“Everything goes in cycles in medicine and in health care, just as in life. Cynthia Gabriel’s new book comes at a fortuitous ‘sweet spot’ when obstetric birth practices in the United States are again changing [and]. . . liberalizing” (vi). So writes Timothy Johnson, an Ob-Gyn, in the forward to this volume by medical anthropologist and birth doula Gabriel. Johnson may be a bit overly optimistic, in my personal view, but the perspective is a useful one. Gabriel cites her doula experience as key in helping her articulate her position in this book: “Doulas notice different things about birth than medical care providers do. When I read a book about natural birth authored by a physician, I realized that certain aspects of the hospital experience are invisible to her. . . she has never observed a woman fighting for a natural birth with an unsupportive caregiver,” etc., she notes (xiii).
Gabriel’s book hits a lot of the same cheerleading high-notes as Ricki Lake’s does (“So you want a natural birth. And, by choice or by circumstance, you will give birth in a hospital. You can do it!”) (3). Throughout, though, she emphasizes the enormous responsibility—for education and for advocacy—the women must take for themselves in such a position.
The bulk of the book is fairly blandly written in terms of style, and covers such topics as hiring a doula, deciding on a care provider, choosing who to accompany you to the birth, selecting better birthing positions, and avoiding fear and tension before and during labor. There’s much that’s useful here, though not much that’s new. In fact, a lot of it feels to me in some ways like a less-crunchy version of Penny Simkin’s classic The Birth Partner. Sadly, I’m not sure this book—considerably denser in appearance than What to Expect When You’re Expecting—will reach the full extent of its target audience, but it is certainly a positive addition to the birthing literature out there.
I think a lot of parents have heard of positional asphyxia and the risk to newborns/young infants, but many don’t really connect what they’ve heard to the everyday basics of carseats–especially those so-called baby buckets. I’m on an online messageboard where parents (mainly moms, but some dads) post about questions or concerns about their children, and recently when someone complained that the mattress in her co-sleeper was somewhat hard, someone else recommended just putting the infant carseat into the co-sleeper and letting baby sleep in it there. I wasn’t able to post a response that didn’t sound snarky, honestly, so I didn’t write anything, but it’s been bothering me ever since.
The short story is that it’s not a good idea to let your baby sleep in a carseat overnight: For more reading, this article reports on one effort to educate parents about the dangers of leaving infants in carseats for extended periods of time, and this site provides some clear, comprehensive information.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I read a lot. I read the standard books on pregnancy and birth, and then their counter-cultural counterparts, and then all the things referenced in all of those, and then anything tangentially referenced in those, etc.
I also read and reread some novels, though, and I think the Sigrid Undset Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, which I’d read for the first time ten years before but reread in my last few weeks of pregnancy, was really inspirational to me. The heroine is a strong woman, strong in marriage and strong in pregnancy, and the books detail her (natural, given the time period–they are set in the Middle Ages, written in the 1920s) births and her breastfeeding and her co-sleeping, as well as her close relationship with her sons. Before having my son, I had no intention of co-sleeping, no plans for extended breastfeeding, and no idea how I would relate to a boy. I wouldn’t say I got all my ideas from those novels, but I do think the books had a big effect on me–and, importantly, a different kind of effect than when I read them straight out of grad school as a twenty-three-year-old new bride.
What should I read, or reread, this time around? Undset again, or someone else?
This article came out in The Boston Globe Magazine just this week. Written by an OB, it’s a pretty amazing story of the Massachusetts c-section rate. Because the Globe online is now subscription-only, you might or might not be able to follow this link (or try to find the article yourself via another search; if so, it’s “The C-Section Boom,” by Adam Wolfberg). Still, I’ll leave you with these few paragraphs from near the end of the article.
[M]y patient’s cervix finally became fully dilated. With the next contraction, she pulled her legs back and pushed as hard as she could. But now the baby’s heart rate, which had concerned us throughout the labor, dipped again with each push. Research suggests that even the most worrisome heart rate pattern rarely predicts injury. Still, I had to make a decision.
In my gut, I believed that my patient’s baby would make it safely to delivery. But I couldn’t predict how long it would take: an hour, two? Forceps or a vacuum wasn’t an option – the baby’s head was still too high up within the pelvis. I’ll admit that it crossed my mind that when my shift ended in two hours, my colleague would be annoyed to take over responsibility for a patient pushing that long and with a less-than-perfect heart rate pattern.
