So, having the research-driven brain that I have on top of becoming recently pregnant you can imagine what I’ve started doing with my time lately—that’s right, reading all the books I can get my hands on! I thought I would share with you some of my favorite reads as I go through them, and while I’m still a few pages from the end on Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, it’s been nothing short of a fascinating read for me so far! If you don’t already know (I didn’t until recently) Ina May Gaskin is kind of the main Mama of modern day midwifery so I thought that reading her books would be good insight into the core of that particular movement. We chose a local birth center run by midwives and nurse midwives for our delivery (it’s 1.4 miles from the hospital BTW in case I need to transfer) and while that is a much “crunchier” choice than I would have made 10 years ago, I didn’t feel comfortable with the full home birth route either so it seemed like a good middle point to start with and see how it goes.
Anyways, Ina May starts off her Guide to Childbirth book with positive birth stories (like, a ton of them) because she feels strongly that pregnant women, especially American pregnant women, are inundated with dramatic horror stories of births that can leave the mother feeling justifiably frightened and terrified of what she’s about to go through. While there certainly are difficult births or even births that end in heartbreak I think the point is that the majority of births do go well and it’s important to focus on that and hear lots of positive stories to counteract the scary ones. She talks a lot about the “mind/body” connection in the birth experience and just how powerful or hindering one’s outlook and thought process can be in how the body anticipates and responds to pain and carries one through the labor process. All the stories from her 30 years of midwife experience along these points are pretty amazing if you ask me and I love how she reaches back a few centuries at times to research the same phenomenons from doctors and midwife’s journals back in the day. I also loved seeing how she compares what you might call the “classic Western medicine” birth experience with births from other countries where they may not have access to (or necessarily want) some of the drugs or procedures we can access here in the US.
There’s definitely some “out there” methods and theories in this book if you haven’t read much into the world of midwifery and natural birth (check out the chapter on orgasmic birth if you’re interested, that’s a new one to me!) but some of them may sound odd at first and then make a lot more sense when you finish that section. For example, she talks about what she calls “sphincter law” which is essentially the idea that since the cervix is a sphincter it naturally follows a few rules that all the other sphincters in the body follow (such as not responding to outside commands and functioning best in a private and familiar atmosphere). It sounds a little weird at first but she makes her point well.
I do appreciate that Ina May’s tone through the book doesn’t feel braggy or like she’s looking down on those who want to go a traditional Western route. It feels more like she’s calmly educating you on a method that she really, really, loves and wants you to also know a few things about a more clinical route that you may not have known (risks and side effects of common drugs or pain medications for example). You don’t get the sense that she thinks it’s the ONLY way, but it’s a fantastic avenue that she wants you to be aware of when you are choosing how you want to give birth. Jane Sandall once said, and I think Ina May would agree, that, “Every woman needs a midwife, and some women need a doctor too.” So hospitals and doctors can and do save the lives of women and babies that traditional midwifery might not be able to help (babies that need an emergency C-section for example) and I like that I know women who have chosen all the way across the spectrum of home birth to traditional hospital procedure and everything in between based on what felt right for them. Overall, like I said, I have found this book and all the experiences of the women in it fascinating so far and I can’t wait to read more so I can compare and contrast with other methods (Ina May also has a book on breastfeeding as well that I’d love to read). One book down, a million to go!
Both my children were born in a hospital as midwives aren’t an option in my small city and at home births are actually illegal in my state… which is lame. However, I had natural births for both. Best experience and choice ever. I agree your body and mind need to be in sync. I have two pieces of advice – which you don’t need to take but I will still tell you! First, remember contractions are progress so you need to relax your body (don’t tense up/be fearful) and let them do their thing. Yes, contractions are painful. But those are the ones that are making your baby travel safely to his/her arrival in your arms! My next piece of advice is the make sure you always vocalize what you want/need. With both births I wanted to stay home as long as possible as well as work through those contractions on my own. I felt like being alone so my husband actually slept (I went into labor the middle of the night with both) until I woke up to take us to the hospital. With my first daughter I wanted to labor in the dark and quiet while laying down. With my second daughter I labored with the lights and tv on (Parks and Recreation, thanks Netflix!) while pacing the living room. I didn’t expect to labor that way with either of them but I followed what my body and mind wanted. And don’t be afraid to speak up! I had to tell my hubby to leave me alone. Ha. At the hospital I spoke up with dimming lights and not talking during my contractions. Ha. Again, kinda weird requests, but it was what my mind and body needed to be successful.
Good thoughts! Thank you Holly! Glad you could at least do a few things “your way” in your experience 🙂
I loved this book when I was pregnant and thought of it many times during labor. Reminding myself that millions women have been doing this for thousands of years was such an encouragement and relief to me. I also kept thinking, “this too shall pass”.
I highly suggest a doula as well. She and my midwife worked beautifully together and I’m so glad they were both in the room. Along with my husband, of course!
Blessings to you!
Yes, repeating that has been really comforting so far! And I’m planning on interviewing doulas too, the birth center has a lot that they recommend 🙂
I second the recommendation of a doula as well!!
Yes, looking into one soon!
I happened upon this book at the library and was SO grateful for it. I remembered feeling so nervous and uncertain about how I would respond to the pain of labor, but her book really showed me valuable ways to breathe and move through the contractions. It was such valuable guidance and really helped labor feel manageable. It’s always wonderful to remember that labor pain has a very definitive ending with such a wonderful outcome! Good luck as you prepare! It’s such an indescribable experience to labor and give birth and then parent.
