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book coverNatural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel Even though I feel quite done with having children, I am fascinated with birth, and I definitely want to be able to recommend good recent books to friends who are having babies. I had pretty low expectations of this book when I picked it up off the waiting-to-be-cataloged cart. The introduction hooked me enough that I checked it out and took it home as soon as it was ready. Gabriel starts off by talking about why people who want to give birth naturally might choose a hospital, even though American hospitals are quite inexperienced with natural births right now. The part that hooked me is that what she tells women is that she aims for a natural birth because she loves it. But, she has excellent creds for writing the book. She’s an anthropologist who worked in Russian hospitals where epidurals are rare, and a doula who attends births in Ann Arbor and therefore, unlike an OB, sees lots of births from start to finish. She advocates using doulas or home-birth midwives to help find the most natural-birth-friendly hospital practice you can, then building support rather than fighting by doing things like bringing in a natural birth story and talking about your hopes for a natural birth each visit. She strongly recommends that unless you are a health care professional yourself, you argue the emotional benefits of a natural birth over the health risks of a medically assisted one. She goes into some depth over writing a birth plan, recommending three separate ones: one for just you, describing your not-reality-tethered dream birth; one for your birth team (husband, doula, whatever friends you invite to help with your birth) detailing what they can do to help with that, such as turning off lights when staff members leave and answering questions on your behalf; and one short, sweet and positive one for the medical staff. Be sure, too, she says, to take a birth class out of the hospital, to help prepare for the tough realities of labor rather than just be educated on the hospital routines. She has sections detailing lots of individual snags you might run into, and longer sections for the tough cases of abuse survivors, multiples, and VBACs. The book is filled with positive birth stories and lots of encouragement. This is a very solid book, highly practical for anyone planning a hospital birth.

Crossposted to and .
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book coverYour Best Birth by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein Lake and Epstein start this positive and empowering look at birth with explaining how even a woman in love with her Tylenol PM could want to try for a natural birth, and their own birth stories. It’s first and foremost about opening up choices about birth, including choosing your place (hospital, birth center or home), care provider (OB, GP or midwife), and back-up team. (They even suggest finding a doula first, who can help you pinpoint your birth style and direct you to doctors and midwives in the area who share your philosophy.) Though they don’t hesitate to point out that the U.S. is at the bottom of the world charts in terms of maternal and infant safety during birth, they focus more on what women can do than on the depressing statistics. They talk about what interventions are out there, risks, and when they are really appropriate. The C-Section chapter talks about both medically unsound reasons to do them as well as ways to make your c-section as gentle as positive as possible if it turns out that you do need one. They talk about communicating with providers and hospital staff, birth for survivors of sexual abuse, different (and more American-focused) birth class/philosophy options, and postpartum care. They include profiles of “birth goddesses”, including birth activists, celebrity moms who opted for natural births, and regular women with amazing births.

