What is the first book that every pregnant woman in America reads? That’s right. They read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. This is the very first book I picked up. I actually downloaded it onto my husband’s Kindle the very day I found out I was in a family way. I had always thought it was the go-to pregnancy guide, the one you see in the movies, the one that you can always consult when you have a question, an infallible authority on all things pregnant.
I did consume the whole thing in one day. I was at my husband’s family’s house, scared to tell anyone about the pregnancy because it was so early on. As I read more and more of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, instead of becoming more informed, I became more and more alarmed. I read that I should not be using whitening toothpaste, nor should I use face wash with salicylic acid. There’s a whole section on all the things that can go wrong, entitled “The Complicated Pregnancy.” This nearly did me in. I’m a worrier anyway, and these “helpful” pieces of information put nightmares into my sensitive brain. Phew.
Why did I introduce my review of Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth with a review of a totally different book? Well, to me, they seem polar opposites. Of course, the two books have different goals. What to Expect When You’re Expecting is a general guide, and Ina May speaks of labor and delivery only. To me, though, the feelings that I got from each of these books are completely opposite. With What to Expect When You’re Expecting, I felt overwhelmed and frightened; Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth made me feel positive, enlightened, and empowered.
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is unique in the world of books for pregnant ladies. First of all, Ina May Gaskin, the author, is a midwife with over thirty years of experience, who birthed on “the Farm,” a commune in Tennessee, starting during the late 1960’s. In other words, she’s a total badass. She’s informed and educated in ways that most doctors are not — she has attended all of her own births, developed her own philosophy of post-partum care, and will try a multitude of techniques with her patients in order to make their labors comfortable and their babies healthy. She’s also a damn fine writer. She lets her delightful sense of humor flow through her anecdotes and advice, and you can feel her personality coming off the page. For an English major dork like myself, Ina May Gaskin’s writing is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Ms. Gaskin’s book also has another unusual aspect to it: her entire first section is filled with the diverse voices of the women whose babies she has birthed. This section takes up about a half of the book — what other author would give such a large portion of her book over to the writing of others? The birth stories, written by patients of the Farm, are overwhelmingly positive. Though all the stories are positive, they are also all real. There are stories of women who have had c-sections and chose to birth vaginally. Others recount breech births, painful labors, stalled progress … all of the things that can happen and end up concerning some women (and their doctors) so much. The overarching theme is still one of female power, health, and ability. All of these women give birth naturally, attended by the midwives of the Farm.
I used this part of the book as my daily dose of positivity. All of theses stories also contained valuable information on the most interesting, exciting, and feared part of pregnancy: birth. Gaskin then moves on to write about all of the technicalities of labor and delivery, writing about all of the options available to a woman, as well as pain coping techniques backed by fascinating anecdotes of births on the Farm.
Ms. Gaskin does spend some good time throwing stones at the modern pain-coping techniques and perhaps unnecessary testing. However, she also carefully explains each one so that parents reading her book can make informed decisions. I will say that, unlike other books touting natural childbirth, the Guide to Childbirth does not push faulty information on how “harmful” ultrasounds are. Gaskin does include her opinion that ultrasounds are not necessary, but that’s as far as she goes. (It’s a total pet peeve of mine when I read statistically unsound information about how harmful this routine procedure is. Again, I don’t like alarmist crap.)
I know that I will go back to this book time and time again. I will likely re-read parts of it closer to my due date, for the pain-coping techniques, as well as the incredibly positive and uplifting stories of childbirth. I would absolutely recommend this book to any expecting mother, whether or not she’s going for a natural childbirth. I give it a solid A on the Savvy Mom scale of approval.