I sat down in a chair beside my patient’s bed. “I’m not worried about your baby right this minute,” I told her. “However, you have a lot of pushing yet to do, and I’m concerned that your baby will not tolerate it. My recommendation is that we do a caesarean now. I think it’s the safest thing.”
Under bright lights, 20 minutes later, we delivered a little girl, who emerged screaming and pink. My patient and her husband were delighted and thanked me for guiding them to a safe delivery. I didn’t spend time second-guessing my decision: Everyone was healthy; the new family was content.
I sure hope there’s a healthy amount of irony around these words. The bold–emphasis added–above is mine, of course.
Ever since my husband and I have been married, we’ve had an annual Halloween party. When we moved to our current place just one week before Halloween, we still pulled it off; when our son was just two months old one Halloween, ditto. Now, though, with more of our friends having toddlers, I’m in a mental quandary about how to think of this year’s party: is it a party for adults, at 7:00 or so in the evening, which kids are welcome to attend? Or is it a party for kids, at 5:00–if not earlier!–in the afternoon/evening, with some childless adults there (awkwardly?) as well? For me, personally, I didn’t see the conflict at first until our friends started RSVPing to this year’s party, saying “oh, that’s too late for so-and-so’s bedtime.” Barring work, we bring our son everywhere with us–we bring him to weddings (even black tie ones, assuming he’s invited), and hospitals to visit sick friends or relatives, and dinners out and other evening excursions. I don’t have in my mind a hard and fast division between my life as a person and my life as a parent–I see them as complementary and overlapping, almost exclusively so–but I am getting the impression that other people do. So, on the one hand, this throws me back to my dilemma about the Halloween party, but it also raises all these identity questions in my mind.
Somehow, though I read extensive about pregnancy and birth with my first child, I never came across this volume, so I recently picked up Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives: A Holistic Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth, by Deepak Choprea and David Simon (Three Rivers Press, 2005). It’s hard to “review” a book like this, I think. For one thing, some people are simply going to hate it because of the author, the approach, and the style, and that’s fine–obviously, don’t read this if it’s not at all your kind of book, even judging from the title alone. Beyond that, though, it’s very much a book that I personally needed to pick and choose from, and take what was useful to me and leave the rest. There are some fascinating anecdotes about how pregnancy and birth are approached in different parts of the world, and those were generally new to me, even though I’ve read a lot on the subject. Thinking of this book as a combination of Birthing from Within, Hypnobirthing, and some works of birth anthropology really helped me make sense of it, though, and for that I think it was an interesting and worthwhile read.
A month or so ago I finished reading Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, by Annie Murphy Paul (Free Press, 2010). It was, overall, a worthwhile read, but I think I had higher expectations than I should have for it.
A few things I’d read, before picking up the book, mentioned that it brought an objective science journalist’s eye to the crazy media hype that tells pregnant women–in our particular culture, at this particular moment in time–to avoid foods X, Y, and Z, and to be careful of habits A, B, and C, etc. The author even states her position on this issue: After citing a number of inflammatory headlines, she writes, “Once again we’re told that pregnant women are a danger to their fetuses, each bite they take a time bomb on a fork. But there’s another way to think about eating during pregnancy: as an act of sharing, even of teaching” (21).
Unfortunately, the book doesn’t bear out this initial promise entirely, and I do feel the tension between calmness and caution, a zen approach and a Type A control-freak approach, to the various pregnancy dos and don’ts that Paul reviews. Perhaps also because the book is written with each chapter supposedly accompanying each month of the author’s second pregnancy, I found the overall organizing principle hard to discern, and that–combined with her sudden refusal to address the literature on planned c-sections, which she quickly mentions she “had” to have–made me look with skepticism on this as a whole. There were some interesting parts, of course, and most of the literature she reviews is clearly and coherently presented, but overall I’m not quite certain of the intended audience, or effect, of this book: it’s obviously not meant for a lowest-common-denominator What to Expect readership, yet I would assume that much of what it says is in fact already known to a more select group of readers.
In any case, this wasn’t a terrible read, and I’m glad I made it through to the end, but it wasn’t the best book on pregnancy that I’ve read.