One review I read (Library Journal, I think, but maybe Booklist) said that since the authors seemed to think that hospitals cared more about avoiding litigation and following hospital policies than individuals, this shouldn’t be the only book libraries carry on the topic. I would really like to know where the reviewer gave birth to come up with a different opinion on modern birth. This book reflects the reality of modern birth in America, from my point of view and the many other mothers I’ve talked to. And it does it in a way that will leave you feeling more informed, confident and excited about birth.
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book coverThe Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger
I’d looked through this book during my last pregnancy, and it made it onto my pregnancy list. But, I hadn’t read it all the way through. This time, I read both the most recent (2004) and the earlier 1997 edition of this classic. Kitzinger is England’s premier natural childbirth advocate. The book includes baby development at the beginning, pregnancy by trimester, labor and birth, and newborn care. Each trimester includes considerations for birth appropriate to that phase. Read more... )
All in all though, her advice for pregnancy and birth is solid, reassuring, and very helpful for women figuring out what’s important to them in birth and how to make sure they get the best support possible. Since her biases are towards the norm, this is an excellent basic pregnancy book for most mothers.
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book coverThe Birth Partner by Penny Simkin When I prepared to give birth, I hired a doula, a professional birth support person. She made a huge difference in making the whole birth experience smoother and more positive, and I recommend hiring a doula to anyone giving birth. But, suppose you can’t hire a doula? Suppose you want your parenting partner or your best friend to come to the birth with you? Or, that such a person wants to educate him or herself to be able to help you even if you have a doula as well. In that case, you want this book. It covers pregnancy, birth and newborn care from the perspective of a partner, rather than the mother or a medical professional. It includes such topics as preparing for labor, helping the mother find an effective labor coping pattern, common medical interventions, their side effects and risks and how to discuss them with hospital staff, what to do if there is a personality conflict between the mother and the assigned nurse or doctor, and how to best support a mother in labor who’s changed her mind about what she wants from her birth plan. I read the old, falling-apart edition that my midwifery still keeps. This edition placed rather more stress on the importance of learning and practicing several breathing patterns than is currently in vogue (my birth class instructor said that practicing breathing before you were in labor was like practicing breathing for a marathon without running); I don’t know if the new edition has changed. Overall, however, the information was extremely helpful. There are even helpful summary pages labeled in white text on darker bars on the sides of pages, so you can fan out the pages and find the part you need in the heat of things. Simkin is the founder of Doulas of North America/DONA, and this book is required reading for many doula training courses as well.
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I’ve noticed something about pregnancy books, which is that being mainstream or natural will affect what they talk about. The mainstream camp will spend a lot more time on the pregnancy, what to eat and wear, dealing with relatives and heartburn. For labor, they’ll talk about the three stages, and tell you that modern birth is safe and to do what your doctor says. The natural camp will of course tell you what to avoid during pregnancy, but basically tell you to pay attention to what your body needs. They will spend the bulk of the time on labor and birth – preparing for it physically and emotionally, what it feels like from your perspective, the side effects and risks of common medical interventions and well as the effectiveness of various non-medical pain relief techniques, various labor and birth positions and their benefits. Both because no medical intervention is risk-free and because I’ve known people who decided in advance on an epidural and then had it not work for them, I recommend that everyone read about birth from the natural perspective whatever their plans for labor. I’m also including books for fathers and soon-to-be older siblings, for hopefully obvious reasons. [Edited 2/13/09]: because more of my friends are having second or more children now, who need their own books, as do fathers. Links are to my original reviews, where available.

lots of books, with pretty pictures )
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Circle of Magic – the Circle Opens: Sandry’s Book, Tris’s Book, Daja’s Book, Briar’s Book by Tamora Pierce [ profile] amnachaidh and I listened to this whole series in the car (separately). The four short books go together nicely to form one main story arc. It’s something like an earth magic Hogwarts, with children of different backgrounds – noble, merchant, trader, thief - coming together at the monastery of Winding Circle, finding they have unique magical powers and learning how to use them. The plots are entertaining but fairly predictable – the heart of the books are the four young mages and the circle (formed in book one) that binds their magic together. The recordings are done by Full Cast Audio, each character with a different reader and narrated by the author. It took me a little while to get used to the slightly exaggerated enunciation that the producer apparently prefers, but once over this little hump, the full cast presentation works very well. I’m sad that only one book of the following quartet has been recorded, with no apparent plans to do the other three.

Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent As a teen, in an era when options for women were quite limited, Vincent’s parents told her to become a nurse, because she’d always have a job. And with her first OB rotation, Vincent was hooked on birth. In the era of Twilight Sleep, a patient refuses to lie down or take drugs. “Please lie down! What if the baby falls out?” Peggy pleads. “Well, darlin’, that’s the whole point, ain’t it?” the woman responds between contractions. She chronicles her path to becoming a Certified Nurse Midwife, working at the Bay Area’s most prestigious birth center and doing home births (then covered by insurance.) The meat of the book are the birth stories, beautiful, bizarre, and hilarious. From that first rebellious mother to births in lesbian communes and on board ship, barely-caught births and breech births, births in hospitals and at home, this is a heart-warming tale from a midwife passionate about birth and women’s right to birth choices. If you’re interested in birth, but less in scary medical facts like Born in the USA (or need to recover from reading it), this is the perfect book.
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Is the health of women and children a women’s issue, or a human issue? Either way, it’s hard to avoid be angry after reading this book. I don’t normally include subtitles here, but this one was too helpful in explaining the book to leave out.

