…we need to grasp an honest understanding of birthing history – one that tells HERstory not HIStory. Because birth is about Women. It is a woman’s story. And we need to also understand why and how this herstory compels women to make the choices they make surrounding birth in the present day.
People become the product of the culture that feeds them.
It takes an immense amount of work to deconstruct cultural lies. Especially ones as insidious as the ones that we, as birthing women, have been fed for more than a century. We need to stop blaming women for their place in this System. Women are victims and by-products (not accomplices) of medicalized birth.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I’ve been considering the women in (recent) history who have changed the climate surrounding pregnancy and birth. While I’m sure Ina May Gaskin’s name would probably spring to the lips of most birth activists considering the theme, I felt like taking a quick look at the many other classic authors who have had a profound influence on my own ideas about birth. This thought, coupled with the fact that for some time I’ve wanted to write a post about “older birth books” that are still excellent reads today, has brought me to the present moment: a list of my favorite “old” birth books and the lovely women who wrote them. When I first started out in birthwork, I wanted to read “new” stuff—stuff that was “up to date” and “current.” After I read almost all of the “new” books, I started to cast my eye around for more and guess what I discovered? No surprise to many of you, but many of those “out of date” books with the retro-looking covers are still just as good and just as relevant as they were 20-30 years ago. Since medical information and science/evidence changes fairly rapidly and a pregnancy and childbirth 101 type book from 30 years IS more often than not completely inappropriate today, I had made the mistake of thinking ALL “old” birth books would be similarly irrelevant. Instead, many have a power and passion that is not easy to come by in any decade and that rouses the activism spirit, or stirs the heart, or challenges the psyche just as effectively today. Here are some of my recommendations (and of course, Spiritual Midwifery remains a good choice too, I just want to add some less usual recommendations!):
- Transformation through Birth by Claudia Panuthos (also known for writing another great resource: Ended Beginnings: Healing Childbearing Losses). Written in 1984, this book “goes beyond” the scope of traditional birth books and really gets into some deep topics and insightful ideas. Previously written about here.
- Special Delivery by Rahima Baldwin (another good, less well-known one from her is Pregnant Feelings, explored in depth in this post). Revised in 1986, this book is one of my favorite homebirth resource books. Though some segments are in fact, “outdated,” I still find this to be one of the very best (“old” or new!) resource books for women planning to give birth at home.
- Open Season by Nancy Wainer (Cohen) in 1991 (how can 1991 be called “old”? Well, it is over 20 years ago and considering that many women giving birth today were born after that date, it IS old!). Nancy has a lot of FIRE and I love it. Some people have been known to call her “angry” or “bitter.” I call her…amazing. Her writing lights you up and calls you to action. She has incredible passion, fire, brightness, drive, and enthusiasm. One of her articles in Midwifery Today that is available online is also well worth the read: VBAC and Choice. And, I use some of her quotes in this post.
- Birth Book by Raven Lang. This is the original counterculture birth book written in 1972 at the launch of what would become the modern movement to return birth to the hands of women.
- Childbirth with Insight written in 1983 by Elizabeth Noble, is another one of the birth books that I say “goes beyond.” As a childbirth education, I especially benefited from her exploration of some of the failings of traditional approaches to childbirth education.
- Lots of older books from Sheila Kitzinger are very good also. I particularly enjoy The Experience of Childbirth and Giving Birth: How it Really Feels.
- My last recommendation for the moment is Mothering the New Mother by Sally Placksin (revised in 2000, which again sounds reasonably recent, but in reality is thirteen years ago–how is that possible?). It is classic must-read for doulas as well as any other birth companions. It is wonderful and I wish I would have read it before my own first child was born.
There are many more excellent books out there, both modern and “herstorical,” but I’ll leave you with these treasures for now. I’m grateful for each of these birth activists whose words and spirits helped deepen and refine my own passion for birth.
“I long to speak out the intense inspiration that comes to me from the lives of strong women.” –Ruth Benedict
(Adapted from a post originally made at CfM several years ago.)
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