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Talk Books: A Passion for Birth

Sheila

“We are only now beginning to discover the long term destructive effects on human beings and families of treated women as if they were containers to be opened and relieved of their contents.”

–Sheila Kitzinger

Sheila Kitzinger’s new autobiography, A Passion for Birth, is an absolute treasure. One of the most long-term and pivotal influences in the world of birth activism, I have quoted her work more times than I can count. In fact, I judge the quality of a book by the number of pages I dog-ear to return to. I turned down the corners of so many pages in A Passion for Birth, that it will take me a year’s worth of blog posts to share all the provocative quotes that caught my attention! While Sheila always included a personal flavor in her other books, this book is truly about her, her life, her passions, her family, her activism, her work. Interwoven throughout is the social justice oriented thread of her absolutely devoted dedication to women, feminism, and childbirth activism. Her book is very real, relatable, and readable as well as often charming. She doesn’t hold back from treading into controversial waters, however, and she is straightforward and unapologetic even when writing about topics that can be divisive in the birth world.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover the full-color series of photos in the center insert to the book, they range from Kitzinger’s childhood, a homebirth picture of the birth of one of her daughters, and ending with a poignant photo of Sheila’s casket, decorated by her family, resting easily on some chairs in the dining room of home she so loved.

An internationally recognized author and expert, Kitzinger was an anthropologist and one of the first professional people to acknowledge that women’s birth wisdom, stories, and experiences are worthy of study and attention. Spanning an impressive career of more than fifty years, Kitzinger’s anthropological and activist work was undertaken at a global level and her clear and unwavering commitment to social justice work and activism is a thread running strongly throughout her entire autobiography. The book takes us from Sheila writing and studying while sitting in a playpen in her yard (an effort to have a work area undisturbed by her five children!) to traveling with her family to Jamaica to study the birth customs and stories of the women there. Her identity as an anthropologist is clearly reflected in the cross-cultural birth experiences she surveys and describes and the autobiography includes lots of travel! It also includes homey touches like favorite recipes and descriptions of family traditions as well as stories of her own four homebirths, including that of twin daughters. I found myself wanting more content about her life with children, her life as a mother, which, while acknowledged and integrated through the text, was curiously absent from much of the narrative’s exploration. I was also curious to know more about the accident and serious brain injury experienced by her daughter Polly, which was mentioned somewhat incidentally (though it clearly had a significant impact on the family), as was the passing mention in a photo caption referencing her husband Uwe’s eye removal surgery.

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in birth work, birth activism, feminist studies, women’s health, or anthropology, A Passion for Birth was compelling, inspirational, funny, straightforward, assertive, honest, candid, wry and dedicated.

“The way we give birth is an expression of culture. It can be spontaneous and instinctual, but it is still patterned by the society in which we live.”

–Sheila Kitzinger

Stay tuned for an ongoing series of themed posts based on additional content and thought-provoking quotes!

In a pioneering career spanning more than 50 years she campaigned for and oversaw a radical change in maternity care, placing women’s rights and choices at the very heart of childbirth. Her passion, research and knowledge of childbirth have had enormous impact on millions of women worldwide.

A Passion for Birth | Sheila Kitzinger | Pinter & Martin Publishers.

Publishing and purchasing details: 

Author: Sheila KitzingerSheila
Published: 7 May 2015
Binding: hardback
Format: 240 x 160 mm
Pages: 384
Illustrations: colour and b/w photographs
Pinter & Martin edition available: worldwide
Translation rights: Pinter & Martin

Also available from: Amazon.co.uk | Wordery | The Hive | Waterstones | Foyles | Mail Bookshop | Amazon.com

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

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Tuesday Tidbits: Happy Father’s Day!

“Fatherhood challenges us, but it also enlarges us and reshapes our perception of what is important in the world around us. As we take stock of this new world, we find that doing our job as a dad is inherently honorable and respectful, and brings to us the dignity that goes with the territory. Far from being emasculating, being a dad makes us men in the finest sense of the term.”

Dads Adventure

June 2015 050Maybe it seems too early to offer Father’s Day wishes, but we’ve been working hard on our new Papatoto daddy sculptures and also finishing up our new birth affirmation cards for fathers which are coming up as the freebie in the June newsletter (subscribe at http://brigidsgrove.com), so I’m in the mood! I’ve been mining my blog for past father-relevant posts and have been re-sharing them from the depths of my blog archives. So far, I’ve found a breastfeeding facts book review:

“Since partner support of a breastfeeding mother is one of the most important factors in breastfeeding success, the short book Breastfeeding Facts for Fathers is a valuable book indeed…”

via Book Review: Breastfeeding Facts for Fathers

And three more reviews, one for homebirth dads:

The target audience for the handbook is easily summed up in the prologue: “…I’ve met far more men who have responded to their partners’ home birth wishes with a mixture of shock, cynicism, and fear…Far from being domineering ogres who just want to see wifey tucked ‘safely’ away a hospital, these loving fathers have simply had very little access to accurate, impartial information about the safety and logistics of home births versus hospital births.”

via Book Review: The Father’s Home Birth Handbook | Talk Birth.

