do it “perfectly,” and neither should those concerns stop you from doing art — your best art even if it doesn’t turn out “perfectly.”
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
I bought this book on Rixa’s recommendation during the pregnancy that I miscarried last August. I remember putting it down after a few chapters, thinking it was just too hippie and crazy for me. When I picked it up again just six months later I read it straight through, nodding over and over, thinking how obvious it was, how much sense it made. If some of the birth stories in the first half of the book seem far out, skip to the second half which is full of good common sense information. I went back again and again in the weeks right before the birth, reading a couple stories at a time. After a lifetime of being afraid of the pain or hearing so many horror birth stories, it’s good to crowd those out with positive accounts of successful natural births (unmedicated and un-interventioned). Much of the natural birth information is more reactive or “what not to do” in nature. Balance that with beautiful stories of how it can happen, how it actually does work. And again, this is no fantasy where nothing ever goes wrong, but stories where most of the time everything goes as it should, and when it doesn’t (because this is real life), appropriate medical help is something to be grateful for.
When I set this book down after my first full read-through, I immediately got on the computer to check airline tickets to Tennessee. I would’ve given anything (okay, except going into debt) to give birth at The Farm. One of the most significant testament’s to Ina May’s credibility is her excellent relationship with the hospital and doctors who treat The Farm’s infrequent transfer patients.
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer
This is a very straightforward and well-substantiated collection of best practices, including advice on how to have the best epidural or best c-section possible if they’re required or desired. It’s a great comprehensive introduction to what and why and how for a first-time mother or an experienced mother who wants to know more about her options and the risks and benefits of each.
Pushed by Jennifer Block
This is an expose-type book about maternity care in the U.S. It’s a quick read and includes fascinating anecdotes, including a section on the disservice done to women in states where home midwifery is illegal. One of the first stories was about a Florida hospital during hurricane Charlie (that was the first summer we lived in Florida). With only minimal power and resources at the hospital, all elective inductions and c-sections were cancelled, and women in early labor were sent home to progress on their own (as used to be standard). When women in real labor were admitted, things occurred in a natural way by necessity and after that experience, several of the labor and delivery nurses changed their employment or career trajectories based on what they had learned.
I skimmed a lot of the middle because by the time I read this, I was already convinced that our maternity system in the U.S. is whacked, it was kind of preaching to the choir. But for anyone who’s skeptical or on the fence, I think this book would be pretty convincing and eye-opening.
Birth Reborn by Michel Odent
I asked Tom to read this book because it wasn’t by a crazy hippy woodwoman — so this is a good book for someone who needs a traditionally authoritative (male, medically trained, hospital-affiliated) take on the safety and desirability of natural childbirth. I liked the historical slant, describing how Dr. Odent and his staff in France stumbled upon several of their methods for improving childbirth and postpartum care in the hospital setting. Recently Dr. Odent has become less and less supportive of having the father in the birthing room, suggesting instead that the mother be supported by women (which is good, of course), but there is no way I would’ve wanted to give birth without Tom.
Birth as an American Rite of Passage by Robbie E. Davis-Floyd
I probably wouldn’t have pushed through the heavy academic chapters of this book if not for our electricity fast, but it was fascinating, and reminded me of being in college. The exploration of birth as ritual and rite-of-passage and as a way for society to initiate women (and their husbands) into a technocratic worldview (where we trust and revere technology over nature) was well-thought out and effectively cautionary. I did feel severe cognitive dissonance by the end — because much as I want to say and believe that I “trust” nature over technology, I chose to give birth in a hospital — obviously core beliefs are more deep-seated and changing a whole philosophy requires more than a summers’ reading.
Birthing the Easy Way by Sheila Stubbs
Back when I was first interested in birth, I titled (and never finished) a post: “Breastfeeding is my gateway drug” about how my enjoyment of and success in breastfeeding was what made me think maybe I could do birth more naturally too. It’s also just about the only facet of attachment parenting or natural family living that fits me (well, that and composting). So I was delighted to see a chapter in this book called “Everything I needed to know about birth I learned from breastfeeding.” Now I could almost make the argument that “Everything I needed to know about parenting I learned from birth”: be patient, you’re not in control (of natural processes), you can take control/be autonomous (of “the system”), surrender, be patient, be flexible, be patient, after great pain comes the reward, be patient.
This book is also great for those interested in VBAC and/or HBAC. Stubbs describes a progression from c-section for CPD (baby “too big” for vaginal birth) to homebirth attended by a doctor (this is in Canada several years ago) to unattended (accidental bec. it happened so fast) homebirth.
