Why would you put something on a “short list”? Of course, there is still always the “long list”, and lots of it on there would undeniably still be worth reading. This shortlist however contains titles which I found eye-opening and essential for every mother-to-be (and their husbands/partners/parents) to read or dip in and out of. This is for everyone who is willing to approach the whole business from a different angle. Interestingly, most of the authors have been around for some time or even aren’t amongst us anymore, some of them could be our grandparents, great-grandparents or in Grantly Dick-Read’s case even our great-great-grandfather.
I found all of the following books extremely useful while preparing for the event that is only the beginning of something which is going to last for the rest of our lives and pretty much beyond that. There will always be that unique link between you and your children, like an endless chain from generation to generation, which is why I believe it is always worthwhile to make that extra effort, even if it is just to enable yourself to make an informed decision, i. e. homebirth or hospital, induction or not, caesarian or other assisted deliveries etc. There is a lot to be said about that, no matter if it is about pregnancy, giving birth, bringing up your children and their education and what you want to teach them in view of the decisions that again have an effect on our daily lives and those of future generations, as for example teaching them about wildlife and the environment and our place within it. And as you can see looking at the baby on the photo, it is never too early to introduce your children to exploring the wonders of the world.
What most baffled me while reading the books on this shortlist, was the passion of those who sat down to write them, despite the long years of hard work, some of them in war zones, their endurance, stamina and drive whilst standing by their principles in face of adversity and even ridicule. As much as we would expect an environment of educated people to be more receptive to change, the advocates of certain academic schools of thought often show remarkably tenacious resistance if they feel that what they themselves have worked on and striven for is rocked to its core. People and their idiosyncracies come on a very broad spectrum, to say the least, and being appointed to a distinguished post does not necessarily make you the best researcher, however much such an occupation seems to require curiosity and an open mind while accepting that we always know a lot less than what there is to know. Saying this, I want to point out the courage of these authors to challenge doctrines, which is why we’re clearly indebted to them. They are by no means the only ones, but it is in their name that we can be grateful to all the others working for the dignity and safety of mothers and children.
So, if you are into reading, willing to overthrow a lot of what is commonly believed in Western society about childbirth, i. e. this being such an ordeal which a woman can’t possibly do without major interference, please consider reading some of the following:
- Julia Indichova, The Fertile Female. How the Power of Longing for a Child Can Save Your Life and Change the World.
This is mainly about struggling with “natural” conception and ways of preparing your body, in fact, your whole endocrine and nervous system for it. She has got an amazing story to tell, and I found this very helpful, as it is even in conjunction with methods such as IVF that you can do a lot for your health and well-being by using the visualisations and recipes included to augment your chances. The interesting thing about her is her childhood in communist Czechoslovakia whose doctrines she left all behind, approaching fertility, conception and motherhood from a very holistic angle.
- Grantly Dick-Read, Childbirth Without Fear. The Principles and Practice of Natural Childbirth.
This book was published in 1942, which makes its contents even more remarkable. The author also talks about his experiences in the First World War, treating wounded soldiers in Gallipoli and on the Western Front in France and Belgium. Encounters with women in those environments as well as those living in abject conditions in the slums of Edwardian London formed the basis of his theory of the “Fear-Tension-Pain-Complex”.
Michel Odent, Primal Health. Understanding the critical period between conception and the first birthday.
Written by the other war veteran on this list (Algeria in the 1950s) this book is both uplifting and scary at times. It discloses a lot about the impact of interventions at birth, hospital nurseries, i. e. separating babies from their mothers, and prenatal conditions such as the physical and mental health of the mother (talking about stress) on our lifelong health. It is worthwhile knowing about these things and how things we consider to be minor, such as clamping the cord too early or not allowing “rooming-in” can wreak havoc on our immune, endocrine and nervous system(s). Odent introduces the view that we should look at all three as a functional entity and not as separate units, the latter view being the source of a lot of mismanaged pregnancies, births and ultimately the impaired condition of our own lifelong well-being. This is all down to what he calls the “primal period of life” during which we are programmed as either robust or very vulnerable, which is rooted in what he calls our “primal adaptive system”. He talks about “disease”, not as the absence of health but the disturbance of the primal adaptive system, in which our primal brain, which we share with other mammals and reptiles, and our hormonal system are regulated in an intricate interplay. Once you get through the scary part it also makes you hope to know that you have a choice.
Ina May Gaskin, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.
This book contains some fascinating birth stories from mothers who gave birth on “The Farm”, a midwife-led birthing house in Tennesse. The book has been written mainly for an American audience. In view of the fact that it is against the law in some states to have a homebirth attended by a midwife while the ratio of caesarian deliveries has risen dramatically, US mothers surely need a book like this. In some of the stories, they recount how they travelled across state lines to be cared for at the farm and not to be administered analgesic drugs first thing on admission to hospital. I found this book particularly useful and encouraging, as it gives you a profound insight, based on Ina May’s decades of experience as a midwife, into the power and capacity of our own (mammalian) bodies. Like all the other authors on this list, Ina May underwent traumatic experiences, in her case a traumatic hospital birth.
As I have said, this is only a short list. These books deserve a more profound review/discussion to which I will return at some point.