One a handy little guide for any father-to-be:

“Humanity cannot invent a drug that can work better than a mother’s body can manufacture or a knife that is sharper than her instinctual nature.”

–Patrick Houser

Book Review: Fathers-To-Be Handbook: A Road Map for the Transition to Fatherhood

And a long-time favorite resource, Fathers at Birth:

I greatly enjoyed reading a book that explores and expands the role of men at birth. In addition to serving as a helpful resource for men who wish to be active partners in the birth process, doulas will find helpful tips and tricks in the book, and childbirth educators will find language and ideas for reaching out to and better connecting with the men in their classes. It is a nice addition to any birth professional’s lending library.

via Book Review: Fathers at Birth | Talk Birth.

Father’s Day represents an important milestone for us, since it was this time two years ago that Mark gave his notice at his job and took the leap into a full-time home-based life with the rest of us. This was prompted in many ways by his desire to spend more time with his family, which I wrote about several years ago in my Fatherbaby post:

We have discussed how each of our babies has been a catalyst for big changes in our home situation. Our first baby was the catalyst we needed to move away from our by-the-highway-no-yard townhouse in a city and onto our own land in the country near my parents. Our second baby was the catalyst we needed to finish building our real house and to move out of our temporary house and into our permanent home. So, we are now wondering what kind of catalyst our baby girl will be?

via Fatherbaby | Talk Birth.

She was the catalyst to finally make the leap and now that we have Tanner, Mark finally gets to spend that precious year of babyhood with the baby and the rest of us. Here’s that catalyst baby girl and her daddy now:

Molly 151The wild raspberries are ripe a little earlier than usual this year and though we often make one on Father’s Day, we’ve already enjoyed a treasure of a cobbler from those we picked over the weekend. Here’s last year’s post with the recipe:

…I consider any berry picking expedition to be the very definition of success as long as there are enough berries to make a cobbler! It was so delicious I felt like sharing my version here, in case any of you would also like to enjoy one with your family during berry season.

via Recipe: Wild Raspberry Cobbler | Talk Birth.

Happy Father’s Day!

June 2015 034“The absolute miracle of a birth and the emergence of a new human being into the world catapults both mother and father into the realm of awe and wonder. They are flooded with non-ordinary feelings and energies that support a deep connection not only with the newborn and each other, but also with the mystery and power of life itself.”

–John & Cher Franklin in FatherBirth

Talk Books: Moon Time

moontime2My first reading of the book Moon Time in 2012 had a profound impact on my personal understanding of the natural ebb and flow of my energy in connection to my body’s cyclical nature. The author, Lucy Pearce, explains it so well…

Each month our bodies go through a series of changes, many of
which we may be unconscious of. These include: shifts in levels of
hormones, vitamins and minerals, vaginal temperature and secretions,
the structure of the womb lining and cervix, body weight, water
retention, heart rate, breast size and texture, attention span, pain
threshold . . .

The changes are biological. Measurable. They are most definitely
not ‘all in your head’ as many would have us believe. This is why it is
so crucial to honour these changes by adapting our lives to them as
much as possible.

We cannot just will these changes not to happen as they are an
integral part of our fertility.

Moon Time is written in a friendly, conversational tone and is a quick read with a lot of insight into the texture and tone of our relationships with menstruation.

The book contains information about charting cycles and about our relationship to our bodies and our fertility. I especially enjoyed the excellent section on minimizing PMS through self-care measures and how to plan time to nurture and nourish yourself during your monthly moon time. I also appreciate the section on motherhood and menstruation:

“What strikes me reading through a lot of the material on menstruation is that is seems oddly detached from the fruits of the menstrual cycle: children.”

Moon Time also includes planning information for Red Tents and Moon Lodges and for menarche rituals  as well as for personal ceremonies and self-care rituals at home. It ends with an absolutely phenomenal list of resources—suggested reading and websites.

