I am so excited to write and share about Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth because it is by far one of my favorite books on birth. It is full of information that can be easily understood by people who do not have a medical degree, it is evidence based and will not scare the socks off of you! She is reaching out to all moms to help them have the best birth for THEM. You don’t have to want to have your baby at home, in a field or even in a birth center to enjoy this book. Wherever you are birthing you should have all the information to make an educated decision that is best for you and your family.
First lets talk about who Ina May Gaskin is. Basically, she is a hippy who traveled with a caravan in the 70’s that began catching each others babies. She then went on to reinvent the idea of midwifery in the United States. The caravan from California to Tennessee was quite the scene with 60 buses, vans, and trucks. The first birth that she attended was on the caravan and she stepped in while her husband Stephen went to go speak. From there with the help of many people along the way some of the ladies in the caravan began studying midwifery. They settled in their intentional community (village) and named it The Farm. It is still there today, where families live in a more self supported lifestyle than when it was founded, and you can go to The Farm Midwifery Center for prenatal care and your birth. The first book she wrote was Spiritual Midwifery which was a collection of stories from the births that they had at the farm (or in the caravan on the way) and then some other helpful teaching at the end. Now, I’m pretty “crunchy” and natural minded but even I wasn’t prepared for some of the stories in this book! I had a few giggles and whoa moments but I also gained a lot of knowledge and an appreciation for a group of people that really TRUST birth.
After reading Spiritual Midwifery I decided to read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. It was a little more tame in the story telling and was full of very helpful information to help families learn about all their options and then be able to decided what was best for them. I have truly loved this book and it shows.
The first half of the book is all birth stories. They are from the 1970’s to the 2000’s and are filled with many different experiences. The birth stories range from two doctors who were training to be obstetricians (who decided to deliver at the Farm) to the daughters and daughter in laws of people who were born on the Farm. They are amazing stories of fast and slow births, ones where the baby was in a hurry to come earth side and ones where families worked very very hard to get them here. Some of the women had less than ideal births for one or more of their children and then choose loving and supportive providers for the later ones and some who have only known the peaceful and calm presence of devoted midwives in their homes. In this book there are even a couple stories where things transpired and the baby or the laboring mom needed to be transported. I think the reason for all the birth stories is because pregnant woman are bombarded by birth stories all the time. People see their round belly and cannot wait to tell them their tale or the tale of their friend or family member. The problem is, a lot of those stories are very negative and highlighted by our American views on childbirth (its an illness, horrible, excruciatingly painful, inductions, cesareans and overall lack of trust for what women were designed to do). When women hear these stories over and over they begin to believe them. Reading through these stories is such an encouragement for women to hear other moms that did it and loved it! Not that it wasn’t hard or painful, but worth it. The women in this book aren’t superhuman or made any different than you or I. They are just women with all the same parts who have made a conscious effort to be present in their birth and to make the healthiest choices based on their own situations.
The second part of her book is called “The Essentials of Birth” with chapters like: The Powerful Mind/Body Connection, What happens in Labor, Sphincter Law and Forgotten Vaginal Powers and Episiotomy! She just begins to break every part of labor down, every intervention, every option into little pieces that we can understand and digest. As she walks through each step it is a guide to help you ask questions and make decisions about your journey. Starting with preparing your mind, prenatal care, going into labor and all the options and interventions, pushing, vaginal births after cesareans and choosing your provider. When reading some childbirth books it is easy to become scared of something as simple as taking a bath! Ina May shares with the grace and wisdom of an older woman in your life, one whom you trust because she is so real. When reading I can hear her voice and see her sincerely talking to women like she was sitting with them having coffee truly hoping they would listen. Her agenda is very clear, its not more money for the Farm or more accolades, it is that in a country that spends millions on healthcare why are so many mothers and babies suffering physically and emotionally from their births and how can we fix it. This book isn’t just filled with opinions and ideals but also sound scientific evidence and transparency on all parts. Here is a small section of the book that I think sums up the whole book.
“Over forty years of experience as a midwife have not lessened my awe and respect for the efficiency and beautiful design of the female body as expressed in labor and birth. In fact, the years only increase my sense of wonder about how well our bodies can work- given the right circumstances. The outcomes of our births at the Farm Midwifery Center demonstrate how rare it is for complications and difficulties to occur when women are properly prepared for birth and when technological interventions are kept to a minimum- that is, used only when necessary. Ninety-four percent of women gave birth at home or at our birth center. Fewer than two percent had cesareans. Fewer than one percent had their babies delivered by forceps or vacuum extractors.” – Ina May Gaskin
When we have providers who work from an evidence based mindset and practice a high touch care it really can make a significant difference in the outcomes of birth. Families have to understand their choices and stand up for them. Sometimes it’s to family and friends when they ask about your birth plans, sometimes it’s to a provider you have to leave because they are unwilling to change their approach, and sometimes it’s even a battle in your own mind to overcome what we have seen on tv or heard, but really to look inside and find the courage to keep going.
I recommend this book to EVERY pregnant woman. Please read and take to heart the words there. Prepare your mind and body for the amazing experience ahead of you and your precious baby.