Reviewed by Samantha Thurlby-Brooks
Oh how I love this book! I much prefer this book to Spiritual Midwifery, only because it’s more readable for everyday women without the trippy language that was used in Spiritual Midwifery.
I love Ina May’s term ‘Sphincter Law’ p.170 and all that it means. I think this is crucial to antenatal education. I’m hoping that I’ll be fine with birth since I don’t mind what toilet I use! It’s great that she’s put so much emphasis on the role of our thoughts and attitudes onto the way our body’s open and release babies. I’ve also found it brilliant and unique that a cervix contracting instead of dilating is discussed; I tell loads of women about this to give them confidence if they’re not dilating ‘quickly enough’. “Female animals in labour in the wild, such as gazelles and wildebeest, can be on the point of giving birth and yet suddenly reverse the process if surprised by a predator” p.174
Not many books talk about birth as pleasurable so I loved the discussion of orgasmic birth being so common (p.158) and the description of it being a state of blissful relaxation or prolonged ecstasy rather than a sex orgasm is really informative and encouraging. “the sensations weren’t the same as an orgasm exactly, but when the rushes would end, the total splash-out [relaxation] was very similar to how I feel after orgasm” p.159. I also found the idea that different societies have different expectations of the pain during labour (p.151) and will use more or less pain relieving drugs depending on how they viewed their body as being capable of birthing or not.
I was really shocked to find out that the recommended level of sonic energy used in ultra sound has increased due to industry pressure and the lack of regulations on who can perform ultrasound scans (p.191). There are so many midwives and obstetricians who pull out the ‘research tells us’ card, but then they use epidurals and scans as though there’s no problem.
I find that most literature about birth doesn’t highlight the importance of staying warm during labour. On p.148 “When we expand a lot of physical effort, endorphin levels rise correspondingly, especially when we are warm enough, feeling loved and supported, and, above all, when we are not frightened.” I wish more authors wrote about women staying warm and emphasised the point as this is crucial and can have a huge impact on birth. Whenever I tell my clients and students this bit they all say they’ve never heard it before.
The main thing I find hard about this book is that Ina May is so anti hospital birth and rather than emphasising how to make a hospital birth better for those women who feel safer there, she just instils a sense of fight and struggle to get what you want. (Although I’ve heard how horrible many American hospital births can be so she is justified). She’s also very anti obstetricians and pro midwives which isn’t that fair either since it’s the person that makes the difference, not their job title. “We knew that in a US hospital we could have all the technology we wanted. But I also knew that I would never have what I really needed in such a hospital: professional care combined with the friendship and compassion I found in the midwives… this made it easy to expose my questions and fears to them in a way I could never have done with an obstetrician” P.90
“Women’s bodies still work” Ina May Gaskin
P. xii “women’s bodies still work” is the underlying theory, but consistently throughout the book, Ina May talks about ‘smooching’ to get things going, having loads of people in the room just hanging out or making suggestions and inductions with castor oil and nipple stimulation. On p.255 there’s a picture of a woman birthing on her back while she holds her perineum to prevent tearing; the caption being ‘mother helps me prevent a tear’- surely she helps herself?! Here Ina May gives a list of ways to prevent damage to the perineum, but none of them involve positioning.
I really, really like this book and many of my pregnant clients are reading it. There’s so much priceless information in here and is a great read for a first time mother (or women who’ve had a previous traumatic birth). I love the fact there are so many birth stories in here and would like to see more hospital birth stories without any struggle and strife or if there is struggle, how they overcame it in a positive way. I would like the book to be more friendly towards achieving a relaxed environment in the hospital and towards obstetricians; maybe with suggestions on how to handle situations of conflict in the birth room.