Sunday, January 31, 2010

Preparing for a natural hospital birth: book and video suggestions

Jane is a college friend of mine who blogs at Seagull Fountain. She has three children and is expecting again. She's thinking of doing things differently this time around. She wrote:
I’ve also been thinking a lot about my desires for a more natural labor this time around. I’ve had three children, three epidurals, two inductions, and until a couple years ago, I thought my labors and deliveries were just about ideal. There were no major complications, no forceps or vacuums or c-sections (and my babies were all healthy, no small consideration).

But my epidurals were never wholly satisfactory. Though I usually started with a “walking” epidural, I have a small scoliosis in my spine that makes the numbness affect only the left side of my body until second and third doses are given and I lie on my right side and end up flat on my back, afraid to so much as shift or I’ll fall off the bed, I’m so numb. This makes for awkward laboring.

I’ve been thinking, since following Rixa’s and Heather’s blogs (and even Dooce’s), and researching more about the effects of medical intervention on labor, that I would love to have a a less-interventioned birth. More importantly — a more prepared, educated birth, a more aware-of-my-options and in-tune-with-my-body birth....

In thinking of my previous labors and births, I have felt ashamed that I took so little responsibility for or control over what happened. That I took as much initiative in childbirth as I did in going for a appendectomy at age fourteen. Why wasn’t I more curious to learn about the actual process, more empowered, more determined to experience, more eager to do it well? Why was I so passive? (I am not a passive person usually.)

So I had a stack of books to read and grand plans to see if I could find a midwife (preferably one who would know of a woman who would let me observe her birth — despite being delivered of three babies myself, I really have no idea what a natural birth would look/be like). Or maybe I would just watch Ricki Lake’s documentary and listen to Hypnobabies.

I volunteered my lending library for her. I pulled a stack of books and movies off my shelf and am trying to make it small enough to fit into a flat-rate Priority Mail box. I have a variety of books, from coffee table ones rich with photos, to anthropological examinations of American birth culture, to advice books. I could also send her my Hypnobabies CDs and packet. For someone in Jane's situation, which books or movies would you suggest?

Here's my list of finalists:

  • Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent: because it's fun and makes you laugh and, most importantly, shows you what giving birth naturally is like. I felt really well prepared for the sights, sounds, and smells of birth after reading her book. 
  • Adventures in Natural Childbirth: this book is an edited collection of natural birth stories in a variety of settings: unassisted, midwife-attended home births, birth centers, and hospitals. I think reading birth stories is an essential learning tool for pregnant women. 
  • Birth as an American Rite of Passage: The classic anthropological examination of American birth practices by Robbie Davis-Floyd. Some of the early chapters can get a bit theory-heavy, so I suggest skimming those if you find your mind wandering. 
  • Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Sarah J. Buckley: This is the older Australian edition. There's a new American edition out this year that is completely updated and has several new chapters. Still, I love this book because Dr. Buckley combines her passion as a mother with her physician's interest in science and hormones. Some of the topics she discusses (lotus birth, elimination communication) might deter a more mainstream reader but I figure Jane has been reading my blog for a few years now, so nothing will be too much of a surprise. My favorite parts of this book are the chapters examining the hormonal physiology of birth. 
  • Birthing the Easy Way by Sheila Stubbs: hilarious, down-to-earth advice from a mom who's been there & done that, from a "physician distress" c-section to VBACs to accidental unassisted home birth. It's funny and real and isn't preachy or pretentious. 
  • Pushed by Jennifer Block: a fast, journalistic expose of our current maternity care system. 
  • Birthing From Within by Pam England. I loved reading through this even before I was pregnant, looking at the various exercises and art therapy Pam England does to help women access their inner knowledge and strength. 
  • Birth Reborn by Michel Odent: lyrical, moving, and beautiful in its portrayal of how to transform birth in an institutional setting. I come back to this text again and again. 
  • Rediscovering Birth by Sheila Kitzinger: a coffee table book filled with photos and illustrations and moving text about giving birth through time and across cultures.

