Starting about five years ago, I decided to research ways to birth a baby in America. My mom delivered me and all my siblings at home. I was present for the last two births (at ten years old and twelve years old), and thought it was amazing. One of my sisters recently had a home water birth. I’ve always figured I would have my babies at home, but realized I needed facts and evidence to see what was truly safe and best.
This film is a great place to get introduced to the basic concepts and ideas behind hospital birth vs. home birth.
(the film) “The Business of Being Born”
This is where I discovered that the United States currently has the highest mortality rate for babies and moms (surrounding the time of birth) of any domesticated country with general access to health care. All the other countries with higher (worse) mortality rates are poor countries without access to health care. The country with the lowest (best) mortality rate for both babies and moms? Holland. Where they still deliver around 30% of their babies at home with midwives.
It was also the place that discussed the cesarean “epidemic.” The World Health Organization (WHO) surveys all sorts of healthcare issues all over the world, and publishes annual reports of their findings. They discovered that countries with less than 10% cesarean rate had higher mortality rates (both babies and moms). Countries with greater than 15% cesarean rate also had higher mortality rates (both babies and moms). From this, they observed that a 10-15% nationwide cesarean rate would have the the best outcome for both babies and moms. The United States’ rate is over 30%, and in many cities and hospitals, well over 40% to 50%.
My personal conclusion from this: maternity care in the United States is killing moms and babies. Too many cesareans are killing moms and babies. If you don’t want a cesarean, and want a higher chance of life for yourself and your baby, don’t birth in the hospital.
These are just two statistics, and there are a thousand more that affect our bodies and babies well beyond the moment of birth. Breastfeeding success, chances of permanent disease, mental illness, infection, hysterectomy, hemorrhage, effects of labor drugs on moms AND babies, and much, much more, are significantly affected by birth choices.
To educate myself, I spent several years consuming stacks of books with DATA on the subject. While I like to FEEL good about a decision, I am definitely a data and evidence person.
Surprisingly, I discovered that most hospitals and doctors are currently practicing litigation-based care rather than evidence-based care. For example, the evidence is black and white that too many cesareans lead to increased neonatal and maternal deaths. However, a doctor who does a cesarean is perceived in a court of law to have done “everything they could” and thus is nearly exempt from a negative legal result. So they section more women to protect themselves from litigation, despite statistical evidence to the contrary.
The film I mentioned just scratches the surface. And the internet is even worse. You’re not going to find good evidence on the internet on this subject, period. Published books are a more reliable source, and have data you’re not going to find anywhere else.
It is unfortunate that most people spend more time researching which iPod or camera to purchase, than where to deliver their children. As parents, we have so much responsibility to raise and care for our children, and it begins well before they are conceived.
Finally, if you are praying people, please pray. I truly believe the Holy Spirit speaks to us through prayer, and you can come to a wise decision that is based both on having educated yourself, and having prayed through that decision. I can’t imagine having made our decision with “prayer alone”, and I also can’t imagine having made it with “education alone.” It was the merging of the two that gives us peace about where and how we plan to birth our children.
Because in the end, YOU are their parent. Benjamin and I are this baby’s father and mother. It is not your child’s doctor or midwife who have to raise this child. It is not your mother or mother-in-law who have to answer to heaven for your child. They are not the ones who will forever carry the responsibility of birthing and raising that child. It is you, the parents. You were given an intelligent brain and a sensitive spirit, so use them as you decide how to birth your child.
My strong opinions and soapbox preaching here are just that – mine. I just wish more people would really do the necessary homework and think for themselves, instead of swallowing whatever a doctor, parent, friend, or random internet website has to say. If you do your research and come to a different conclusion that we did, so be it. It would surprise me since I feel the facts are so clear and inarguable, but hey, that’s why we all need to think and decide for ourselves and for our children. For the rest of our lives as parents, this will be our job. To learn, educate, research, study, listen to wisdom, and make the best decision we can. Just please don’t make the birth decision blithely or lightly or with only the “research” from your doctor’s office or the web. It’s not enough.
I could go on, but instead, will share my reading list. I will also suggest that you don’t try to read these books, or make this decision, while pregnant. There are some gruesome and tragic stories and statistics in some of these books. They are important to read and understand, because they are part of making an educated decision. However, I am glad I read them long enough before being pregnant to forget them, and just hang on to the decision that resulted from them. Plus, when you’re pregnant you want to be worrying about getting good health care and a good health care provider, not what kind or what location is best for you to deliver in.
Here’s my reading list, in order of suggested consumption.
If you can just read one, read “Pushed.” If after that you need additional evidence, read “Born in the USA.” If you don’t need additional evidence but just need encouragement that you can “do it”, skip “Born” and read “Ina May’s…”.
“Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care” – Jennifer Block
This is the most recent book, so it has the most recent statistics. It might be the only book you will need to give you enough evidence to make your decision. It is shocking throughout and frightening at times. The research is thorough and well-documented, and presents a case that cannot be ignored.
“Born in the USA: How a Broken Maternity System Must Be Fixed to Put Women and Children First” – Dr. Marsden Wagner
This book was published a couple years prior to “Pushed.” It talks about some of the same things, and more at the same time. It also has some intense content, and a voluminous amount of powerful research. It is written by an ob/gyn who later became a scientist studying birth interventions and outcomes, after he saw what was really happening in his field. Because of this, his perspective is deep and broad.
“Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” – Ina May Gaskin
Ina May is a self-trained midwife who pioneered the hippie natural birth movement in the 1960’s, when women birthing in hospitals were being knocked unconscious and tied down to beds while their babies were dragged out of them with episiotomies and forceps. She quickly grew in expertise, and even has a birth maneuver named after her. The first half of her book is simply amazing, empowering stories about women who delivered with her. The stories are so beautiful and encouraging, by the time you’re through, you WANT to have be in labor just because it sounds so amazing. And it’s not because she exaggerates or glosses over the pain, but because it can be an amazing, empowering experience. The second half of the book is data and evidence, but it’s several years old now, so some of it is a bit dated. The first half of the book is one I want to read again to encourage myself as my due date quickly approaches.
If you’ve gotten through all of these and haven’t made your decision, continue. Or if you’ve gotten through all of them and just want to know more, continue!
“Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born” – Tina Cassidy
Also a very recent book, this discussed American birthing history. It is beyond awful some of the things that have been done in the name of maternity care throughout American history. While it’s not so much current data as historical data, it shows you how broken our maternity system has been for decades, and makes you realize things that today’s common practices might also be tomorrow’s awful history.
Other books I’ve read that are just part of general birthing stuff, and not necessarily decision-making material.
“A Child is Born” – Lennart Nilsson
This book is GORGEOUS. It is full of amazing in-utero photos of baby’s development. So far, I haven’t found any internet resource that matches the amazing photos in this book. It’s good to flip through with young children to show them how the baby grows and develops. My husband and I really enjoyed looking through this at different stages of the pregnancy to see what our baby looked like. If you are pregnant, I think you should get this book!
“Birthing From Within: An Extraordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation” – Pam England and Rob Horowitz
This book is part of the “Birthing from Within” birth classes. It helps you think through expectations, desires, fears, etc. for your upcoming birth. It has a lot of ideas for how to use art (painting, sculpting, drawing, journaling) to emotionally process your upcoming birth. It is very touchy-feely. If you’ve had a prior birth experience that you feel was traumatic or unsatisfactory, it may be a good read to help you process.
“Birth Without Violence” – Frederick Leboyer
This is where the term “Leboyer bath” comes from, if you’ve heard that. It is a very short read (thirty minutes or less) with lots of pictures. Leboyer became convinced that birth was painful or difficult for babies, and arriving in earth air was shocking and uncomfortable to them. He wrote in 1955, and I’m unsure of further evidence to his claims. However, the book just makes you realize that just like birth should be empowering and calming for the mother, so there are things we can do (whether they are Leboyer’s ideas or not), to help make birth as calm and gentle for baby as we can.
“Creating Your Birth Plan: The Definitive Guide to a Safe and Empowering Birth” by Marsden Wagner
If you just don’t want to do a lot of reading, and just want to deliver in a hospital without anyone convincing you not to, this would be the best book. Wagner (author of “Born in the USA”), summarizes some of the main concerns and research about hospital birth, while helping you understand how you might be able to locate a good doctor and have a natural birth within the system. I didn’t find this book to be the most helpful of everything I read, but it could be a good place for someone wanting a “natural” birth in the hospital.
PREGNANCY NUTRITION and HERBS
A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health – Dr. Dean Raffelock and Dr. Robert Rountree
This was the book that convinced me to seek a naturopathic doctor instead of a medical doctor, when we didn’t conceive right away. These two doctors still have a practice in Colorado, where the focus on post-partum women. The book is “heady” in many places, talking about the body, digestion, etc., and how they diagnose and naturally treat post-partum women who come to them with various physical problems.
“The Natural Pregnancy Book” – Aviva Jill Romm
This book has good advice about nutrition and herbs to treat various pregnancy complaints. It was interesting reading, and would also make a good reference.
