Ina May Gaskin: Ina May's Guide to Childbirth : Updated with New Material (Paperback); 2003 Edition Paperback – January 1, 1679
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Top reviews from the United States
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The second half of the book is less about techniques or tools to help you through, and more about Ina May's personal experiences as a midwife, and different notions about how we think about labor and delivery. Ina May doesn't like the word contraction. She suggests that the pain of childbirth can be pleasurable. She feels things in her vagina as her patients feel things in theirs...Sorry, but I'm not buying that. There seems to be a lot against your typical hospital delivery, and more about convincing yourself to open up/dilate, not to be afraid, positive self talk, there's even talk of masturbation during labor, like monkeys or chimpanzees, to help relax, open up and dilate the cervix.
Sooooo, if you are very natural, and very earthy, and want to have a labor that doesn't feel medical, this book might be right for you. I'm not against that, it's just not what I want. This book was just a bit too natural for my taste. Sorry Ina May. I do respect the work you do and your opinion, but it just wasn't the kind of help I was looking for.
Things I loved
I really loved her empowering stance on labor and delivery. Women, from a young age, are taught (often by other women) to fear childbirth or view it as this necessary evil in order to have a baby. Ina does a great job of encouraging mothers to embrace the wonder of this natural process instead of dreading it for months. She provides great insight into various natural birth techniques, both mental and physical, that will be great to have in my back pocket when the times comes.
What I didn't love
She is hugely biased. I figured she'd be a little granola, so I wasn't surprised by a couple jabs here and there at western medicine, physicians and hospitals, but at a certain point it got to be very obvious and honestly frustrating. Based on my experience and what I know from being friends with a lot of people in healthcare, she's VERY wrong about a lot in terms of delivering in a hospital and the various medical interventions that can happen there. She makes a lot of claims about how a laboring woman will be treated by medical staff or hospital expectations that simply aren't true.
She portrays physicians as soulless machines who don't care about their patients and who will do anything just to make their jobs easier. Are there doctors out there like that - yes, unfortunately - but the vast majority? No way. She fails to mention that midwives can also get in over their heads with complicated deliveries and risk the life of the mother and baby when they choose to avoid the aid of an OB. The idea that every midwife if flawless, but every doctor is selfish, becomes a pretty prominent and, honestly, dangerous theme. As someone who is highly influential in her field, she had an opportunity to show how doctors also come alongside and support their patients desires in labor and delivery and how they partner with midwives frequently, but she instead decided to use, ironically, doctor-led studies to make it sound like your chances of having massive complications or your baby dying are much higher in the hospital than at a birthing center because of modern medical practices.
All that to say, I'm having a hard time finishing this book. As someone who is getting ready to deliver in the hospital (and, who knows, might need a CS or some other medical intervention that would ONLY be done when the risks of not doing it are far more dangerous), her claims about western medicine began to unnecessarily scare me. Had she been more accurate and fair in description modern OB practices, then I'd give this book 5 stars. But her claims could easily sway a woman with fewer resources to make potentially dangerous decisions based on one woman's very biased opinion.
If you do choose to read this book, please be sure to balance its claims out with another perspective. Talk to an OB about the things she says and you'll come out with a far more balanced and accurate picture of labor and delivery. Even if you are planning an at-home or birth center delivery, it's best to be prepared in case your delivery does not go as planned and you do need medical intervention because, yes, that does happen. Midwives bring exhausted, medically complicated laboring women to the emergency room more than she lets on, so I'd highly recommend having a truly accurate idea of hospital care and medical interventions just in case your delivery doesn't go as planned.
Top reviews from other countries
The TLDR version is yes I recommend this book but its not always impartial and reflects the times of its original writing so take it with a grain of salt. Also keep in mind that like most pregnancy & childbirth books out there this is HEAVILY influenced by the disaster that is the US medical system.
The first half of the book is birth stories, most of them seemed to date from the 70's and were well...kinda hippy-ish. I got so annoyed with them and the tree-hugger vibes that I ended up only reading about half the stories then skipping to the second part.
I also did NOT find all of the birth stories to be positive, there's one in particular about a hospital birth (because of course) where the woman experienced a serious and life threatening complication they linked to the use of an IV and as a result her baby later passed away. I found it really upsetting and not all helpful to read that particular story. I had to put the book down and come back to it later.
This is where the book actually became more helpful. The author shares her experience and opinion as a midwife but also backs most of it up with references to scientific research studies, statistics and facts. I liked the step back from the medical lens of some of my other books and feel informed and empowered to make decisions and challenge my OB or medical team if necessary. This book help me come up with a number of questions to ask my OB at my next appointment to suss out his personal policies and those of the hospital where I am delivering.