Born in the USA: How a Broken Maternity System Must Be Fixed to Put Women and Children First by Marsden Wagner, M.D., M.S. It’s a little-known fact that the maternal mortality rate in the United States has been rising for the past 25 years, and both our maternal mortality and infant mortality rates are among the worst in the industrialized world. Wagner uses both hard scientific evidence* and lots of personal experience to wade through the tangles of modern obstetrical care. Doctors and scientists are in conflict, he says, because while a scientist must assume that everything is known, a doctor must assume that he or she knows what the problem is and how to treat it in order to get anywhere. A lack of oversight, love of technology, lack of knowledge of normal birth, and a fear of litigation combine to make hospital births downright dangerous for mother and child. ** After documenting these grim facts, Wagner goes on to paint a picture of an ideal maternity system, similar to those already existing in other countries, which have been established even without the approval of the obstetrical community. It seems like a long haul, but this book is a good start.

* For those interested in doing their own medical research, Wagner frequently cites the Cochrane Library, . This is a medical nonprofit working towards evidence-based medical practice. They synthesize and analyze medical studies, providing both their reports and the original studies in their on-line library.

** One blatant example of this is the continued use of Cytotec in inducing labor. Cytotec is a prostaglandin drug that was developed to treat stomach ulcers, and comes with a warning against use by pregnant women. When it first came out in the 1990s, OBs discovered that it could be used to induce labor, and use spread widely by word-of-mouth, with no safety studies being done. The high rates of induction on VBAC patients led to a marked increase in uterine rupture, with the effect that it is now nearly impossible for anyone to get a VBAC. But despite warnings from the manufacturer, Searle, and the FDA, against the use of Cytotec for inductions, its use for inductions continues. Over 100 women have died, many babies have died or suffered permanent brain injuries, and yet the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists continues to tell people that it is safe and to lobby the FDA to approve it for use inducing labor. While there has been some coverage of it in the news, most cases are settled with gag orders, so far effectively preventing knowledge of this drug from spreading.
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Another cross-section of (mostly) vacation reading – one for the car, one from a friend, and a couple to read to your favorite child. And, ok, every one involving children or childbirth. I'm working on a different kind of book, promise!

Birthing from Within by Pam England A little older than most of the childbirth books I’ve been reading, but still well worth it. This book is about childbirth, specifically from the mother’s point of view, with some attention to the partner. She’s not so much interested in natural vs. assisted birth, as in the parents getting connected with their feelings and fears about childbirth and impending parenthood. You can’t control what will happen, she seems to say, and your experience will not be the medical event your doctor will tell you about. Prepare for what you can, address your fears – and there’s also a lot on natural pain relief techniques. Birth is an important rite of passage, and learning only about the three stages of labor won’t prepare you for this side of things.

Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath Trust Polly Horvath to write a funny and yet touching book about a seemingly depressing subject. Primrose lives in a small fishing village in British Columbia with her parents, until they are lost at sea. Everyone else is convinced that they are dead, but Primrose, narrating, is so convinced that they will come back that the book is saved from being the mournful reflections of a new orphan. Instead, she explores life inside the village as she is passed around from one person to the next. From the old maid she was first left with, to her happy-go-lucky uncle, the stuck-up school counselor and the owner of the town’s one restaurant, the characters are full of vivid and amusing life. I especially enjoyed listening to the young, scrappy-sounding voice of the narrator on the audio version.

