Tag Archive | giving birth

Book Review: Painless Childbirth: An Empowering Journey Through Pregnancy and Birth

Book Review: Painless Childbirth: An Empowering Journey Through Pregnancy and Birth

By Giuditta Tornetta
Cumberland House, 2008
ISBN 978-1-58182-640-1
320 pages, softcover, $16.95

http://joyinbirthing.com/

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, CCCE

Written by a mother of two who is also a doula, childbirth educator, hypnotherapist, Painless Childbirth takes the pregnant mother on a physical, mental, and spiritual journey from conception through postpartum. The text is interspersed with personal stories from the author’s own pregnancies and births as well as those of her doula clients.

A lot of people are initially skeptical of the phrase “painless childbirth” and I really loved the author’s description of what painless childbirth means: “When I say painless, please understand, I don’t mean you will not feel anything. What you will feel is a lot of pressure; you will feel the might of creation move through you. Pain, however, is associated with something gone wrong. Childbirth is a lot of hard work, and the sensations that accompany it are very strong, but there is nothing wrong with labor.” The book has no rigid concept of what “painless” means and no suggestion that mothers who do not experience birth as painless have “failed.” Painless Childbirth is written in a gently nurturing tone throughout (you can “hear” the author’s doula skills coming through), but is also very assertive that painless childbirth is very reasonable, doable, and is, indeed, the birthing mother’s right.

The book contains a lot of ideas and concepts that are of use to doulas and childbirth educators. I particularly liked Tornetta’s characterization of the three phases of first stage labor according to the primary means of coping with each phase—distraction, concentration, and surrender.

After my own experiences with pregnancy loss, I have become more aware of the treatment of the subject in birth books. Painless Childbirth directly addresses childbearing losses in a short, but compassionately written segment about healing past grief. The book also has content about exploring and overcoming fears.

The book is holistic in its approach, addressing body, mind, and spirit. It contains a lot of spiritual content of a “new age” flavor (for example, lots of references to the law of attraction and the book is organized by month according to fetal development as well as associated body chakra). While I definitely agree that birth is a spiritual event, my practical, down-to-earth side stumbled a bit over some of the concepts and phrasing, and the esoteric content may not appeal to all audiences. That said, Painless Childbirth presents a positive, loving, welcoming approach to giving birth that is both refreshing and interesting.

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

Distraction, Concentration, Surrender

In my childbirth classes when I cover “labor and birth 101,” I talk about the traditional stages of labor—early labor, active labor, transition, pushing, and third stage (placenta). I also talk about the “emotional signposts” of labor—excitement, seriousness, and self-doubt, as well as about the fear-tension-pain cycle and the excitement-power-progress cycle. Recently, I finished reading the book Painless Childbirth by Giuditta Tornetta and she elegantly described the three phases of first-stage labor in a three-word format that I found extremely accurate and helpful, as well as fresh and interesting. The first phase is distraction—during early labor, it is most helpful to continue to go about your normal life as if nothing is happening. Do not give your contractions any attention until they strongly request your attention! I tell my clients to just do what they would normally be doing—-if they would be sleeping, sleep. If they would be walking the dog, walk the dog. Watering the plants, eating dinner, etc., etc. Just keep up the normal routine until you need to give the birthing energy more attention. Without distraction as a tool, labor can become very long and exhausting—if you think of yourself as in labor from the second you feel anything, you are much more likely to experience a 24 hour labor than if you do not think of yourself as in labor until you are completely absorbed by its sensations.

The second phase is concentration—contactions have now become what Ina May Gaskin would term “an interesting sensation requiring my complete attention.” This phase corresponds to the Bradley Method’s emotional signpost of “seriousness.” I tell my clients that this is when she stops laughing at your jokes and stops even seeming aware that you’re talking. (She IS still aware however, and we will address this in a later post about undisturbed birth, prompted by another new book I am reading called Optimal Birth.)

The third phase is surrender and this corresponds with the transition portion of active labor and the “self-doubt” signpost. I think the concept of surrender during labor is one of the most profound and transformative elements of giving birth. If you can embrace the notion of “surrendering” to birth rather than staying in “control” of it, I think this can revolutionize your perception of what is happening in your body and your life. While hard to express in words, the experience of surrendering to my own body’s power was a transformative experience in my life (particularly since I am a “controlling” sort of person in “real life”—maybe this is why this term and experience holds such meaning to me). With surrender comes “flow”—there is such value and beauty and strength to be found in letting go and just letting it happen; letting “the might of creation come through you.” This was the most profound truth I discovered in each of my birth experiences.

