This post is the first in a series of related posts: book reviews of the titles in my lending library. Stay tuned for more!
Ah, this book. It’s such a great read. Sarah Buckley, an Australian family physician, expertly walks the line between instinctive/super-crunchy/holistic and scholarly/super-well-researched/academic. It’s just brimming with quote-worthy snippets, so I’ve sprinkled them throughout this post for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
“Birth is women’s business; it is the business of our bodies. And our bodies are indeed wondrous, from our monthly cycles to the awesome power inherent in the act of giving birth. Yet in our culture I do not see respect for these extraordinary functions: instead we diet, exercise, abuse, conceal, and generally punish our bodies for not approximating an unobtainable ideal. This lack of trust in and care for our bodies can rob us of confidence in giving birth. Conversely, an experience of the phenomenal capacity of our birthing body can give us an enduring sense of our own power as women. Birth is the beginning of life; the beginning of mothering, and of fathering. We all deserve a good beginning.”
The book begins with a few chapters on instinctive birth and trusting your inner self, and how healing birth can heal the earth.
“We cannot birth our babies through sheer force of will. We need to learn the more subtle—yet equally powerful—path of surrender.”
“In surrendering to birth, we also learn about our role on the Earth: we are neither the rulers nor the architects of creation. Life comes through us, simply and gracefully, when we allow it.”
Buckley then gives a step-by-step guide to sound personal medical decision-making. She calls this the BRAN method, and encourages her readers to consider the Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, and possibility of doing Nothing when they are faced with a medical decision. She then applies this method to common pregnancy and birth procedures (Gestational Diabetes, Group B Strep, Going “Overdue”), outlining the research as she discusses each option.
“If the baby is truly large, it is likely that the mother’s body will have maximum pelvic softness and flexibility (due to peak levels of hormones such as progesterone) on the day she spontaneously goes into labor, giving her the best chance to accommodate and birth her large baby.”
In subsequent chapters, Buckley thoroughly reviews the research on common birth interventions, such as ultrasounds, epidurals, and cesareans. Each chapter has literally hundreds of footnotes—it’s clear that Dr. Buckley has done her homework!
“On average the first stage of labor is twenty-six minutes longer in women who use an epidural, and the second (pushing) stage is fifteen minutes longer.”
“The combination of epidurals and Pitocin, both of which can cause fetal heart rate (FHR) abnormalities and fetal distress (reflecting a critical lack of blood and oxygen), markedly increases the risks of operative delivery (forceps, vacuum, or cesarean delivery).”
She also peruses the evidence on gentler birth and mothering choices. With great detail, she describes the beautiful hormonal cocktail that accompanies and enables undisturbed birth.
“When birth is undisturbed, our birthing hormones can take us into ecstasy—outside (ec) our usual state (stasis)—so that we enter motherhood awakened and transformed.”
“Birth is a peak bodily performance, for which our bodies are superbly designed.”
She shows the safety and beauty of home birth for low-risk mothers; she tells the story of how love and attachment can be naturally and gently formed in the baby’s early days.
“One study showed that newborns who experienced “kangaroo care”—that is, uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact with the mother—in the first hour after birth were less stressed and more organized in their behavior, cried less, and slept longer, compared with babies who were routinely separated.”
She examines the vast research supporting breastfeeding and the many benefits it offers mom and baby, and she goes over the benefits of co-sleeping and how to safely practice it.
I’d highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of Sarah Buckley’s Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering. It will open your mind to new ways of thinking and fill your mind with evidence-based information. As I closed the book, I felt energized, empowered, and grateful for Buckley’s great contribution.
“A recent review of satisfaction after childbirth found that personal expectations, support from caregivers, the caregiver-patient relationship, and involvement in decision-making are the most important factors in determining satisfaction with the experience of childbirth.”
Have you read Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering? I'd love to hear what you thought of it!
“Like a marathon runner, a woman’s task in birth is not so much to avoid the pain—which usually makes it worse—but to realize that birth is a peak bodily performance, for which our bodies are superbly designed.” -Sarah Buckley, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering
About two weeks ago, I ran the Run Elevated half marathon in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Near the end of my training, I came across this quote from Sarah Buckley, and it got me thinking: what lessons can be learned from comparing labor and long-distance running?
One at a time
Mentally, I didn’t run 13.1 miles. I ran one mile, 13 times. As I would pass each mile marker, I would think ahead to the next mile, and not focus too much on those beyond. Similarly, in labor, it’s a good practice to focus on one contraction at a time. A helpful affirmation can be, “I can do anything for 60 seconds.” Thinking of all of the contractions that have already happened and the unknown number still coming can be daunting. Focusing on one at a time feels much more manageable.
Preparation Makes all the Difference
I couldn’t have run the half marathon without the significant training I put in. The (increasingly-long) three-four short runs and one long run I put in each week made it possible for me to run the 13 miles on race day. My body was prepared through incrementally-more-difficult runs each week. Similarly, you don’t grow a baby in a day. The body stretches and prepares over nine months. The uterus has practice Braxton-Hicks contractions in later pregnancy. Early labor often lasts for quite a while. All of this is your body preparing to birth your baby.
Preparing yourself mentally with quality birth education and fining the right support system also makes a huge difference. I personally noticed a huge difference between my two birth experiences, and much preferred the one I had better prepared for!
The Body is Amazing!
It was so exhilarating to realize that my body is capable of running 13.1 miles! This was my second half marathon, and I even shaved off a couple of minutes from my last time (which was eight years ago, before two pregnancies, three babies, and with chronice venous insufficiency to deal with)! The human body is amazing. More amazing that that, though, is the woman’s ability to grow and support and birth a baby. Labor is awe-inspiring.
Chiropractors Help with Back Pain!
Seriously people. I mean, maybe this is obvious, but chiropractic care was so helpful in nearly eliminating lower back pain in both late pregnancy and at the end of my training. I prefer a chiropractor who incorporates deep tissue massage as well. I feel like some sort of magic has been worked when I get up from the table and can walk freely without pain!
You Can Have Pain without Suffering
During my training runs, I passed another runner wearing a shirt that said “Pain You Enjoy” from a previous race shed run. Immediately, I thought, “can’t that apply to labor, too?” While many women may say that the word enjoy is a stretch, I do think it’s important to differentiate between pain and suffering. (Rebecca Dekker does that beautifully in this podcast, which, coincidentally, I listened to on one of my training runs!) A few women experience painless births, but for most women, childbirth is some of the most intense pain they’ll ever experience. Rather than try run away from it (which tends to just make it worse, as Sarah Buckley points out in the opening quote), laboring women are most successful when they learn to work with their pain. They realize that the pain has a purpose and is an indication that the body is doing what it needs to be doing. Labor is a “peak bodily performance”!
It’s Worth It
Crossing the finish line was so fulfilling, and being able to say “I did it!” was so empowering. This is true one million-fold in pregnancy and birth. The nine months of pregnancy and hours of labor and birth bear a priceless fruit: a new baby, complete with snuggles and perfect baby smell and a beautiful cocktail of hormones that help you fall in love with each other.
Take Time for Recovery
For two or three days after my race, I was super sore. Going down stairs was especially difficult, since the majority of my half marathon was downhill and my quads burned! My awesome husband was understanding about doing a little more of the up-and-down childcare and housework while I mended. After giving birth, recovery time is critical for the new mother. It takes six to eight weeks for the uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy size, and the perineum takes time to mend. Baby’s frequent need for feeding during the early weeks encourages mom to be sitting or lying down much of the time, a welcome position for a body that has just grown, carried, and birthed another human being!
Happy Labor Day, everyone!