So glad you found it helpful Jewel! I’m excited to read some of her other books as well to see what else I can learn 🙂
I am so excited for you! This next stage of life is exhausting and stressful yet SO incredible and full of such great moments. One piece of advice I’d pass along (can’t help it 🙂 ) is to not forget to prepare for once the baby is actually here! I spent so much time learning about pregnancy and trying to get through HG that once baby arrived I was not prepared for the demands of a newborn. You’re gonna rock this!!
As a birth doula in training, I highly recommend having one at least for your first birth– so I’m glad you’re looking into it! And that book is a great resource– Ina May really does a good job of explaining things without talking down to you. Definitely read up, take classes, ask questions, and be open to change 🙂 birth can be so unpredictable, but if you’re informed it makes it a whole lot easier!
i just finished this book as well (due in march 🙂 congratulations to you! this is my first as well and after seeing a doctor at a hospital those first few months, i recently changed my mind and am going with a local birthing center as well, with hospital right across the street. everything ina discusses really resonated with me and just, made sense! as women, we shouldn’t be afraid of birth, but embrace all the feelings and trust that our bodies were made for the task. btw, i’ve been watching several documentaries with my husband and really enjoyed “the business of being born” on netflix, as well as “breastmilk”. i’ll be thinking of you too along this journey, so exciting!
Yes! I do want to watch “the business of being born” but I wish there was an edited version without the birth scenes, I’m so squeamish about that stuff but maybe I’ll just close my eyes as needed 🙂 Hope your birth goes well!
I felt so empowered after reading all those positive birth stories because all people wanted to tell me were there horror stories!! I started politely asking for people to share difficult labor stories with me AFTER my baby was born. It was causing too much fear and panic. I also decided to give birth at a free standing birth center with a midwife and it was the best decision. Our midwives were so caring and loving and allowed me to cry in the office (on multiple occasions). My daughter’s birth was magical, truly a miracle. I arrived at the birth center right in time to push, and hopped in the warm water (sweet relief) and my husband caught her a little while later. It was so special, beautiful and memorable. I hope you have a wonderful experience as well! No matter the circumstances, it will still be beautiful, but I am a firm believer that the absence of fear produces an easier labor with less pain. It’s still HARD work, but even without medication it doesn’t have to be painful.
I utilized hypno birthing techniques for pain management and “practiced” them every night before labor. I also read scriptures every night along with my birth mantra from Ina May “You are not a lemon. Your body is not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic.”
Congratulations on your sweet one! Life is going to be so much gushier the minute they arrive!
Yes, I’m looking into Hyno birthing! I’ve heard good things about that and the Bradley method as well. And so happy your birth went so well! That’s such a good Ina May quote too, I’ll have to remember that one…thanks Elise!
I recently had a birth center water birth with my first baby. It was the best experience! I’m sure you will love it (which sounds weird I know). But as a first time mama who basically knew nothing about pregnancy/childbirth, a class called Birth Bootcamp was the best resource I came across. It’s focused on natural births, so it’s a little more helpful if you know you’re going that route than many other classes are. I learned so much and felt about a thousand times more confident because of it. I don’t know if you have one in your area, but if you do I’d definitely suggest it!
Also, Ina May’s “Spiritual Midwifery” (all about natural births on the commune she was living on where she first learned midwifery) is a great read too. Good luck!!
Yes! They do have a few birthing classes and newborn classes that we will take so I’m sure those will be really helpful for us too! Glad you liked your experience so much!
Ooooh, one of my favorite things to talk about is birth. Like you, 10 years ago I would have never imagined having a natural childbirth, but after read Ina May’s Guide To Childbirth, (which I also read because I’m they type of person who has to research everything!) I knew that it was something I wanted to try.
I do have a few crunchy ways. I’m plant based, I like natural skincare and I love my essential oils. But let me tell you- even after ALL of the books I read on natural childbirth that tell you that you don’t have to feel pain, and after doing the Hypnobabies home study which teaches you how to train yourself to relax so that contractions don’t hurt- I did not believe for one second that it actually wouldn’t hurt. I was just hoping that one of the things I was going to try (essential oils, hypnobabies relaxation, taking a bath, etc.) would help me be able to handle the pain and get through it. But Laura- it didn’t hurt!!! Like, no pain. I felt a little discomfort when I pushed out his head, but that was it. I didn’t even believe I was actually in labor until I got to the hospital (no birth center yet here in Memphis) and I was dilated to a 7!!!!
The nurses all said I must have a high tolerance for pain, which makes my husband laugh (later that day I made them take out my IV and discontinue the antibiotics because it was bothering me). It’s not that at all- it’s just that the whole “mind/body” connection that Ina May talks about is legit. If you train your mind, your body will do what it needs to do and it does NOT have to be painful. It was seriously so impowering, one of the best experiences of my life, and something I am SO proud of.
Best of luck to you! I’m loving reading all of your pregnancy/ baby gear updates.
Awesome Allison!! What a great story! I’ve heard really good things about hypnobirth so far and I’m definitely going to look into it more. It will be so interesting to look back on everything I’m gathering up after the birth and see what I felt really helped and what didn’t for me. Thanks for sharing, hope mine goes as well as yours!!
I loved reading your perspective on this book. I read it two years ago when I was prepping for the birth of my first baby, and these insights were astounding to me. It really opened my mind up to the possibility of a fantastic birth experience, and I am so grateful for that. I am days away from delivering my second baby (seriously, this kid needs to evacuate!), and your post made me want to pick up this book again to get in the natural mindset again. Thanks for sharing your heart!
Aw, thanks! Good luck on your second delivery! It must feel so different doing it for a second time when you know what to expect a little more!