Towards the beginning of the book Lucy observes, “We live in a culture which demands that we are ‘turned on’ all the time. Always bright and happy. Always available for intercourse–both sexual and otherwise with people. Psychologist Peter Suedfeld observes that  we are all ‘chronically stimulated, socially and physically and we are probably operating at a stimulation level higher than that for which our species evolved.’ It is up to us to value rest and fallow time. We must demand it for ourselves to ensure our health.” She also comments on something I’ve observed in my own life and have previously discussed with my friends, in that the frustration and anger and discontent we may feel pre-menstrually or during menstruation is actually our body’s way of expressing things we have been feeling for a long time, but trying to stifle (rather than hormonal “irrationality): “There is no shame in tears. There is a need for anger. Blood will flow. Speak your truth. Follow your intuition. Nurture your body. But above all … Let yourself rest.”

One of the things that Moon Time helped clarify for me is that my moontime is worthy of careful attention to my physical and emotional well-being, just as careful attention is important during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. I’ve been a devoted proponent for years of good care of yourself during these phases of life, but had not applied the same rationale or expectation for myself during moontime. This monthly experience of being female is an experience worth respecting and is a sacred opportunity to treat my body and my emotions with loving care and self-renewal. I changed the way I treat myself after reading this book! Sound like too much to expect from your life, schedule, and family? Moon Time includes a great reminder with regard to creating retreat space, taking time out for self-care, and creating ritual each month: “Do what you can with what you have, where you are.” You don’t have create something extensive or elaborate or wait for the “perfect time,” but you can still do something with what you have and where you are. (This is a good reminder for many things in life, actually.)

I highly recommend Moon Time as an empowering resource for cycling women! It would also be a great resource for girls who are approaching menarche or for mothers seeking ways to honor their daughters’ entrance into the cycles of a woman’s life. I always have a copy on the resource table at our local Red Tent Circle (related note: I’ve got an online Red Tent Initiation Program beginning next month!)

Disclosure: I received a complimentary e-copy of this book.

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Purchase options:

Amazon.com  moontime2
Amazon.co.uk
Signed copies
Book Review:  Moon Time: Harness the ever-changing energy of your menstrual cycle by Lucy H. Pearce

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Womancraft Publishing; 2 edition (April 22, 2015)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1910559062

http://thehappywomb.com/

Reviewed by Molly Remer, Talk Birth

Talk Books: Maternity Leave

“Making babies is magical, mysterious, terrifying, gratifying, and all-encompassing.”

–Annie Schwartz-Jensen in Maternity Leave

I was in the mood for a good novel and as the mother of a six month old, Maternity Leave, by Julie Halpren maternityleaveshowed up in my mailbox at exactly the right time! This novel made me laugh out loud many times (covering my face with a blanket to avoid waking my own slumbering baby and husband). It is irreverent, clever, snarky, relatable, fast-paced, and extremely funny. Note: if you object to liberal profanity or require rosy depictions of motherhood only, Maternity Leave will not be the book for you!

“Sometimes I swear I can hear the grinding breaths of the pump even when I’m not pumping. I better get used to it. Me and Old Pumper are going to be spending a lot of time together in the coming months in a storage closet. I wish that were as sexy as it sounds.”

Maternity Leave is written in journal-style and follows new mother Annie through the six months of her maternity leave, from her CNM-attended natural birth (complete with wishing she was “shouting womanly affirmations” rather than “random strings of profanities”) to her search for good child care. In more understated tones, the novel also chronicles the growth of her attachment to her baby, Sam, from her initial fumbling, self-consciousness, anxiety, boredom, and fear that he doesn’t like her to a more easy comfort, smelling his fuzzy head as they walk the neighborhood together with him riding in a Moby Wrap.

“I think I must inhale Sam’s head at least sixty times per day. Why does it smell so good? Is it an evolutionary tactic so that a mom, no matter how harried and confused and depressed she is, finds some inking of comfort from snorting her baby’s skull?

Is it possible to form an addiction? Do they have support groups for baby head huffing?”

While I didn’t identify with her occasional bursts of anger at the baby, particularly because I’m presently desperately savoring the all-too-fleeting-babyhood of my fourth baby, her story brought back with vivid clarity the difficult adjustment I had as a first-time mother with a high-need baby boy. The mind games she plays with herself, the self-doubt, the self-criticism, and the misplaced maternal guilt felt extremely familiar. I would have taken a lot of comfort in reading this novel 11 years ago! I also got a kick out of her wryly realistic Facebook experiences, something that was not part of the maternal landscape when I was a first time mother, but is very familiar today.

We’re prepping the obligatory Facebook birth announcement, and I’d like a picture that doesn’t say, ‘I just shat on a table, and all I got was this slime-covered baby.’

I veto several shots before Zach suggests, ‘This one is nice.’

‘I have a gimpy eye and twelve chins,’ I note.

‘But Sam looks cute.’

‘This is not about Sam, Zach. Sam is going to look cute no matter what because he is a baby. And even if he doesn’t look cute, people will ‘like’ the picture anyway while reassuring themselves that their babies were way cuter. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that dozens of ex-classmates and three or more ex-boyfriends will be seeing this, and I don’t want to look like a hideous, gelatinous troll.’