Thoughts About Birth Thoughts

When I check my blog stats, I’m interested to see which search terms bring people to this blog. Recently, a search term used was “birth thoughts.” I use “birth thoughts” as my default category for posts that don’t fit in a specific other category and I have a lot of posts in that category. So, I searched for the term myself and was very surprised to see that of 52 million google hits for “birth thoughts,” Talk Birth was the FIRST site to come up on a search using that term. Isn’t that cool? Since, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with searching for “birth thoughts” to see where I continue to stand and I guess it depends on page updates (?), because sometimes it drops off the top 10 (though then it is usually of 32 million or 27 million sites, not 52 million—not sure what is up with that either). Either way, I think it is interesting 🙂

I do think a lot of birth thoughts. Sometimes I wonder why birth remains such a consuming subject of interest to me. I have been considering this a lot lately, actually, and still working to put my finger on WHY. I think it is because birth, for me, is one of the fullest experiences of standing in my “personal power” that I’ve ever had. A “peak experience,” a “flow experience,” almost a “religious experience.” Last year I led a series of classes on women’s spirituality and one of the questions we addressed was, “how do you feel when you are standing in your personal power? When do you feel like you are standing in your personal power.” While it is great that I experienced such powerful births, I was saddened slightly to discover when answering this question myself, that essentially the only personal power moments I could come up with were in giving birth. What about the rest of my life?! (On my m/c blog I have written that apparently I need to get into extreme sports!) So, one of the birth thoughts on my mind lately is how do you pull that “birth power” feeling into the rest of your life? Make no mistake, my life is full and vibrant and full of good things, but that birth power feeling comes only in giving birth—maybe there is no other way to experience it?!

Book Review: She Births

Book Review: She Births: A Modern Woman’s Guidebook for an Ancient Rite of Passage By Marcie Macari
Infinity Publishing, 2006
ISBN 0-7414-3390-7
255 pages, softcover, $23.95
http://www.shebirths.com

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE

She Births is a book that “goes beyond” the average birth book. It is a particularly good read for mothers having subsequent children—perhaps for a woman who is well read in the physiology and stages of labor and who wants to dig deeper into the emotional and spiritual meaning of giving birth. It is also helpful for first-time mothers, though I felt that there was a lot of content that seemed to assume the reader had already given birth (and was perhaps reading this book to reflect, process, and prepare for future births).

The emphasis of She Births is on childbirth as a rite of passage and as an opportunity for spiritual growth and personal transformation. There is a lot of content that has a very “New Age” flavor. While I personally do not mind—and actually enjoy—this framework, other readers may consider some of the sections to be offputting.

Each chapter ends with a short chapter-topic meditation and several pages of related journaling exercises.

The book contains a higher than average number of minor typographical errors, as well as odd mid-sentence capitalizations, and too-short dashes between ideas. Persistent capitalization of words such as Birth and Spirit were a bit distracting. The book contains a variety of empowering birth stories, but none of them have attribution, making it difficult to identify who was giving birth. (The author? The woman in the previous story?) It was hard to grasp who was the “I” reflecting and sharing in each story.

She Births has several particularly wonderful passages that are well worth quoting and it also has a lovely cover. It is a passionately written book that is very dynamic and “alive” to read. The book is strongly written—the author does not mince words nor attempt to “balance” her perspective and this can be a refreshing approach. She Births also raises thought-provoking questions such as, “The way a society views a pregnant and birthing woman, reflects how that society views women as a whole. If women are considered weak in their most powerful moments, what does that mean?”

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

Two Birth Poems

I shared these on my Facebook page recently too and as long as I was updating my birth quotes, I thought I’d post the poems as well. They could be good for a mother blessing or blessingway ceremony or just to print up for a mother preparing to give birth, to to one who has just given birth, or to a birthworker (another favorite birthing poem is posted here):

Being Born

by Carl Sandburg

Being born is important
You who have stood at the bedposts
and seen a mother on her high harvest day,
the day of the most golden of harvest moons for her.

You who have seen the new wet child
dried behind the ears,
swaddled in soft fresh garments,
pursing its lips and sending a groping mouth
toward nipples where white milk is ready.

You who have seen this love’s payday
of wild toiling and sweet agonizing.

You know being born is important.
You know that nothing else was ever so important to you.
You understand that the payday of love is so old,
So involved, so traced with circles of the moon,
So cunning with the secrets of the salts of the blood.
It must be older than the moon, older than salt.

