Book review: Cynthia Gabriel’s _Natural Hospital Birth_

15 November 2011 at 7:06 pm 1 comment

Cynthia Gabriel, Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds (Harvard Common Press, 2011).

“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.


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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. thebirthmuse  |  29 December 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Thanks for the review! At the end you comment that you are not sure this book will reach the full potential audience.

    Part of my goal in writing the book was to widen the natural birth world by reaching the non-crunchy audience. Though my personal favorite books remain “Birthing From Within” and “Spiritual Midwifery,” my doula clients often call them “too artsy” or “too granola.” So many of my doula clients over the years have been professional, mainstream women who are only half-way interested in natural birth. They are scared by media portrayals of birth and cowed by doctors who don’t embrace the idea. So I thought I would try to write a book that mainstreams natural birth. If you (or others out there) have any ideas on how to get this book in the hands of such women, please let me know! I am open to all suggestions.


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November 2011


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