Mother Shock: Loving Every (Other) Minute of It by Andrea Buchanan Thanks to [ profile] garrity for loaning me this one. So, you’re about to become a mother for the first time, talking to mothers you know, reading books on the subject, hanging out with the children of friends. Are you prepared? No, says Buchanan. Motherland is an entirely different country, and you’re reading guidebooks and talking to natives. The shock of adjusting to new parenthood has stages very similar to culture shock, from euphoria to hatred of the new culture to final adjustment. Buchanan shares her own experiences in a series of essays grouped around each of these stages. More important than the stages, though, is her firm conviction that not every part of being a mother is fun. Acknowledging this often taboo fact does not mean that you don’t love your child or are a bad parent. Life is always complex, and we shouldn’t expect parenting to be different. Though the premise may sound academic, the book isn’t, with Buchanan’s essays sharing the nitty-gritty tears, laughter, and exhaustion of the new mother.

Not One Damsel in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Girls by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Susan Guevara
Fairy Tales by Berlie Doherty, illustrated by Jane Ray
These are two lovely collections of fairy tales that I recently shared with the 5-year-old Wild Woman, and which we both greatly enjoyed. Not One Damsel in Distress, as the title indicates, features only stories with strong heroines – not modern-day fantasies, but real, strong folk heroes who have made it through the centuries. I keep a sharp eye out for collections of this nature, and this is one of the best. It’s a few stories common to collections of this nature (though mostly not so well known otherwise), and many that even I had never seen before – crack to the fairy tale collector. More important to the Wild Woman, Yolen is an amazing storyteller, able to tell a compelling story in a multitude of different styles. The illustrations didn’t do much for me, but WW didn’t seem to mind, and you can’t have everything.

The Doherty collection is mostly fairy tale standards – “Snow White”, “Rapunzel” – with a few less common stories like the Russian tale “The Firebird” thrown in. It’s not the addiction of new stories that Yolen had for me, but these are stories that every child should grow up with. Doherty is an award-winning British author and tells the stories lyrically, attentive to their original sources. However, what really makes this book shine are the illustrations. Every page is illustrated in full color with gold accents, with each tale having its own frame. The characters, while much more simply dressed than typical in fairy tales, look beautiful. They are multiethnic without making a big deal about it – just people of fairly indeterminate race but different skin tones interacting in a magical fairy tale world. If you know a child who needs a basic collection of fairy tales to love, this would be my top pick.
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This time, one for my seemingly insatiable appetite for pregnancy and childbirth books and three normal person books.

The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger This is yet another really great pregnancy book. It’s a little light on the fetal development side, compared to many others, and also not as entertaining as my favorite, How to Have a Baby and Still Live in the Real World. It also focuses somewhat less on issues like clothing and dealing with nosy relatives, topics that are covered heavily in many other books. However, it has a great many strong points, including coverage of labor and childbirth that really shines. It covers dealing with changes in the body during pregnancy extensively, including pages of full-color photos of useful stretches and exercises. It covers care options in detail. Kitzinger is renowned for natural childbirth, but the coverage here is remarkably balanced: if you think you’ll need that epidural, she talks about the risks and benefits and when in labor it’s safest to use. She also includes the only description I’ve seen of exactly what the body does during labor, focused on what can cause pain and what type of pain it is. She also describes, with photos, positions to use during labor, and when the various positions are most useful or unhelpful. There’s a useful, if sad, section on dealing with the loss of a child, as well as a chapter on newborn care. Sprinkled throughout are birth stories, ranging from home to hospital births, as well as helpful photos of labor and families with their new babies. This books complements Ina May’s Guide very well, providing practical information to go with Ina May’s inspirational stories. It’s also a good basic pregnancy book, with information slanted more towards childbirth and preparing for it.