—-

Ordinary Miracle

by Barbara Kingsolver

I have mourned lost days
When I accomplished nothing of importance.
But not lately.
Lately under the lunar tide
Of a woman’s ocean, I work
My own sea-change:
Turning grains of sand to human eyes.
I daydream after breakfast
While the spirit of egg and toast
Knits together a length of bone
As fine as a wheatstalk.
Later, as I postpone weeding the garden
I will make two hands
That may tend a hundred gardens.

I need ten full moons exactly
For keeping the animal promise.
I offer myself up: unsaintly, but
Transmuted anyway
By the most ordinary miracle.
I am nothing in this world beyond the things one woman does.
But here are eyes that once were pearls.
And here is a second chance where there was none.

—-

(hat tip to Birth True for posting the Kingsolver poem—Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, but I had never read the poem before seeing it on the Birth True blog.)

Birth Quotes and More Birth Quotes

Time for my semi-regular birth quotes update post!

“Birth is the doorway for integration of body and mind.” –Gayle Peterson

“Good timber does not grow with ease; the stronger the wind, the stronger the trees.” – J. Willard Marriott

“Most mothers are instinctive philosophers.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe

“Sometime in your life you will go on a journey. It will be the longest journey you have ever taken. It is the journey to find yourself.” – Katherine Sharp

“Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning. Probably that’s why we decide we’re done. It’s getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real. It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes out.” ~ Natalie Goldberg

(This is something I try to convey in my birth classes–that when it seems “too much” and you manage to “dig deeper,” you find so much strength that you didn’t know you had and that knowledge of strength can continue to inform the rest of your LIFE!)

“When a woman has a child, it is equivalent to taking life vows.” –Stephanie Demetrakopoulos

“You do not know how a pregnant woman comes to have a body and living spirit in her womb.” –Ecclesiastes 11:5

(I guess tecnnically we “know,” but I think this is talking about the mystery of how we get from no where to now here…)

“Childbirth is a rite of passage so intense physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, that most other events in a woman’s life pale next to it. In our modern lives, there are few remaining rituals of initiation, few events that challenge a person’s mettle down to the very core. Childbirth remains a primary… initiatory event for a woman.” –Maren Hansen

“Birth is an active, completely engaging process and requires that a woman be actively engaged, not only physically and emotionally but also in the decision-making process (before and during the birth).” –Awaken Your Birth Power e-newsletter

“Although women have been giving birth since time began, the lack of cumulative female knowledge and sharing in our society has led us to seek information about birth in books and classes rather than from the native wisdom of community experience.” –Elizabeth Noble

“…many women see the experience of birth as mystical, something they turn over and refocus on all their lives.” –Stephanie Demetrakopoulos

“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing. Use the pain as fuel, as a reminder of your strength.” ~August Wilson

“You know being born is important to you. You know nothing else was ever so important to you.” –Carl Sandburg

“Spring has returned. The earth like a child that knows poems.” –Rainer Maria Rilke

“Hope is like a bird that senses the dawn and carefully starts to sing while it is still dark.” ~Anonymous

“Giving birth and being born brings us into the essence of creation, where the human spirit is courageous and bold and the body, a miracle of wisdom.” –Harriette Hartigan

“Giving birth is a transformation and it doesn’t matter whether you’ve had eight babies before. It’s still a transformation the next time you have another baby, because you are no longer the same woman you were before you had that baby.” –Penny Handford

“When a woman births without drugs…she learns that she is strong and powerful…She learns to trust herself, even in the face of powerful authority figures. Once she realizes her own strength and power, she will have a different attitude for the rest of her life, about pain, illness, disease, fatigue, and difficult situations.” –Polly Perez

“It is certainly true that for an increasing number of women, the birth experience is ecstatic. But it’s very important to keep in mind that, from a global perspective, the birth experience is still not a positive one for millions of women.” –Judy Chicago

“Woman is the first environment. In pregnancy our bodies sustain life. At the breast of women, the generations are nourished. From the bodies of women flows the relationsiop of those generations both to society and the natural world. In this way the earth is our mother, the old people said in this way we as women are earth.” –Katsi Cook Mohawk midwife

“When we let our light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.” –Marianne Williamson

“Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of passing the stillness of the eternal.” –Abraham Joshua Heschel

“Loss makes artists of us all as we weave new patterns in the fabric of our lives.” –Greta W. Crosby

“Pregnant woman, at once universal and individual, lives the compelling force of creation within her whole being.” –Harriette Hartigan

