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Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0871139382
ISBN-10: 0871139383
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Anyone who has taken a prenatal education class in the last decade can detail much of what Boston Globe reporter Cassidy documents about birthing battles in her enjoyable new book. What she so cogently adds is a history of Western practices and attitudes surrounding birth, from the "God-sibs" (or "gossips") who sat by a woman's bed in Europe and early America to the scheduled cesarean of today. The book is well written and will be an important eye-opener to many. Cassidy works hard to remain neutral, but a preference for the discourse of "natural" birth creeps in. She looks nostalgically back at times when most women gave birth at home with female midwives in attendance. This leads to some problematic moments, as when she wants to argue that, historically, birth was not the danger to women's lives that many today assume. But then she has to admit that pioneer women wrote their wills before giving birth and that most women who die in childbirth today are in the non-Western world, where they lack access to hospitals. This is, by Cassidy's admission, the work of a woman disappointed by her own birthing experience. But that, too, is a product of our time—the idea that we "deserve" a certain experience as we give birth. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"It's as true of feminism as anything else that if we don't know our history we're condemned to repeat it. A liberating look at how assumptions have changed of what a good childbirth is supposed to be."

"It's remarkable how little we know about the one piece of human history we all share: birth. Tina Cassidy has written a lively and informative journey through centuries of what women could really expect when they were expecting."

"This smart and fun read is full of 'who knew?' moments that show in fascinating detail how birth has affected our culture in so many ways--even explaining the origins of gossip. Mothers, non-mothers and those who don't want to think about all the messy details of childbirth will find this a gripping read."

"The history of birth, as Cassidy deftly tells it, might well be summed up as What No One Ever Expected When They're Expecting: Crank-and-pulley birthing systems and fish-bladder vacuum extractors. Man-midwives in drag and obstetricians trained on 'mock mothers.' With wit and aplomb, Cassidy covers the ongoing march of birthing fads, from the surreal horrors of the Twilight Sleep to Lamaze, doulas, and the current craze for elective C-sections." -- MARY ROACH, AUTHOR OF STIFF: THE CURIOUS LIVES OF HUMAN CADAVERS AND SPOOK: SCIENCE TACKLES THE AFTE --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; 1 edition (September 8, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871139383
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871139382
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #488,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kaeli Vandertulip on May 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
After hearing the birth stories of her mother and grandmother and after her own emergency C-section, Tina Cassidy starts contemplating the history of childbearing methods, starting with why it's so much harder for us to bear children than for a rhesus monkey (biped and big brain). She then examines midwives, where we give birth, doctors, pain relief, C-sections, forceps and other tools, and the role of the father.

Some of this book is truely squirm-inducing. She describes the horrific ways women have been forced to give birth-whether that's quietly and all alone in a barn or being strapped to a table and given drugs to lead to amnesia. She details the evolution of C-section techniques. Perhaps most disurbingly, she describes each of the ways a stillborn (or a baby though to be stillborn or stuck in the birth canal) have been removed in hopes of saving the mother's life. However, the only section I had to just skip a page on was her description of how placentas have been served. Because she is a journalist, Cassidy does tend to harp on the sensational, the big stories, and the odd cases.

This is an entertaining read, but it should not be used as an authoritiative source on the history of childbirth-this is intended to be entertaining, not source material. She plays fast an loose with statistics to serve her needs-for instance, to prove her point about maternal death rates, she examines the records kept by a doctor in a town a couple hundred years ago and compares it to well-kept, maticulously documented government reports for entire countries. She also seems to equate the phrase "research shows" or "research suggests" with "the research I did on Lexus (or JSTOR or whatever) shows that someone wrote a newspaper about this-I have no idea what RESEARCHERS have found about this.
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Format: Hardcover
Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born, is a comprehensive tour through the (yes, appropriately titled, sometimes surprising!) history of how we are born. The impetus for the book was the author's mother and grandmother's birth stories, combined with Cassidy's own personal experience of a high-tech, modern-day birth that included all the bells and whistles typical of a modern visit from the stork. After her pitocin-augmented, epiduralized, cesarean birth, Tina Cassidy began asking herself, and others, if what she had just undergone was, really, the best for her and her baby.

It soon became clear to the author that apparently straight-forward questions revealed unforeseen levels of complexity. Using the investigative curiosity of a seasoned newspaper reporter and editor, Cassidy soon found out that childbirth today, and childbirth throughout history, are complex matters involving religious overtones, societal mores, historical reflections, passionate beliefs, economic incentives, medical advances, political agendas, and polarized opinions on all sides. Some of the questions addressed in this book include - Is childbirth really better today than it was a decade, or a century, or a millennia, ago? Are you better off giving birth at home or in a hospital? Are you better off with an obstetrician or a midwife? Is cesarean section really just another "lifestyle choice" or should it be reserved for truly life-threatening circumstances? Should everyone (or anyone) get an epidural? What - really - is the function of pain in labor? Should everyone (or anyone) be induced? And did you know that raw placenta makes a mighty fine cocktail ingredient? (P. 219 has the full recipe. Cheers.)

The answers reflect the remarkably complex nature of maternity, now and historically.
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Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book and had a hard time putting it down. My original intent was to save it for a plane ride, but I finished it before we left for the airport. It is a history of birth in America (primarily, though it does touch on different cultures and parts of the world). I should forewarn though that I am a pregnant woman who works in obstetrics, so I had a pretty strong pre-existing interest in this area. While it is clear that the author has a bias toward the "natural" birth, it was still primarily fact-based, and I found it to be quite interesting. I have recommended it to many of my friends and colleagues.
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Format: Hardcover
I think one of the reviewers of this book is confused about this book and the difference between the midwifery model of care for a normal, low risk birth and the medical model of care. The author is not idealizing midwives she is simply biased towards the midwifery model of care because of her experience with the medical model. I know of many women who have had similar experiences with the medical model. There simply isn't enough personal attention and support, especially for a first time mom giving birth with this model of care. From my own experience, (with a midwife and a doula as well as my wonderful partner) my first birth was very similar to many of the stories I hear, except I had the support of a patient midwife and doula who were willing to sit back and wait. After pushing for a few hours my midwife suggested a different position to try and with the help of my partner, doula and midwife I pushed out my 9-pound baby boy without a tear. We discovered that his head was molding off to one side or asynclitic, he was essentially "stuck". I very much believe that if I had been under the medical model of care with a nurse coming in offering an epidural every half an hour my son would have been born by cesarean. Instead I had one of the most empowering experiences of my life. One of the first things I said to my husband was that pushing was so difficult and that I really had to focus my energy on one specific area, which my midwife was kind enough to point out to me. I would not have been able to push him out if I wasn't able to feel that area! So there you go. Yes, perhaps some of us are biased towards the midwifery model of care but for good reason!Read more ›
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