Maternity Leave can be pre-ordered on Amazon for its September release.

May 2015 146Also see my past post: Non-Advice Books for Mothers for other non-prescriptive reads for new moms.

Disclosure: I received a complementary copy of this book for review purposes.

Author Interview: Sally Hepworth

At the end of last year, I reviewed a preview copy of an awesome new novel about midwives: The Secrets of Midwives.

Secrets of Midwives, the

The Secrets of Midwives is released for sale today and I’m excited to share an interview with the author, Sally Hepworth.

A Conversation with Sally Hepworth…

Q 1. How did you come to write the book?

Sally Hepworth and Family

Sally Hepworth and Family

There is a saying among writers “Write the book you want to read.” That’s what I did. Being the mother of young children (and pregnant while I wrote book), I was finding myself drawn to novels such as The Birth House by Ami McKay and Midwives by Chris Bohjalian. I have always thought there was a certain magic to midwifery—for a while, after I left high school, I even considered becoming a midwife. So, when it came time to start a novel, there was no choice to make.

I researched for months before I wrote a word. While I knew I was going to write about midwives, I had no idea what the actual story would be. I had a suspicion it would involve a mother and a daughter—particularly when I found out I was carrying a daughter—but it wasn’t until I read some fascinating stories about midwifery in the 1940s and 50s that Floss’s character (a grandmother) was born.

For me, the best plots start with a question, and the question I landed on for this book was: “Why would a woman hide the identity of her baby’s father?” I like books that have a big upheaval really early on—a “call to action” for the readers—so I knew that by the end of the first chapter, the reader would find out that Neva was pregnant, and that she wouldn’t reveal the identity of the father. At first, I didn’t know why she was hiding it, and I didn’t know who the father was, but as I wrote, I started to figure it out.

But when all is said and done, THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES is a book about family. What makes a mother, what binds family together, and the role of biology.

In writing this book, I found answers to a whole lot of questions I never knew I had. And I suspect it is no coincidence that this book took me nine months to write.

In effect, in 2012, I gave birth to two babies.

Q 2. In the novel there are many differing opinions about the “right” way to give birth, even among the midwives. Why did you choose to include this in the book?

In my experience, there still exists a lot of debate over the “right” way to give birth so I thought it was important for December 2014 119authenticity to include this in the book. Also, the idea of “right” and “wrong” tied in with the novel’s theme: family. Unfortunately, there is still a commonly held belief that there is a “right” and “wrong” kind of family. Or at least a “good” and a “better” type. But these days, there are so many different kinds of families—blended, adoptive, single-parent, same-sex parents, communities of singles. Of course, there are a lot of (strong) opinions on this too! To me, this was all rich fodder for a novel.

As I started researching for this book, I read a lovely line in a book that said childbirth was a woman’s first battle as a mother, and it was this battle that made her a warrior, capable of protecting her child. I found this fascinating, but also troubling. If birth makes a mother a warrior, where did it leave adoptive parents? Step parents? Fathers?

It was also troubling on a personal level. My son had been born naturally and my daughter was due to be born by scheduled C-section. I had a sense that it didn’t matter how the baby was born, that the birth had no continued bearing on the relationship between mother and child, but the more I read about the transformative quality of natural birth, the more I wondered.

In writing this book, and in giving birth to my daughter by C-section, I was able to find answers to my questions. I have more respect for natural birth and midwifery now than I ever did, and I think a woman’s ability to provide everything her child needs through pregnancy and birth (and beyond!) is astonishing—even magical. And the idea of a home birth, I’ll admit, holds a certain appeal for me now that it hadn’t before. But I finally determined that there is no “right” way to give birth, because there is no “wrong” way. You don’t become a warrior because of the way you give birth. You become a warrior because of the depth of the love you feel for your child.

And while labor may be the first battle you’ll fight for your child, compared to the battles that still lie ahead? Even the most arduous birth is a walk in the park.

Q 3. What research did you do?

As I prepared to write this novel, I read everything I could get my hands on about midwifery—novels, memoirs, non-fiction books—and I watched every piece of footage that showed high-risk deliveries that YouTube had available. I subscribed to online communities and forums where I was able to ask questions about midwifery and birth and I touched base with several home-birth midwives and midwives alliance groups. I also have an aunt who is a midwife who was able to make suggestions and verify things for me.