Playing James by Sarah Mason This book is British chick lit in top form – fluffy, sweet, and I even liked the character better than the Shopaholic’s Becky Bloomwood. Holly Colshannon is a journalist covering pet funerals for a small-town paper, when she gets a dubious promotion covering the crime beat. Her assignment: to shadow hunky detective James as he covers his beat. Only he hates journalists, and her klutziness keeps landing her in the hospital. And though he is really good-looking, Holly already has the perfect boyfriend, and James is due to be married in two weeks. This playful romp is a delightful summer read.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss Yes, this is on the best-seller list. And yes, it’s delightful. Truss is a punctuation stickler on the rampage, documenting with dry British humor the ever-increasing misuse of punctuation. If, like me, you wince at signs that say “X-MAS TREE’S FOR SALE” (what do the trees own? What letter was left out?), this book will strike a heart-felt chord. If, like the majority of people in the world, you are unsure of when to use “it’s” or “its”, this book’s clear and hilarious examples will soon clear up the matter for you. Or, you know, if you just enjoy laughing, you might like this one, too. Sticklers unite! Punctuation matters!

Night Swimming by Robin Schwartz Charlotte Clapp is stuck in a dead-end life: her mother has died, her best friend married Charlotte’s boyfriend and now seems to hate her, and she’s working a lowly bank job in a town with no place to go. She numbs herself with food, 100 pounds overweight. Then, her doctor tells her that she has cancer and only a year to live. This jolts her awake, and she promptly steals two million from the bank and heads out west to fulfill her fantasies before she dies. Of course, it’s a mistake, which luckily we find out at the beginning, though Charlotte doesn’t. In Hollywood, she buys a luxury apartment, and spends her days befriending an elderly neighbor and drooling over the handsome pool boy. Nights she spends swimming and looking at the stars, allowing for both deep inner reflection and lots of weight loss. Meanwhile, the hometown police are on her trail – will she lose everything she’s found? The beginning and end are a little improbable, and salvation through weight loss is a bit problematic for my inner feminist. (Be beautiful on the outside, and you will find enlightenment and true happiness!) In spite of these flaws, I found myself turning pages compulsively, rooting for this likeable character as she struggles to make her dreams come true.
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Other people suggested these books to me, so here is another fairly random assortment. I 'm working on reading the ocassional book unrelated to pregnancy or childbirth, but these books (for obvious reasons) will probably continue to feature highly here for the next while. Just so you know.

The Unseen by Zylpha Keatley Snyder This is the latest book by an author whom I loved as a child (by which you might surmise that it is a children’s book), and which my mother asked my opinion of. This naturally required that I read it. Twelve-year-old Xandra is running through the forest one afternoon, as a temporary escape from her too-perfect, too-rich family, when she finds a white bird injured by hunters. She takes it home and patches it up – but when she returns in the morning, it’s gone from its cage, leaving only a feather behind. Wearing the feather around her neck, she soon finds herself talking to the social outcast at school – a scholarship girl – who tells her the feather has the power to let her see the Unseen, the things that are always there but usually can’t be seen. It does. The things that Xandra sees are both beautiful and terrifying – and in trying to understand them, she learns a lot about friendship, family and herself. I admit, I wasn’t as stirred as I was by the ones I read as a child – but that may be because I’m not a child anymore. Still, I think, a quite solid choice if one were looking for a realistic-with-a-touch-of-magic book for, say, a ten-year-old.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin This is one that Trying to Be Zen said she bought, but I was tired of waiting for a review from her, and so checked it out myself. Especially after reading the last childbirth book, it seemed time for one primarily about natural childbirth. Ina May Gaskin (though I admit I hadn’t heard of her before) is one of country’s leading midwives, and wrote a book called Spiritual Midwifery which was very popular in the 70s and which is still in print. This book, though, just came in 2003, and is aimed at everywoman, rather than midwives. The goal is to convince women that, contrary to common TV-drama fueled belief, the female body is designed to give birth, and does it very well. The first third of the book is birth stories, mostly from her practice on The Farm, as women describe their labors. All the births are natural, with a few exceptions of women who describe their first standard hospital birth and then a second natural birth. Not all the births are what might normally be described as easy or low-risk, but all the women are happy and satisfied with their experiences, and medical interventions are rare and minimal. Following that are chapters that talk about how the body functions during labor, and attitudes towards labor and childbirth in various traditional and modern cultures. Ina May feels that birth doesn’t have to be painful, certainly not as painful as modern American women are taught that it is. She offers practical and inspirational advice on creating a beautiful birth experience anywhere. While she is obviously focused on natural childbirth, she also has advice that would be helpful to any expectant mother. There’s information on current medical techniques, and some angry words for the U.S.’s rising maternal mortality rate and failure to track or attempt to reduce it. Most helpful to me was the confidence throughout, demonstrated in the individual stories as well as the factual information and statistics: women’s bodies were made to give birth without it being a horrific experience. It may sound small, but not feeling afraid of labor feels big. I wouldn’t call it the only book on natural childbirth you’d ever need, if that’s what you want, but I would definitely highly recommend it. And to quote Ina May’s closing words, “Your body is not a lemon.”
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Well, OK, men can read this - and probably some men should read this book. But as this is a book specifically about childbirth, most men will probably wish to avoid it.

