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Also Good for Fathers-To-Be
on 31 August 2006
One of the very few stipulations my wife made after we learned we were going to have a child is that I read this book by the doyenne of natural childbirth in the U.S. While the tone of the book is much too touchy-feely/hippyish for me, I have to admit that it is well worth reading regardless of whether you're planning a natural childbirth or a fully tech'ed out hospital one. That said, it would be very easy to read it as gospel and get swept up in its giddy repudiation of modern medicine, so one should approach it with, if not a skeptical eye, at least with one's critical faculties fully engaged. There is also the potential that readers who are fully committed to a hospital birth may come away from this book feeling scolded, or as if their decision is somehow "wrong".
The author is a superstar in the field of natural childbirth, largely as a result of her 35+ years work at "The Farm", a kind of birthing commune in Tennessee. The first half of the book is a compilation of natural childbirth stories written by mothers who've either done it at The Farm, or somehow in conjunction with the author. While these are certainly useful as illustrative examples of how it all goes down, they tend to get rather repetitive and could certainly stand to be scaled back a bit. And for those who know little about the birthing process, some of the terminology can be unclear. Finally, for those who might want to read this book on the subway (like me), be forewarned that there are some pretty graphic photos of childbirthing in this section.
The second half of the book walks the reader through the entire process, mostly with the aim of explaining why modern medical childbirthing procedures are not based on the mother's health and needs, but are designed for convenience of the medical establishment. Stuff like epidurals, amnios, fetal monitoring, pitocin, forceps, vacuum extractors, etc. all come under sustained assault. Gaskin makes a convincing case for most of her criticism, with plenty of good examples from historical texts and anthropological research. Perhaps the most striking and compelling examples come from studies of childbirthing in modern Scandinavia. Sometimes Gaskin stretches a little to far in her attempt to debunk every single medical procedure and doesn't always have the most current data. For example, Rhogham does not have any mercury whatsoever any more, and the danger from amniocentesis is vastly overstated. However, simply in terms of the debate over natural childbirth vs. hospital birth, it's awfully hard to argue with the data she's gathered from thousands of natural childbirths.
Ultimately the reality is that every mother's experience is different, and there's no technique, approach, or solution that works for everyone. That said, the book did a pretty good job of convincing me that the mother's mental approach to childbirthing and expectations for the experience are the single most important indicator of how it will all go.