Movies (limited by what I personally own--most have home birth footage. I wish I owned more movies showing natural hospital births, but she'll have to use YouTube for that.)
  • The Business of Being Born: in her case, I'd say watch it mainly for the birth scenes, so you can get an idea of what an unmedicated labor looks and sounds like
  • Orgasmic Birth: probably my favorite because it shows so many different labors and births
  • Waterborn: 3 home water births, home video quality edited together into a 30 minute film. Mothers catch their own babies for the most part. Two of these births are really quiet.
  • Birth Day by Naoli Vinaver Lopez: short, beautiful film of a midwife's third birth, a water birth at home. I love hearing her narrate what she was thinking and feeling as she labored.


  1. I have had 3 natural hospital births, heading to my 4th in a few months. The number one tip is to not go to the hospital until you know you need to.

  2. I also had an intervention-free hospital birth; it can be done! I second Thia's advice.

    Also, I really enjoyed all the videos you mention!

  3. I also really love The Birth Partner-it's just so straightforward and concise. And Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth, too.

  4. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth (of course!)
    Birthing From Within is also a favorite.
    Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way, MCutcheon
    Ricki Lake's book is also good, "Your Best Birth"

  5. I liked Birth: The Surprising History of How We are Born by Tina Cassidy almost better than Pushed. It gets a little scary at first, but it's so great to help explain how we got where we are.

  6. I have a book by Penny's one that was given to me when I was in Seattle. It has many of the risks listed for medications and interventions...and things about baby's position...movement in labor and pushing positions. It might be tame compared to the things you've listed, but I do think for a momma who has never experienced a birth without intervention, it can give many things to think about. Cannot recall the title....

  7. Maybe the Labor Progress Handbook? I really liked that one.

  8. Active Birth by Janet Balaskas would be my recommendation.

  9. I think Anonymous is referring to Pregnancy, Childbirth and Your Newborn. Many of the midwifery practices give this book out to expectant mothers in the Seattle area. Here's the amazon link:

    For your friend, I would recommend:
    Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering
    A Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth
    Born in the USA by Marsden Wagner
    Ina May's Guide to Childbirth
    and watching Orgasmic Birth

    That might be too much though so if I could prioritize, I'd go with:
    A Thinking Woman's Guide and Born in the USA before the others.

    I had one friend borrow both who was wanting to be sold on out of hospital birth and she found A Thinking Woman's Guide biased because Henci started out by saying that her conclusions from her research were that out of hospital birth is best. I think my friend also might have stated that she felt that Born in the USA was really research heavy, so take that into account when recommending it to a friend.

    I think you have convinced me that I need to read Baby Catcher ASAP. I'll add that to Get Me Out, the new history of childbirth that was published recently.

  10. Don't leave out Ina May's Guide to Childbirth! I found that to be the most useful book I read during my first pregnancy.

  11. Jenne, I think the Penny Simkin book that Anonymous was referring to might be "The Birth Partner". :o) (The other is very good, too, though.)

    Rixa, I'm so glad to see others including "Baby Catcher"! I bought a total of four copies so I can always be giving and loaning it. I like all your other choices, too, especially "Adventures in Natural Childbirth".

    Another good book, very readable as a narrative peppered with information, is "Giving Birth" by Cather in Taylor. She does a great job of chronicling the path from her first birth with CNMs to her second, a home birth with CPMs, learning tremendous amounts in between the two experiences. Admirable and enjoyable blending of memoir with research.

    I think "Your Best Birth" is definitely a most for the contemporary hospital setting. I would also plug the collection of videos for Lamaze's 6 Healthy Birth Practices - nothing you need to loan, since they're right online. I really appreciate seeing these principles put into action IN the hospital, seeing them using the squat bars and kneeling over the back of the bed and such. I think it makes a big difference, especially for being so short!

    Finally, I think no such list is complete without Sheila Kitzinger. "The Complete Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth" is formidable and wonderful, but perhaps "Birth Your Way" would be more to the point for your friend.

