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Book Review:
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

by Ina May Gaskin
Bantam, 2003

Reviewed by Susan Mocsny Baker
Westborough MA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 39 No. 6, December 2003 - January 2004, pp. 134-35.

As Leaders, we are exposed to a large amount of information about childbirth and how it affects breastfeeding. Often, I’ve been asked to suggest a book for someone who is pregnant for the first time. It is hard not to overwhelm someone with many excellent books, most of which are available in our Group Libraries. This offering by Ina May Gaskin is my new personal favorite.

Many women have read Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery during the years since its first publication. Some women did not relate to the book with its stories of birth on “The Farm,” a commune where Gaskin practiced midwifery. In this new book, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Gaskin takes her birthing philosophy into the North American mainstream.

There are many choices in birthing: where to give birth, whom to have as an attendant, and what to do about pain relief. In the introduction, Gaskin states, “Birthing is so integral with life—so common—that choices surrounding it often get relegated to chance. We tend to go along with what everyone else is doing, assuming that must be for the best. Living in a technological society, we tend to think that the best of everything is the most expensive kind available….When it comes to birth, it ain’t necessarily so.”

Continuing, Gaskin says, “Consider this your invitation to learn about the true capacities of the female body during labor and birth.” She goes on to explain that while there are many books that take current medical knowledge and practice and translate it into plain language, there are very few which take woman’s real capacity in labor and birth and combine it with the most effective use of technology in birthing.

Gaskin asks, “Have you never heard anyone speak positively about labor and birth before? If so, you are not alone. One of the best kept secrets in North American cultures is that birth can be ecstatic and strengthening. Ecstatic birth gives inner power and wisdom to the woman who experiences it, as you will learn from many of the birth stories told here. Even when women in my village experience pain in labor, they understand that there are ways of making the sensations of labor and birth tolerable that do not involve numbing the senses with drugs.”

A common question I hear is, “How does anyone have a baby without an epidural?” In the 1970s and 1980s, when I was having my children, epidurals were uncommon. How then, in today’s world, can we share the joys of an unmedicated childbirth with mothers? The first part of this book is entitled “Birth Stories,” and it comprises almost half the book. Those who have given birth, as well as those still pregnant will enjoy reading these tales. These mothers’ stories powerfully illustrate how birthing empowers women.

Part two of the book is called “The Essentials of Birth.” In this section, Gaskin explains what happens in labor, and gives a lot of suggestions about dealing with it. She also compares models of maternity care and discusses the importance of nutrition. This section also contains a chapter about the mind-body connection and how powerfully this affects labor and birth. Gaskin also discusses how birth pain is different from other pain, a distinction that can empower a birthing mother. In her chapter “Giving Birth,” she shows how gravity can work for you in delivery and details pain-relieving medication. There is also a large section discussing epidural anesthesia. She then goes on to give many practical suggestions for avoiding medication in a hospital setting. The final chapter on choosing a caregiver is full of important questions to use when interviewing prospective birth professionals.

After finishing this book, I was inspired by Gaskin’s positive attitude. I would recommend the book to any pregnant woman who is interested in educating herself about choices she will make in childbirth.

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