In 1982, I was obsessed with anything to do with babies. I ducked into every book store for months before I got pregnant. You’d find me sitting on the floor by the Pregnancy and Childbirth section at the university, surrounded by books. These weren’t “Earth Mother” books. I started with the medical books, looking for the ones authored by doctors with the most letters behind their names. You know, the books which scare you half to death with descriptions and diagrams of all possible things which can go wrong.
I even studied an obscure Swiss method of breathing for labour, which I photocopied from the main library. This method left me exhausted, out of breath, and very, very confused. It didn’t help when my husband and I went to prenatal classes and pretty much “failed” breathing. And when the nurses at the hospital asked us what our “birth plan” was, we just said “to have it go well”, and then I asked if I could blow-dry my hair before the obstetrician started my induction. I was over-prepared with book knowledge, but under-prepared with inner knowledge.
Then, when I was pregnant for the second time, I found that reading C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” to my daughter brought so much more inner peace and contentment. I was working with midwives this time, and my visits were filled with laughter, and great book recommendations. I read Elizabeth Noble’s “Childbirth with Insight” which teaches you to trust your inner wisdom, Ina Mae Gaskin’s “Spiritual Midwifery”, which, once you get past the now-quaint 60’s language, is a deeply truthful account of birth, and anything by Sheila Kitzinger. My midwives reminded me that I didn’t need books to teach me how to give birth. They said I needed to trust my body, and to visualize a positive outcome. So, this time, you’d find me sitting with my daughter on the floor of the Children’s section in the bookstore. I bought books with beautiful illustrations, mystical children’s books, books which fed our souls. And when I went into labour, I trusted my body, danced with my husband, and experienced childbirth with joy.
After what seems a lifetime as a doula, I spend more time discussing recent book group titles with my clients, than recommending so-called “birth books”. Most clients say that they’ve not read any birth book which truly speaks to them and their experience. So, I recommend books which will help them through their journey. One woman, who was an engineer, had to leave work because of high blood pressure, and wanted to know how to slow down and face the looming prospect of 5 weeks on bed-rest. I asked her husband to pick up the first of the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon, a good historical “bodice-ripper”. After a week, she called to say she had finally found a book which could keep her glued to her seat...and “what’s the next title in the series!” By the time she went into labour, she had slowed down, and, in the process, learned so much about herself.
When I walk into clients houses, the first thing I look at are their bookshelves. I can tell so much about each couple by seeing what books are prominently displayed. Ah, she must have been an English major... Ah, he’s an engineer interested in science fiction. And there, on her bedside table, is a copy of Harry Potter. One couple were concerned about their baby being born “different”. Should I mention “The Chrysalids” by John Wyndham, a science-fiction novel which explores the nature of “difference”?
Should I recommend “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, to people who are looking for the “perfect pain-free birth”? In this children’s book, “Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain.” Once I broke free of the confines of “birth books”, I was free to help women prepare for birth in a way which honours them as individuals, which works with them in a much more holistic way.
Birth rips off all blinkers, exposes us for who we really are, forces us to face others without masks. We cannot “prepare” for this encounter with ourselves. We can only explore our inner selves as much as possible before the labour comes, and trust that birth is something we know on a basic level. I truly believe that reading for pleasure helps us to achieve a trance-like state, and, allows us to see ourselves mirrored within the pages of the book.
See what books speak to you...