Being pregnant, I also had easy access to my obstetrician for questions. It became common for my prenatal check-ups to consist of a quick blood pressure check, followed by twenty minutes of question time about my novel. In the hospital after having my daughter, I had a fantastic midwife who shared many stories with me about unusual or memorable births. I was stunned by the level of skill and expertise that was required, and the host of things to be prepared for during labor. But what I remember most about our conversations is her awe and respect for mothers in labor, and I attempted to weave this awe into all three of my POV characters, particularly Neva.

Q 4. What are some of the weird and wonderful facts you’ve learned about midwifery and birth during your research?

  • In the past, midwives were known to secretly harbor unwed mothers, perform abortions, baptize babies, and serve as pediatricians for the first year of the baby’s birth.
  • May Babies Are The Heaviest: Babies born in May are, on average, 200 grams heavier than any other month.
  • Centuries ago the midwife would catch the baby in her apron!
  • In the US, midwifery is only licensed or regulated in 21 states. In most states licensed midwives are not required to have any practice agreement with a doctor.

Q 5. One of your protagonists has issues with her mother. Did you draw on personal experience for this?

 Actually, my mother and I have a very close—verging on boring—relationship. Though we are quite different (she is private and conservative like Neva, and I am like Grace—pushy and talkative and loud) conflict between us is rare. So I wasn’t able to draw on that relationship from a dysfunctional perspective. That said, I was able to identify with loving someone who is very different (not just my mother, but also my husband and my son), and learning how to love them the way they need you to. Above all, the key is respecting the person for who they are, and always looking for the good they can offer.

Q 6. How can readers get in touch with you and support your work?

I am very active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I have also started spending more time on Goodreads. My website www.sallyhepworthauthor.com is the place to go for book information, upcoming events and my bio.

Thanks for listening (reading)!

Sally x

October 2014 023

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes.

 

Talk Books: Women Who Run with the Wolves

“Remember, there is a natural time after childbearing when a woman is considered to be of the underworld. She is dusted with its dust, watered by its water, having seen into the mystery of life and death, pain and joy during her labor. So, for a time she is ‘not here’ but rather still ‘there.’ It takes time to re-emerge.”

–Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves (p. 441)

IMG_9858

 

I’ve spent years quoting Clarissa Pinkola Estes and yet had never read one of her books. My favorite quote is this one and I’ve returned to it again and again at various points in my life:

Be wild; that is how to clear the river.”

–Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Interestingly enough, I finally began reading Women Who Run with the Wolves while literally sitting in the river this summer while my kids played. One of the remaining items on my Leonie Dawson 100 Thing list for 2014 was to finish this book. And, now here in this “underworld” time with my new baby, I finally did it! In the afterword to the book, she mentions that this is a book meant to be read in small doses. She explains that she took twenty years to write it and that it is meant to be read in sections, thought about, and then returned to again. So, I guess I did exactly the right thing in how I read it this year—it took me more than six months to read it (I also read 90 other books this year in addition to this one!).

One of the quotes I quoted before reading the book was this classic one:

I am wild.

Wild Woman.

When women hear those words, an old, old memory is stirred and brought back to life. The memory is our absolute, undeniable, and irrevocable kinship with the wild feminine, a relationship which may become ghosty from neglect, buried from over domestication, outlawed by the surrounding culture, or no longer understood anymore. We may have forgotten her names, we may not answer when she calls ours, but in our bones we know her, we yearn toward her; we know she belongs to us and we to her.There are times when we experience her, even if only fleetingly, and it makes us mad with wanting to continue. For some women, this vitalizing ‘taste of the wild’ comes during pregnancy, during nursing their young, during the miracle of change in oneself as one raises a child, during attending to a love relationship as one would attend to a beloved garden.As sense of her also comes through the vision; through sights of great beauty. I have felt her when I see what we call in the woodlands a Jesus-God sunset. I have felt her move in me from seeing the fishermen come up from the lake at dusk with lanterns lit, and also from seeing my newborn baby’s toes all lined up like a row of sweet corn. We see her where we see her, which is everywhere.

–Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run with the Wolves, quoted in Celebrating Motherhood by Andrea Gosline and Lisa Bossi

via Celebrating Motherhood: The Wild Woman and Sacred Business | Talk Birth.

Photo: "Remember, there is a natural time after childbearing when a woman is considered to be of the underworld. She is dusted with its dust, watered by its water, having seen into the mystery of life and death, pain and joy during her labor. So, for a time she is 'not here' but rather still 'there.' It takes time to re-emerge."</p> <p>--Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves (p. 441)

I also love this quote about doors:

“The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.” 

— Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D (Women Who Run With the Wolves)IMG_0545

While many quotes caught my attention upon this complete reading of her book and spoke to where I am, in addition to the one with which I opened this post, there are two in particular that really grabbed me. The first was about rage and creation. I love the idea that there is a time to show your incisors:

“…there is a time to reveal your incisors, your powerful ability to defend territory, to say ‘This far and no farther, the buck stops here, and hold onto your hat, I’ve got something to say, this is definitely going to change.’”