The Pregnancy Herbal – Jaqulene Harper-Roth
I haven’t gotten much use out of this book. It contains fancy herbal preparations, tinctures, teas, tisanes, etc. If you are the kind of person who wants to get a bunch of herbs and make your own remedies, this is a good book for you. It’s organized by “problems” so you can easily find remedies for various pregnancy or baby complaints. I’m sure it’s got great stuff here, but this is beyond my time and ability right now to gather and prepare specific herbal remedies.
“Feed the Belly” – Frances Largeman-Roth
Recently published, this book has up-to-date information on what foods you should/shouldn’t eat during pregnancy. It also talks about kitchen cleanliness and other important things to know regarding feeding your body and baby. At the end, it has a several recipes. It’s not organized cookbook style though, instead it’s organized by cravings (sweet, salty, etc.), which makes it difficult to plan meals from it. The few recipes we tried were simple and yummy.
(see also “Feed the Belly” above)
“Eating for Pregnancy” – Catherine Jones
The amazing thing about this cook book is nearly our entire family has liked almost every recipe we’ve tried from here. The recipes have “long versions” that include lots of chopping of fresh veggies, making your own sauces from scratch etc., as well as “easy versions” that tell you how to substitute pre-chopped or canned items to make the meal faster to assemble. We found the recipes to use a lot of fresh ingredients, which we love, and be varied in flavors while easily enjoyed by many palates. A clear winner whether pregnant or not!
“The Well-Rounded Pregnancy Cookbook” – Karen Gurwitz
Some good things in here, some I could pass on. Decent ideas but not my favorite cookbook of all time. Does have a good introduction discussing overall healthy eating for pregnancy.
“Active Birth” – Janet Balaskas
Great exercises and data here on how to help your body physically deliver your baby. Emphasizes upright positions for delivery (standing, squatting, all fours), because they open your pelvic bones by up to 10% more than the traditional lithotomy (laying on back) position that is so convenient for doctors they often refused to allow you to deliver any other way. Great prenatal exercises as well as empowering information for remaining physically involved in delivery. If you want to deliver naturally in a hospital (or at home), this is a great book to read to help you know what will be necessary to achieve that.
“Husband Coached Childbirth” – Robert Bradley
This is the book written by Dr. Bradley, an ob/gyn who developed the “Bradley method” of labor and delivery. I found it practical and helpful, but too long for most men to want to read. I wish there were a condensed version that husbands would actually read.
“Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way” – Susan McKutcheon-Rosegg
Part way through this one. So far appears to be practical “how-to” guide for using the Bradley method. Will update when I finish it!
I’m as much an advocate of natural fertility (pregnancy avoidance and achievement) as I am of natural childbirth. Here’s what I’ve read on this topic.
“Taking Charge of Your Fertility” – Toni Weschler
This is pretty much the Bible of natural family planning (NFP). It is not the “rhythm method” (which just counts days of a woman’s cycle). It talks about basal temperature charting, and several other methods of knowing where you are in your feminine cycle. My parents used this their entire marriage (until after baby number five) to avoid and achieve pregnancy. We used it for nine years to avoid pregnancy, and a few months to achieve it.
“Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition” – Marilyn Shannon
This delves into how your nutrition, vitamins, etc. affect your fertility. It has Q&A type sections that address common fertility problems, and how you can treat them naturally before going to advanced medical fertility treatments.
“Making Babies” – Dr. Sami David and Jill Blakeway
This is a very recent book written by two doctors who specialize in fertility, an ob/gyn, and an Eastern medicine doctor (herbs, homeopathics, and acupuncture). They combine their approaches in the book, and in their clinic in NYC where they almost exclusively treat women who have been through the entire round of medical fertility stuff to be told they will “never” conceive. These doctors delve deeper to find out what is preventing the women from conceiving, and they have a very high success rate with some of the most difficult fertility cases in the U.S. This book will give you some ideas for some things you can troubleshoot yourself. It will also introduce you to their methodology should you choose to use their clinic to help you conceive.
“Bestfeeding: How to Breastfeed Your Baby” – Renfrew, Fisher, Arms
This is the first breastfeeding book I’ve read. I’ve two others I’m in the middle of, so I will add them when I’ve finished them and can review them. This one is a short read, simple, and practical. Through words and photos, it helps show you when breastfeeding is RIGHT and when it is WRONG. Or at least, you will know what is normal, so if you experience something weird, you will know it is not normal so you can seek help, rather than quitting breastfeeding because it “doesn’t work” for you.
“The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” – Wiessinger, West, Pitman
Part way through this one. It is apparently the “Bible” of La Leche League.
“Breastfeeding Pure and Simple” – Gwen Gotsch
Part way through this one. Appears to be a nutshell version of “womanly art…”.