Oh, and one of the things I liked best about this book in particular was that Stubbs doesn’t intend “the easy way” to imply “easy” as in “without pain” (more like “simple” or “straightforward”). She emphasizes several times that her births were painful and that if she could handle it, so can anyone, because she’s a self-described wimp.
Rediscovering Birth by Sheila Kitzinger
This book explores birth art, beliefs, and practices around the world and historically. Sometimes the author’s disdain for the West and modern birth practices frustrated me, especially when she was unwilling to criticize “native” beliefs that are pretty clearly dumb. Like the culture (now I can’t remember where — Africa?) where babies are wet-nursed for the first week of life because colostrum is thought to be poisonous. If we can ridicule Americans for our crazy ideas, surely we don’t need to excuse “natural” superstitions that are just as unsupported. But I would still recommend the book, especially for people curious about other cultures. The illustrations alone are well worth a look.
Hypnobirthing by Marie F. Mongan
I know several people who swear by this method. I think I should practice the relaxation techniques for everyday living, because a quick temper is one of my problems, but as for avoiding pain in childbirth? Not buying it.
Birth Without Violence by Frederik Leboyer
This is a weird, stream-of-conscious description of labor and birth from the baby’s perspective (culminating in the soothing Leboyer bath). I checked it out from the library and thought — if this is what people envision when thinking about home or natural birth, no wonder it seems too New Age-y. On the other hand, it was a quick read, and it is interesting to think about birth as the baby experiences it, especially in light of the new in utero studies.
Mothering the Mother by Marshall H. Klaus
I got this for Chrysanthemum and me to read; it’s all about the benefits of having a doula, a female birth attendant who is with the mother the whole time, provides non-medicinal pain relief (massage, etc), and helps her understand and make decisions about interventions suggested/required by hospital personnel. It makes a strong case that if you’re attempting a natural childbirth in a hospital, a doula could make the difference between success and succumbing to medical pressure or pain in the moment. There’s an appendix that describes a doula’s role and responsibilities that was instructive. I chose not to hire a licensed doula because Chrysanthemum was such a help to me throughout the entire process, and also because I trusted my midwives and had heard such great things about my hospital’s support of natural birth (which all turned out to be justified), but I would definitely recommend a doula for any first-time mother who had less idea of what to expect or what the challenges might be in a hospital setting.
Rixa compiled a similar list of suggested books for a natural hospital birth; see the comments for other recommendations.
Here’s a list of Rixa’s favorite breastfeeding books. I should’ve read some books on this before my first kid, but luckily after a rocky couple weeks, it’s almost always been pure pleasure.
Obviously, I cannot recommend Rixa’s blog enough. I can’t think of any other aspect of my personal philosophy that has changed as drastically as my views on childbirth have since first starting to read her. Here are three posts I wrote ridiculing unassisted/home/natural birth before I knew any better (just to give you an idea of how much my thinking has changed — if I were sure of having that much influence over my kids’ thinking about the world, I’d be a happy lady).
Heather’s blog is also a delight of crunchy wonders. I may not be (anywhere near) as committed to living naturally as Heather is, but I love reading about her latest crazy experiment, and she may be the only person on earth with wider feet than mine. I love how she questions the rationale behind just about every everyday behavior. Like, she doesn’t like wearing shoes so recently she just stopped wearing them. Awesome!
Tom was very impressed with Ricki Lake’s documentary The Business of Being Born (it’s on Netflix instant play, too). Again, they don’t shy away from showing what happens when a baby truly needs medical intervention (there’s a c-section for a growth-restricted baby). The point is, you learn as much as you can, you hope and plan for and expect the best, and you’re ready for anything, just in case.
Orgasmic Birth was a little stranger. Tom said as long as I promised not to roll my eyes up into my forehead like the one lady in the tub who is clearly experiencing what the title suggests. Then, since he was immersed enough in the possible sounds and sights of birth and ready to support natural (messy, loud, strange) processes, he said, “or whatever you want to do is great.” Orgasmic Birth has a lot of valuable stuff in it, even if I still can’t imagine really getting that much happy from it.
The one thing I really wanted to do before giving birth this time was attend a natural birth, and my cousin-in-law Karin was gracious enough to invite me to hers. I got the call from my cousin Jared that her water had broken and contractions were starting on a nice Saturday evening in July that just happened to follow a perfectly horrible day and a half of a perfectly awful stomach bug. So I missed the birth, and that’s my biggest preparation regret, that I didn’t get to be present for an actual live (home) birth. I think that would be an invaluable experience, though maybe even more so for a first-time mom.