A Midwifery & Childbirth History Reading List

I feel that this reading list requires a bit of my background story, so here goes:

I am a yoga teacher that specializes in Prenatal Yoga and Childbirth Education. I am also a Birth Doula. I got all the required trainings and read all of the recommended reading lists from DONA to Lamaze to the more "natural" Inspired Birth but I still felt my education was lacking and that there were some elemental facts that I was missing.

I also feel compelled to build a Yoga based labor pain management system and to build it I need better understanding. I envision a helpful practice--more yoga, more calm, more practical with proven simple labor tools that have strong physiological and yogic backgrounds.

BUT--something about this business of having babies was setting off alarm bells in my head-- I was/am continuing to notice what seems to be huge disconnects from what I was reading in various pregnancy/childbirth books and what I had learned during my trainings--to what I was seeing in the field as a Birth Doula and what tidbits I read about birth in various history books. I was very confused...I still am--so briefly:

Birth is a basic physiological function of the female body indeed it is the epitome of physiological functions. It is as natural as your heart beating and your lungs breathing. True enough but unless your heart and lungs develop "problems" it does not hurt to breathe or circulate blood through your body. Many, many, many childbirth education and natural birth books explain that childbirth isn't designed to be painful either. 

The reality I was seeing is that we have the medical world on one side claiming childbirth is a dangerous excruciating pathology that needs to be risk-managed with a multitude of medical interventions in order to keep mother pain-free and baby safe— And natural birth activists on the other side claiming that birth is a safe non-painful physiological bodily function that needs no outside intervention. One that is best accomplished in a sun dappled glen beside a baby deer--crunchy granola style. 

A bit of eclectic reading led directly to this next dichotomy: I was reading both HypnoBirthing by Marie Mongan and The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser. The first book is of course all about using hypnosis to manage your labor and delivery and the second devoted a fair amount of space to the pregnancy travails of Henry's six wives as the primary duty of the Queen during Tudor times was after all to produce heirs to the throne. 

On the one side I read that Ms. Mongan considers birth done the Hypnobirthing way to be a perfectly “natural” pain free experience and she believes that women should take lessons about birth from her cat. On the other side, back in the day, when all birth was supposedly “natural”— none of Henry’s wives faired particularly well with Childbirth—they had numerous miscarriages, their babies died, and the 3rd, Jane Seymour, died because of birth complications, most likely childbed fever. Henry VIII’s legacy was one future King and two subsequent Queens out of six wives. Henry's sixth wife may have survived him but she also died after giving birth--again most likely from childbed fever.

Out of this a perfect storm of confusion was born.

Confusion One: Your heart doesn’t hurt when it beats, your lungs don't hurt when you breathe (unless, of course, there is a problem) so why-- if our bodies are designed to give birth do the majority of women find childbirth to be accompanied by the racking pain of contractions and why do they experience so much perineal tearing during delivery?

Confusion Two: Cats, albeit fairly stoic creatures, calmly release kittens, and chimpanzee babies often assist their own births—so why do we do it in hospitals surrounded doctors and hooked up to machines—as if we have not a baby to be born but a disease that needs to be excised and cured? Why is the medical community so convinced that human women “need” so much help?

Confusion Three: If childbirth is supposed to be a safe physiological human body function (like the beating of your heart)—why did so many women and babies die during and immediately after birth?

 I thought the appropriate place to start was learning more about the actual history of Childbirth and I freely admit that I started this project a while back. I'm not entirely sure what I expected to find but it sure wasn't what I found in these books...but if you want to follow my path start here--but I warn you once read them they can't be unread and these books will totally change your perspective...Read More...