    I also want to add that your friend should not feel 'ashamed' in the least! We all do the best we can with the information we have at the time. Something in her life journey is making her look into things more deeply this time, and it's now become valuable for her to seek out a different experience. This is great! But I would hate for her to feel shame and regret over the past. Please give her a hug from this benevolent internet stranger.

    (I really need to do a book recommendation post myself, one of these days . . .)

  12. P.S. The link for the 6 Healthy Birth Practices was broken somehow above, so here it is. (I so wish we could edit our own comments sometimes.)

    P.P.S. That should read 'Catherine Taylor'. Not 'Cather in Taylor'. See above re: editing our own sloppy/too hasty comments.

  13. I think your list of books and movies is pretty comprehensive and contains the books I would recommend. I also have to say that as a Mother/Baby Friendly hospital based LD nurse and a trained Birthing From Within mentor, I would strongly encourage her to find a Birthin' Again class offered by a Birthing From Within Mentor. Here's to natural birth!

  14. Although I had a medicine free birth, i had to be induced due to rapidly decreasing amniotic fluid (though now i question how necessary it was; I would love some input on this from anyone who is knowledgeable in this area). I ended up having a 27-hr labor with 4 hours of pushing and thankfully, no one pushed me to have a c-section. Anyway, the ONLY way i got through it sanely was with my Hypnobirthing book & scripts. My hubby read them over, and over, and over, and....over....while i meditated in the tub, on the ball, in the bed, in the rocking chair...and i listened to my birth affirmations as well. It wasn't perfect but i STRONGLY recommend Hypnobirthing. Not only does it give an educational look at what birthing actually is, it offers strategies for getting through the birthing itself. Best wishes!

  15. forgot to say, i will be bookmarking this post for when I have subsequent children!! thanks for the suggestions! :)

  16. I just discovered and awesome resource to birthing and postpartum. It's called "The Female Pelvis: Anatomy & Exercises". It is very technical, but it helped me understand the mechanics of the pelvis better than anything I have seen so far! I recommend it to any pregnant woman who plans to have a vaginal birth (especially one looking to experience a natural birth)

  17. My one birth was a natural hospital birth. I'd definitely recommend Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, Henci Goer's Thinking Woman's Guide, and a Bradley class. I believe my Bradley class was key in helping my spouse and I prepare for a low-intervention/no epidural birth.

  18. I second Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and Henci Goer's Thinking Woman's Guide and The Birth Partner from the other commenters. I also suggest the film It's Your Body Your Baby Your Birth.

  19. I love Penny Simkin's little tiny book. Forget what the name of it is but it is small enough to fit in your pocket. You can refer to it for different positions to try. Wow now I have made it sound like a sex guide! But really it is simple and I like simple. I also like Tina Cassidy's book because it was not full of biased rhetoric. Liked Adrienne Lieberman's "Easing Labor Pain: The complete guide to a more comfortable and rewarding birth.

    If she does not take yoga, I would suggest she try it. I read a couple of studies last semester about using yoga to decrease labor pain and they both provided a fair amount of evidence that mom's who had attended yoga classes regularly 6 weeks prior to labor had reported less pain and discomforts during and after labor.

  20. Journey into Motherhood by Sheri Menelli.

  21. I don't have any more suggestions, but I was totally fascinated reading about your friend's epidural experience because I have scoliosis. I've never had an epidural, but now I'm wondering whether it would have been a miserable experience for me if I had expected the epidural to "save" me from the pain. Fascinating. I'm glad I didn't learn that the hard way!

  22. I also recommend Ina May's stuff because for a lot of women (esp those who have not experienced natural birth), the birth stories can be life-changing and very empowering. I read them over and over as I prepare for my first birth, just to remind myself continuously what my body is capable of!

  23. I love most of the books on your list and want to humbly suggest another: "Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds." I'm the author. :) I wrote it because as a doula I worked for so many women who wanted natural hospital birth, but I didn't see any books that talked about this directly and exclusively. It's a doula's "best practices" for pregnant women.

  24. Have you ever read Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds (Non) Paperback by Cynthia Gabriel? A doula client of mine read it and LOVED it.


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