“Childbirth is a rite of passage so intense physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, that most other events in a woman’s life pale next to it. In our modern lives, there are few remaining rituals of initiation, few events that challenge a person’s mettle down to the very core. Childbirth remains a primary initiatory event for a woman.” –Maren Hansen

“Male science disregards female experiences because it can never share them.” –Grantly Dick-Read

“I usually claim that pregnant women should not read books about pregnancy and birth. Their time is too precious. They should, rather, watch the moon and sing to their baby in the womb.” –Michel Odent

(Personally, I LOVE books–of all sorts–and reading is THE top way for me to learn about anything. I think the best prep I did before having my first baby was to read and I always give a recommended reading list to my clients. However, I also “hear” what he is saying here and wanted to share the quote. My personal opinion is that in our current birth culture it is nearly impossible to go into birth just planning to “go with the flow” and let labor unfold without expectation [if you are birthing in the hospital that is—because the hospital is FULL of expectations and those will often run right over your flow]).

“No matter what your size, shape, percentage of body fat, or BMI, you and I…can start right this minute to express gratitude to our bodies for being home to our souls and allowing us to express our uniqueness on the earth at this time.” – Dr. Christiane Northrup, The Wisdom of Menopause

“In pregnancy’s sculptured beauty, one body grows within another. Energy becomes human in the alchemy of the womb.” –Harriette Hartigan

“The experience of birth is vast. It is a diverse tapestry woven by cultural customs, shaped in personal choices, affected by biological factors, marked by political circumstances. Yet the nature of birth itself prevails in elegant design of simple complexity.” –Harriette Hartigan

“Stress hormones are contagious–if someone in your birthing space is stressed, you will feel it and become stressed.” (Awaken Your Birth Power)

Following Your Body’s Urges to Push…

Sense and Sensibility is having a blog carnival around Healthy Birth Practice #5: Avoid giving birth on your back and follow your body’s urges to push.

For this blog carnival, I feel like sharing my own personal experiences with following my body’s urges to push. I gave birth to my first son over six years ago in what was the only freestanding birth center in the state (related side note: when I told my landlord that my new baby was born in a freestanding birth center, she said, “oh, so does everyone there have them standing up?”;-D). When I arrived at the birth center, I was surprised to be ten centimeters dilated already. Fortunately, the midwife on duty said, “go ahead and push when you feel the urge,” and went about her business, rather than encouraging me to push simply because I was at ten or exhorting me to push with loud counting and the near-aggression as is so frequently depicted in the media. After some time, I decided to experiment with the “pressure” feeling I’d been feeling for several hours—as soon as I gave a couple of small, experimental pushes like that, my water broke. I stayed on my knees on the floor for some time—head and arms on the bed—and eventually the doctor suggested that I get up on the bed, where I ended up giving birth to my son in a semi-sitting position.

During this birth, I was very sensitive to suggestion and to “being good,” and so when the bed was mentioned, I felt I had no choices even in such a gentle birth setting. I feel if left to my own urges, I would have stayed kneeling on the floor.

With my second son, who was born at home, I was alone with my husband for nearly the entire labor. As I got closer to giving birth, I felt “driven” to my hands and knees where I began to push spontaneously (and again my water broke with the onset of pushiness). It was a very wild and rapid birth and I barely had conscious thought of whether or not I felt like pushing—it just happened! After several pushes on hands and knees, my son eased out where he was received by my midwife after her arrival five minutes prior.

My third son (second trimester m/c), was born at home with just my husband present.  My labor was again extremely rapid and I found myself kneeling on the floor in child’s pose. This position felt safe and protective to me, but I finally coached myself into awareness that the baby wasn’t going to come out with me crouched on the floor in that manner. I told myself that just like with any other birth, gravity would help. So, I pushed myself up into a kneeling position and my water broke right away. I crouched forward again—feeling fearful—and then told myself to move upright again. As soon as I was back on my knees, some blood clots emerged. I stood then, with knees slightly bent, and my baby was born.

For me, being nearly alone is the best way to follow my body’s own promptings. I feel it can be difficult to heed our bodies’ own wisdom when other people in the room are encouraging directed pushing or are “cheerleading” loudly. Freedom to move as desired and to push spontaneously according to the body’s own urges is a mother and baby friendly approach to birth.

Some of my other posts about second stage labor include: pushing the issue of pushing; waiting before pushing; and thoughts about pushing.

For more information about spontaneous pushing check out this video from Mother’s Advocate.

And, don’t forget my handout: helpful ways to use a hospital bed without lying down.