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes on rage and creation in Women Who Run with the Wolves, p. 363

IMG_0920And, this powerful thought on creativity and the call to listen to the whispers of our own hearts:

“She may feel she will die if she does not dance naked in a thunderstorm, sit in perfect silence, return home ink-stained, paint-stained, tear-stained, moon-stained.” –Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Photo: "She may feel she will die if she does not dance naked in a thunderstorm, sit in perfect silence, return home ink-stained, paint-stained, tear-stained, moon-stained." --Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

IMG_0928

I just love the way Tanner (now six weeks!) holds my necklace while he is nursing.

Previous posts with Clarissa Pinkola Estes quotes:

Celebrating Motherhood: The Wild Woman and Sacred Business

Tuesday Tidbits: More Wild Woman

The Value of Sharing Story

The Ragged Self

Talk Books: The Secrets of Midwives

“By the time the baby boy spilled into my arms, I knew. Women were warriors. And I wanted to be part of it.” –Neva Bradley

(character in The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth)

While feeling somewhat pre-laborish in the last days of pregnancy, I stayed up way too late devouring a review copy of the new novel The Secrets of Midwives Secrets of Midwives, theby Sally Hepworth. I  got it in the mail in the afternoon and by 1:30 a.m. that night, I’d finished the whole thing! In the past, I’ve been heard to remark that I can think of few things better than a novel about a midwife. Well…how about a novel about three midwives? That’s right, The Secrets of Midwives interlaces the three stories and pivotal life journeys of three midwives, who happen to be grandmother, mother, and pregnant daughter. Each midwife has a different personality and style of practice. In an intriguing style that kept me turning pages, the chapters are split between the viewpoints of each, allowing for multiple perspectives on the same relationship and personal issues.

Floss, the grandmother/mother, is retired from midwifery, but her chapters alternate between her early experiences as a midwife in the UK and her current life as a natural childbirth instructor. Neva, the daughter/granddaughter, is a hospital birth-center based CNM who is hiding her unexpected pregnancy with her own first child. Grace, the mother/daughter, is a CNM who attends homebirths.

The Secrets of Midwives contains elements of a romance story and elements of a mystery story. It blends the three women’s midwifery journeys in a creative, engaging way, including exploring the complex quality of mother-daughter relationships and communication vs. secret-keeping therein. It is serious enough to keep the pages turning, but not so “heavy” as to be depressing. There is a subplot in which the homebirth midwife is investigated by the state nursing board for possible malpractice and it felt relevant and contemporary to the fears and risks faced by midwives around the country. And, while reading as a pregnant woman myself, I appreciated that in this novel, with one pivotal exception, there are no scary births with bad outcomes—I find that high drama births resulting in maternal or infant death are a common feature of midwifery novels that often makes them somewhat iffy reads for pregnant women!

“That superhuman feeling people describe? It has nothing to do with the way the baby comes out. It’s about what happens to the mother. You become superhuman. You’ll grow extra hands and legs to look after your baby. You’ll definitely grow an extra heart for all the love you’ll feel.” –Neva Bradley

(in The Secrets of Midwives)

October 2014 012

 THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES by Sally Hepworth

Find the author on Facebook here and her website here.

Published by St. Martin’s Press

On sale February 10, 2015

ISBN-13: 978-1-250-05189-9 | $25.99

Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes.

 

 

Talk Books: Chasing Hope: A Mother’s Story of Loss, Heartbreak and the Miracle of Hope

71UaAXUX1bLLast year I was contacted by a writer working on a memoir about miscarriage. She had questions about my own miscarriage memoir and we had a short email chat about publishing. This month, she sent me a copy of her finished book to review. Though I told her I probably wouldn’t get to it until August, I was surprised to find I was not able to put it down! The author, Amy Daws, writes with the sort of first-person intensity that feels more like reading a riveting novel than a traditional memoir. Chasing Hope is a story of recurrent pregnancy loss and the eventual birth of a long-prayed for rainbow baby. It is a heart-wrenching and beautiful book and made me cry more than once! Amy and her husband experience five traumatic losses, including the miscarriage of two sets of twins. The miscarriages occur in the second trimester, past the commonly touted “safe” point and take place following ultrasounds that show the babies still healthy and active. The miscarriages detailed are very bloody and stressful and her processing of them is very honest, real, and familiar. Readers may find the stories either affirming or stressful (or both) and should proceed with some caution based on the recentness of their own experiences. As I read, I was strongly reminded of the incredible, overpowering, unbelievable blood of second trimester loss.