The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer For the most part, I consider pregnancy and childbirth books to be interchangeable. Flip through a few, find one or two that work for you, and you'll be set - the basic information is the same. This is the first book on the topic that I think should be required reading for everyone planning to have a baby. Most other books take one of two approaches - either you're going to have a standard hospital birth, in which case there's an section that begs to skipped that briefly goes over what they'll do to you in the hospital. Or, they assume that you want a Natural Childbirth, in which case they describe how childbirth will help you get in touch with your Inner Woman, assuming that you don't want any of those icky things they do in hospitals. (yes, I'm exaggerating somewhat on both counts.) But, what benefit do you or your baby get out of either method? Both approaches seem to start assuming that you know what you want - but what are you supposed to base that on? The Thinking Woman's Guide is the only book I've seen that talks about exactly what a traditional hospital birth offers, technique by technique. It discusses each method, describes it, and lists the risks and benefits, as well as strategies to avoid needing any risky interventions. What's particularly refreshing is that the information given is solidly based on medical studies. An appendix in the back summarizes each of the studies used, while all the studies are listed in the bibliography, should you wish to be look them up.

Unfortunately, the news is, for the most part, grim. It turns out that many of the things that are considered standard during delivery were adopted before any studies were done. Now that studies are being done, doctors believe that the methods are effective because they've always been using them and are reluctant to discontinue them, even when the studies show differently. Many of these things interfere with labor, making it slower or more difficult and causing the doctors to use even more techniques and interventions, which cause yet more problems. A greatly simplified example: Continuous fetal monitoring will often require you to lie on your back, which slows down labor. You'll then be given a drug to speed up labor, which causes more painful contractions than those from natural hormones. At this point, you may well request an epidural, and you'll be given an IV in addition to the epidural. The IV can cause fluid overload, leading to excess fluid in the baby's lungs and blood chemistry imbalance. The epidural causes a fever over time and can cause your blood pressure to drop, both of which are considered dangerous for the baby. It will also slow down your labor even more, so you're likely to be given more drugs to speed up the labor, or you may be given an emergency c-section. Your baby is also more likely to be given more and more intrusive exams upon birth. Yikes! Nothing I'd heard before, in books or from friends or doctors, had ever suggested that a little epidural could be anything but helpful. And even though it's a little sad to let the dream of pain-free labor without side effects go, I think that all women deserve to know what the potential risks of any medical procedure are beforehand.

On the bright side, the happiest thing I learned from this book is that there is no medical reason to go without food or water during labor. Woohoo! It had never made very much sense to me that one should be expected to go through the hardest work of one's life, potentially for a day or two, with nothing but ice chips. The evidence is in: food and water are just as helpful during labor as during any other athletic activity.


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