Mar 31, 2011

Spiritual Midwifery

by Ina May Gaskin

This is truly the hippie book of childbirth. It was mentioned in quite a few of the other pregnancy books I've read recently. Written by a midwife who lives and works in a commune in Tennessee known as The Farm. Ina May learned the practice of midwifery by assisting at births, reading medical textbooks and being instructed by a supportive physician who was their back-up. In the time span of the book, about 2,000 babies were born at The Farm and Spiritual Midwifery shares many of their stories.

They're quite unlike any other birthing stories I've read. Not only do the women all give birth naturally- without drugs or medical interventions (except in a few cases where they had to go to the hospital) without (apparently) feeling any pain, but most of them say they find the experience exhilarating. They put a lot of emphasis on approaching birth with a totally relaxed, fearless attitude, and being surrounded by people who love and support the mother. It kind of makes sense to me that it would be easier to give birth if you're relaxed, that you feel more pain if your muscles are tense, that being stressed or worried could prolong your labor. But it was quite something else to read about mothers who reported having out-of-body experiences while in labor, or communicating telepathically with the baby's father or the infant itself. The language can take a bit getting used to; the women frequently refer to their birthing experience as being "psychedelic" or making them "feel high." They almost always refer to contractions as "rushes." To them, childbirth is not something to endure but a momentous, even enjoyable experience.

It all seems rather touchy-feely when you're reading the stories. A few of their practices had me wondering, though. I don't know how many times the midwife in these stories recommended a women drink liquor to slow down her labor. It also seemed like they frequently had the mother labor flat on her back in bed- when I was expecting to read about more different positions, like squatting. But the later part of the book reminds you how serious the midwives (Ina May is only one of several who have a presence in the book) are about providing their mothers with good medical care, both before, during and after the birth. The last half is a handbook for midwives. It's pretty detailed. I didn't read all of that part, just the bits that were interesting (like all the different ways a baby can present). Other areas just had too much information for me- I didn't want to look at diagrams of how to stitch up tears, or read about all the possible infectious diseases and birth defects.

At the end there are some instructions for new-baby care and the kind of support mothers need when they first go home. There are also statistics about the births on The Farm.  It's a pretty well-rounded text, although the black-and-white photos and drawings feel kinda dated and the hippie attitude is certainly unconventional.

The author has her own web page here where you can read a lot about her philosophy on childbirth.

I note the range of publication dates below because this book was originally written in the seventies, but the fourth edition I read has a lot of added material from 2002.

This ends my spate of reading books about pregnancy and childbirth, unless anyone has some really good ones to recommend that I might have missed?

Rating: 3/5 ........ 479 pages, 1975-2002

more opinions at:
Childbirth Review
anyone else?

1 comment:

goldenpregnancy said...

Hi Jeane,

Yes, agreed, Spiritual Midwifery is definitely in the hippie woo-woo camp of childbirth manuals. LOL

I think one of the great services it provides is it shows birth without fear and horror. It was one of the first to do so, other than Lamaze and, uh, oh shoot, I forgot his name. The uncertainty is still there. That's natural when embarking on the unknown. Uncertainty is different from fear.

I enjoyed your post which brought me to your pregnancy series. As a doula, I thank you for a new selection of books to seek out that had not been in my circle of recommendations.

I also thank you for the link to my review of this book.

Sincerely,
Rebecca