I cried the most when I got to the birth of Amy’s living baby girl and it vividly reminded me of the deep relief and joy in the birth of my own rainbow baby:

“…For months I tried not to love her too much in my belly because I was scared it would hurt more when I lost her. I rejected my feelings for her because I was in a constant state of survival mode and I needed to protect myself. Now was the time for me to make amends for not believing in her. For not fully loving her as I should have. Even though I was lying half naked on an operating table with doctors and nurses buzzing all around me, I didn’t care. This was my moment and nobody was going to take that away from me…”

Excerpt From: Daws, Amy. “Chasing Hope With Bonus.” Stars Hollow Publishing.

Amy also writes candidly of the impact on her relationship with her husband and with the people around her: “I looked into his eyes and saw all the pain and anguish in them that I’d seen so many times before. We were broken, together. Ruined forever.”

Amy also writes with a forthright, raw tone and an occasional almost harsh intensity that is completely appropriate to the magnitude of the experience:

“We lost our baby and feel like shit. We feel like God took a big dump on our hearts, and slapped us in the face. Not only did we lose our baby, we lost our baby in the supposed safe zone. Twelve weeks is supposed to be the time when my risk of miscarriage went way down. Snap. Guess the joke’s on us! And bonus: it took us three years to get pregnant in the first place, so now we’re really fucked. We feel miserable and can’t talk about it without crying, so please don’t say anything to us about it…”

Excerpt From: Daws, Amy. “Chasing Hope With Bonus.” Stars Hollow Publishing.

I would particularly recommend this book to mothers with recurrent losses as well as to those with second trimester losses and to pregnancy loss support groups in general. It is a powerful, intense, and ultimately hopeful read.

On Amazon: Chasing Hope: A Mother’s Story of Loss, Heartbreak and the Miracle of Hope by Amy Daws. ISBN 9780990325208

Book trailer: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RVwtQEScNRc

Author’s site: http://amydawsauthor.com/books-2/

Reviewed by Molly Remer, Talk Birth

Disclosure: I received a complimentary digital copy of this book for review purposes.

Celebrating Motherhood: Creation

“To me the only answer a woman can make to the destructive forces of the world is creation. And the most ecstatic form of creation is the creation of new life.”

–Jessie Barnard (letter to an unborn child in the book Celebrating Motherhood)

July 2014 136

“You are entirely engrossed in your own body and the life it holds. It is as if you were in the grip of a powerful force; as if a wave had lifted you above and beyond everyone else. In this way there is always a part of a pregnant woman that is unreachable and is reserved for the future.”

–Sophia Loren (quoted in Celebrating Motherhood, p. 20)

“Throughout pregnancy and childbirth, a woman is driven to dig deep into herself for an inner strength she had not known existed. After birth, the smell of her baby opens a mother’s soul to a new intimacy. She has crossed the threshold into motherhood…I have had the privilege of living with indigenous mothers around the worlds and of seeing first hand their age-old ways of loving and teaching their children. I learned from these mothers that the natural world has eternity in it, and a mother’s instincts during pregnancy, birth, and child rearing links her to this eternal chain of life.” 

–Jan Reynolds (quoted in Celebrating Motherhood, p. 20)

“No force of mind or body can drive a woman in labor, by patience only can the smooth force of nature be followed.”

–Grantly Dick-Read (quoted in Celebrating Motherhood, p. 22)

I recently finished reading a book that has been on my shelf for a long time. Celebrating Motherhood: A Comforting Companion for Every Expecting Mother by Andrea Gosline and Lisa Bossi, is a treasure-trove of delightful birth quotes that will satisfy my birth-quote-archivist soul for a long time. I’m planning to do a series of short posts of quotes and readings from this book, similar to the series I did with the book Birthrites!

July 2014 005

24 weeks! (last week)

Women, Birthing, and Boundaries

“Birth doula work is not about double hip squeezes. It isn’t about birth plans. Birth doulaing at its heart is a spiritual path that will rip away your narcissism and your selfishness. It will restructure your values and strengthen your compassion and empathy for all people through pain and humility. It is about learning how to BE in the presence of conflict and the human experience of living at its most raw and gut wrenching…”

–Amy Gililand

Watch out! Bookshelf reduction mission in full swing!

