Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Few Books on Natural Childbirth

I've tried writing this post a couple times and the gremlins keep eating it, so the final result may be a little more rushed than the first few.

As the birth of my second child approached, I started panicking that I couldn't remember anything from the childbirth classes I took the first time and, since I was going for a VBAC, only had limited knowledge from my first time around, so I did what any good librarian in this situation would do and I went to the stacks and grabbed a few books.

I found myself gravitating to the natural childbirth books, not because of some strong calling from my inner Earth Mother Goddess, but because they're the ones that have the most information on the actual mechanics of childbirth. Conventional books will tell you plenty about how your medical care will happen, but not a lot about what happens to baby and the parts of your body surrounding baby during this process, so with that goal in mind, I picked up these three books.

Book #1: Orgasmic Birth: Your Guide to a Safe, Satisfying, and Pleasurable Birth Experience by Elizabeth Davis and Debra Pascali-Bonaro

Okay, so the first one I really grabbed because of the title, but it seemed to be the epitome of natural birth, let's bask in the awesomeness of motherhood book, so I figured if nothing else, the positivity would be good to keep me from freaking out as my due date approached. Eventually I learned that this book was written as a follow up to a documentary about natural childbirth and the vital role it plays in women's lives as sexual beings, so we're pretty far down the rabbit hole of the natural childbirth movement here.

Final Verdict: This one was not for me. When I grabbed these books, I was looking for practical specifics and this one seemed more about basking in your awesome achievements as someone who'd given birth. I did finally get around to reading some after my daughter's birth, but the focus on natural birth above all else was off-putting to this woman who'd just had her second C-section. Hearing the implicit message that I was less of a woman for not only giving birth in a hospital but having a C-section and availing myself of 24-hour nursing care and all that modern medicine had to offer, etc. was very frustrating. Or maybe that was just the hormones talking. Anyway, the other two books were practical for pregnant women in many more situations.

Book #2: Childbirth Without Fear by Grantly Dick-Read

I read the 75th anniversary edition with all sorts of forewards and introductions to give this the correct historical context. Basically the early-mid 20th century was not a great time to give birth in a hospital. Women were generally sedated and restrained during birth, receiving episiotomes whether they needed them or not, and often requiring the use of forceps or other tools to deliver the baby. Women had little to no say on how their birth experience would play out. Dick-Read was one of the first voices to speak out against these practices and call for obstetricians to return to practices resembling those of midwives and others practicing more natural methods of childbirth, and this book has been a standard in natural childbirth literature ever since.

Final Verdict: Shockingly philosophical, this sounds like a book written by a man 75 years ago, yet is still very helpful today, and it's somehow comforting to hear even a man discuss the need to include women in their birth experiences and trust their feelings in regards to their own bodies. I think I would have enjoyed this more if I'd read it at the beginning of my pregnancy when I'd had more time to absorb the abstract concepts around pregnancy and childbirth that Dick-Read explores.

Book #3: The Yoga Birth Method: A Step-by-Step Guide for Natural Childbirth by Dorothy Guerra

I've been a mediocre yoga practitioner for years, but found myself relying more and more on my prenatal yoga DVD the second time around, so reading more about yoga and pregnancy was an obvious choice for me. Guerra spends a lot of time discussing the mental and emotional aspects of yoga before getting into poses and practices that are especially helpful throughout pregnancy and the various stages of childbirth. There is also quite a bit of discussion about the physiology of the pregnant body and all the various changes it has to go through in order to deliver a baby.

Final Verdict: This was by far my favorite of the three. I appreciated Guerra's detailed practical approach, explaining why poses were particularly helpful at each stage and explaining in much more detail than I found anywhere else, the changes your body goes through in each stage of labor before it can progress to the next. I felt much more informed about the changes that would precede my daughter's birth and came away feeling very confident in trusting the signals my body would send me as my delivery date approached. Her poses and routines were spot on in soothing my aching 3rd trimester body and easing the pains of early labor contractions. And since I did end up having a C-section I appreciated her realistic approach to medical intervention and the way she pointed out throughout the book where medical intervention may end up being necessary and why. Natural childbirth is great when it can happen, but in those situations where it can't, going in well-informed and confident in your body and your choices is just as good.

I may not have had an orgasmic birth, but after reading more about the process of childbirth, I was much more confident and calm when it came time for my daughter's birth. When contractions started I was able to work with my body rather than freaking out, and when the decision was made to have a C-section, I was confident that it was the best option available to us.