Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Ina May Gaskin

Sometime in the next two months, (by June 1 at the latest), I’ll be taking parental leave from reviewing books (as well as my other work, of course!). I expect my leave to last about three months, although if things go well, I may be back, at least sporadically, sooner than that, but I’m making no promises. You’ll have to muddle through the hot months of summer without me, although hopefully you have a shelf full of books to read on the beach, or while commuting to and from the office on a train with intermittent AC while surrounded by folks with even questionable hygiene, or while sipping a cool drink on a tiny balcony while the sun stays out until ten pm. Wherever you choose/have to spend that time, I know it will be full of stolen moments reading whatever your guilty pleasure is (because what is summer for if not indulging in things like ice cream for dinner, or taking an extra long lunch out in the sunshine sans work email, or reading a book other people might judge you for?!). I suspect I will be doing quite a bit less reading than I’m used to, at least for a while, and what I do read will probably have a lot of rhyming and primary colors. 

In the meantime though, I’m taking April to read the many books people have gifted me with over the last seven months in preparation for this major life change. I realize this may not be of much interest to some of you, and for that, I apologize. Nevertheless, if I want to feel the least bit prepared, I have to sacrifice some of my preferred reading habits for a more educational bent, and I have to say, I couldn’t have picked a better place to start. 

Like most people (I presume) who have not had children, what I know about labor and delivery comes from Hollywood. I vividly remember watching a cesarean section on The Learning Channel in the eighth grade when I was babysitting. This was back when TLC showed mainly educational programming, and there was definitely no sugarcoating or cutaway shots. Aside from that experience though, I mostly owe what little knowledge I had to hour long medical dramas, and it wasn’t until we took our birthing class a few weeks ago that I realized how much of that information was inaccurate and misleading. 

Our teacher for the class was wonderful (and I’m saying that after eight hours in a room with her on a day when I was nursing a painful back injury), and over the course of the day, I realized just how ignorant I really was about the process. While she gave us a lot of wonderful information, I also realized that I would benefit from reading some of the resources given to me by experienced friends who had been through the process several times. I picked Gaskin’s book primarily because it’s the only one I have (aside from what my doctor recommended) that actually talks about the experience of labor and delivery, and it seemed to make sense to go in a sort of chronological order.

I cannot recommend this book more highly to women who are pregnant or who may want to get pregnant. For the last few months, I’ve been thinking about my own delivery as though it were a marathon – not a metaphorical one, but an actual 26.2 mile run. My experience becoming a runner in my late twenties has been a huge part of shaping who I am. I am not fast or particularly well-designed for running, but I love it, and one day I hope to complete a marathon, which is possibly why this challenge of giving birth has presented itself to me this way. I see it as something to train for, both mentally and physically, because as much as it’s a big deal, and by many accounts painful, it’s also a process that the human body is designed to succeed at.

Ina May’s book is such a positive experience when thinking about the process that it actually inspired to me to feel excited rather than terrified about the big day. It even made me feel less crazy for comparing labor to running, since running is something I have to use a lot of positive mental energy to accomplish. It’s not an activity I go out and do with great ease, and it’s not always painless. In fact, when I ran the Bolder Boulder last year, despite months of great training, I felt nauseous and rundown the day of the race and made it through (barely, and with a lot of unplanned walking) only through strict mental fortitude. I knew that my body was capable of completing the race even though it felt horrible to run. There were periods of time when my mind went completely blank as I focused on moving one foot in front of the other, and still longer periods where all I could do was coach myself to dig deeper. Everyone around me seemed to be in high spirits, and it was all I could do not to cry, and yet I crossed the finish line in one piece with the valuable knowledge that I could trust my body to do what it had trained for, even if it didn’t do as well or as easily as I had planned. This kind of failure crops up often for me in running, and it seems like it might end up being the best possible way to have prepared for an experience like labor and delivery.

 This book is full of affirmation about what the human body is capable of if we approach it with the right attitude, much like some of my favorite books on running have been. Her advice is straightforward, compassionate, and body-positive, and her experience in the field is exceptional. She supports a holistic view of health and views birth as a wellness experience instead of a trauma. Her tone didn’t feel judgmental toward the possibility of a hospital birth versus a home one but rather focused on the inner strength women have to make whatever path they choose as joyful and informed as possible.

It’s always amazing to me to find books like this one – books that focus on building up the image of ourselves as strong emotionally and physically in order to tackle seemingly impossible challenges. We don’t often get the chance to see our best selves reflected back at us this way, and when we do, it feels like a precious gift. I look forward to the day when I can apply that same powerful response to crossing the finish line of a race like the Boston Marathon, but in the meantime, I’m happy to have found it as I get ready to face this next challenge.

For more about Ina May Gaskin, head here.

6 thoughts on “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Ina May Gaskin

  1. Labor is nothing compared to the next _____(fill in the number) years! One piece of advice based on my experience when I was in the delivery room and pushing. I said “Oh shit” and the nurse replied “Yeah, like that!” Good luck, good and happy pushing, and best wishes for a healthy mom and baby.

    1. So true! The preparation for delivery feels like all the planning that gets done for a wedding, when really, the most important work is the marriage itself! Of course, never having done it before, it’s still pretty intimidating, but fortunately I keep hearing from great cheerleaders that it’s completely conquerable. Thanks for the encouragement!

  2. I love Ina May! You might also like Natural Childbirth: the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon and Active Birth by Janet Balaskas — they were among my favorites during my pregnancies.

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