One of my favorite birth books is Transformation Through Birth. Written in 1984 by Claudia Panuthos, who also wrote the excellent book Ended Beginnings (about miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, and healing all sorts of childbearing losses), it is one of the books I recommend as “going beyond” typical pregnancy/birth book material. I enjoy books that are designed to help women with the emotional work of pregnancy instead of just the physical work, with a quick dabble into the psyche. I find they are few and far between.
Some quotes and ideas from this book that I particular like:
“In some sense, childbirth is much like a marathon. Once given some general guidelines, marathon runners know how to breathe, to run, and to complete their race according to their own body signals. Similarly, women know how to breathe, to birth, and to complete the delivery according to their own body signals. Marathon runners who are true champions are free to stop the fast pace, and even quit the race without loss of integrity.”
She then makes the point that birth is really more like a “Zen marathon” in that “the focus is to become centered and one with the body, to remain on purpose and directed toward a single goal and to act from the witness or higher mind within” and goes on to say, “Because we view marathon running as an expression of ultimate physical health, a similar attitude toward childbearing may greatly aid in the altering of present attitudes that respond to childbearing as an abnormal condition requiring medical treatment.”
I use the marathon example in my birth classes usually—particularly when talking about “pain” and what birth feels like. I use the marathon analogy to illustrate how the sensations of birth are not like the sensations of accident, illness, or injury, which send us pain signals indicating something is wrong. There is nothing wrong with birth! (well, usually) The sensations of birthing are more similar to the feeling of healthy muscles working hard and working for a long time, but doing something of which they are fully capable.
I’ve posted about this before, but the marathon talk reminds me of something one of the doctors in the Business of Being Born film said that made me really outraged. He said something to the effect of: “in three months you’re just going to be pushing a baby in a stroller, so what difference does it make how you gave birth?” What difference does it make?! Would anyone even THINK to say something like that to a marathon runner or Olympian—“in three months, you’ll just be pushing a baby in a stroller, who cares that you won a gold medal?” (analogy side note, feeling good that you won a gold medal [gave birth in a triumphant and empowering way] does not invalidate or cause guilt in those who did not run the marathon, or had to quit early, or needed help finishing. There is no shame in not running, but there is also rightful PRIDE and “glory” in finishing the “race” you set out on.
Okay, back to the actual book! Another good quote, but one I have a mixed reaction to:
“Women who birth joyfully do so because of who they are, what they believe, and how they live.”
While I like the sentiment, there is an unintended subtext of—if you did NOT birth joyfully, it must be because you have a sucky life in general and does not take into consideration the millions of factors that go into any one birth (it isn’t JUST about what the individual believes and how she lives, it is also about what those around her believe and how they live, and also what our culture believes about birth).
That said, the book is very compassionate with regard to cesarean birth experiences, stating:
“For the woman who delivered surgically, her task is to see that she was attempting to save her baby’s life through an act of personal courage.”
I love this re-framing—it isn’t a failure to have a cesarean birth, it is often an act of personal courage.
The final element I love from Transformation Through Birth is the author’s concept of encouraging and preparing for postpartum EXPRESSION instead of postpartum depression (the theory being that stuffed down, unexpressed feelings, moods, conflicts, emotions contribute to depression by repression of expression. That’s my own bit of alliteration there–I’m so catchy! 😉