Mark has become embroiled in many land and garden improvement projects in the last couple of months. Now that it is hot outside again, he has switched some of this attention to interior home improvement projects as well, one of which is building a new little countertop onto the half-wall between our kitchen and dining area (saw is presently squealing in my ear as I type) and one of which is painting some of the walls in our house. Wall-painting necessitated bookshelf moving, which necessitated book removal, which prompted me to go on a massive book decluttering and downsizing mission. As I’ve mentioned, I am thoroughly in the mood to wrap up, wind down, finish up. I feel a powerful, powerful call to finish all kinds of things so I can fully greet my baby in October. So, this bookshelf downsizing played right into my current mood. One of the books that didn’t make my “keep it” list was The Feminine Face of God, a classic feminist spirituality book by Sherry Ruth Anderson and Patricia Hopkins (now in a giveaway box near you, so if you’re interested and you’re local, let me know and it is now yours!). This isn’t because I don’t like the book, it is because I don’t feel as if I will need to return it to again. In evaluating and reducing my book collection, I find odds and ends I’d marked to write about or remember. Rather than storing the whole book, it makes sense to me to save the one or two pages I’d marked instead and let the book move on to enrich new lives. From The Feminine Face of God, I’d saved this quote about women and permeable boundaries:

Women have permeable boundaries. Perhaps it is the experience of our bodies in touch with the bodies of others that makes it hard for us to close down our psyches. Perhaps it is genetic. Or both. Or something else. But our bodies feel the irrevocable connection of the tides with our cycles of monthly bleeding. And in lovemaking we can be penetrated and receive another. And with pregnancy we carry another for nine full moons, more or less. When we separate from that other, we can feed it from our own body. And later the cycles that tie us to the moon and tides stop. And all this is true whether we give birth or not, have sex of not. The possibility is what creates the openness, and this openness is a precious gift (p. 183).

The distinct flavor of experience which comes with the gift shapes how we perceive reality, how we act, how we create, and what we value. And more than anything else women value relationships. We blend and weave and combine and sustain all kinds of relationships, and this work, this webmaking, not only shapes our lives but makes us profoundly vulnerable to the needs of others.

This is why, to me, attachment is at the core of the mothering life. (As opposed to the “detachment” often espoused by pop-culture interpretations of Eastern philosophical thought.) I think it also explains why women can hurt and wound each other and why when we let people in “too far,” sometimes we need to push them all the way out again. Or, when someone disappoints us or lets us down, why we might turn to reject them. They’ve been allowed to enter our permeable boundaries and if we lose trust or a sense of closeness for some reason, we shut them completely out, rather than recognizing it as a momentary experience.

In the book, the authors go on to explain:

The solution to our permeable boundaries is not to seal them off or barricade our hearts and adopt a ‘me first’ attitude. When we do that, we suffer unbearable isolation. But neither is it to betray the deep sources of wisdom and meaning in our lives. Instead we need to find the unique, and probably unstable, balance that fits us at a particular time, a balance that includes, but is not limited to, the needs of our partners and family. (p. 185)

Does needing to carve out the time and space we need for our own deep places make us selfish? This is one of the fears Anderson and Ruth explore….

Of all the fears we have heard from women about taking time and space for themselves, the most common by far was the fear of being selfish. If there is a mantra women repeat to themselves to deny their longing for solitude, it is probably, ‘Selfish. Selfish. Am I being selfish?’

For two years following her separation from her husband, Lynette lived alone in a tiny studio apartment, studying massage therapy, and asking herself this question. She no longer led the young people’s group at church, or planned and prepared festive parties for her friends and extended family. She didn’t even read the newspaper much.

‘So people call and ask, ‘What’s happened to you, Lynette? You used to be so outgoing and giving,’ she told us. ‘Just yesterday one of my favorite aunts telephoned and said right out, ‘I love you, my dear, but it’s clear to me you’re being very selfish pursuing this massage-therapy business. Living in your own apartment with no one to look after but yourself is very selfish and ungrounded!’

‘You know,’ Lynette told us thoughtfully, ‘doing something for yourself is like being pregnant. From the outside, being pregnant can look selfish. You take in all this extra food. You sleep more than usual. You are not as interested as you used to be in other people’s lives, including the lives of your own family. But inside another life is growing. It needs quiet, nourishment, and rest. At first, no one can see this life, but this has absolutely no bearing on the matter. The inner life is growing and it demands your attention.

‘But,’ she continued, ‘being pregnant is easier than this other birthing. Because in our material society, we trust the process that gives us something we can see and touch and hear—a live baby. This other birthing—well, who can be sure? So much trust is needed to turn down or tune out the internal critic and focus on what is happening inside you instead of always serving others.’ (p. 204)

In the closing to this section about the call for solitude and the attachment of family life, the authors quote another participant, Sara:

“True caring means being able to give from fullness…And for that I need my solitude. It is the very birthplace of altruism.” (p. 204-205)

In typing all of the above in the non-solitude I am currently experiencing this is what happened to my little pile of books to be blogged about:

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That would be new countertop wood shavings and a Baby Hugs bear.

And, I gained a creative companion:

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🙂