When planning my birth, I found myself pulled between two worlds. I learned that the mainstream narrative of childbirth is a world where technology triumphs over trusting your instincts. It left me feeling helpless and I needed a way of understanding what my body was capable of. These books took me to another world, highlighting the power and simplicity in natural birth.
These books empowered me. But I’m aware they are very much from my own perspective and I appreciate every women’s situation is different. Of course, an empowering birth does not have to be a ‘natural’ birth and maybe these books don’t speak to you. Maybe you found a book on planned birth interventions empowering? I’ve realised that many factors can impact on pregnancy and birth planning such as relationship status, race, disability and health conditions. I’d be interested to hear what books you found empowering when planning your birth and why. In the meantime, here are my top nine in no particular order…
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
Lauded America’s leading Midwife, Ina May Gaskin believes in our ability to have a positive, natural birth even if we don’t believe it ourselves. Her advice to us? ‘Let your monkey do it!’ Humans may be the most evolved of all the mammalian species, but birth is one process where our big brains hinder us.
- Childbirth Without Fear by Grantly Dick-Read
This book by Pioneer Obstetrician Dr Grantly Dick-Read is now more relevant than ever. Have you seen ‘One Born Every Minute’? Of course you have! With prime-time screening of these ever dramatic ‘real’ births, our mental imagery of birth as riskier than a sky-dive without a parachute is hard to override. In this fascinating book, Dick-Read forces us to examine the potential negative impact of these birthing stories on the labour process and sets out his theory of the fear-tension-pain cycle.
- Yoga for Birth by Janet Balaskas
Hang on a minute, surely this whole pregnancy thing is an excuse to put our feet up, right? Well, not quite. Balaskas is a British birth educator and founder of the Active Birth Movement. She urges us to keep moving during pregnancy and labour for the sake of our health and the health of our baby. But don’t despair, even if you’re more couch potato than avid yogi, there are simple things you can do to prepare yourself for a healthy, active birth. Her number one rule for a quicker, easier labour is to use gravity to its advantage. Which means do the opposite of what has come to be the go-to labour position and get off your back!
- Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent
To be consumed in greedy chunks, reading this while pregnant made me smile, laugh and cry. My excitement and anticipation of my upcoming homebirth grew as I read this book. I got lost in each of the birth stories as if I was there in the room – imagining being part of the simple rituals such as warming the ‘receiving blankets’ in the oven and clinking glasses of bubbly to welcome the new arrival. If you want an inspiring, heart-warming book highlighting the humour, joy and the unexpected of natural birth – this is it.
- Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan
1,2,3… look into my eyes… Err, wait a minute! hypnobirthing does not involve Paul McKenna casting a hypnotic spell on you! It involves knowing tips and tricks to put yourself into a state of deep relaxation. Learn easy, practical ways to train your mind to surrender to the birthing experience. Yes, there are courses you can pay for, but you can gain an understanding of the wonders of hypnobirthing in this book for free.
- The Water Birth Book by Janet Balaskas
If you are one of those people who instantly relax and breathe out the day’s stresses when sinking into a deep warm bath, you’ve already got one reason why water birth may be for you. Other benefits include less chance of needing any pain relieving medication or an episiotomy. But you might ask – how can a water birth be arranged? Do they have pools in hospitals? And can my baby actually be born into water? Find out all the answers and more in this book.
- The Father’s Homebirth Handbook by Lead Hazard
If when thinking about dads-to-be as labour supporters your go-to mental image is of some poor guy subject to screams of “YOU DID THIS TO ME” then think again! Through the seldom-told stories of homebirthing dads around the world, Lead Hazard shows us that the simplicity and beauty of homebirth attracts all sorts. A really practical, down to earth look at the benefits of homebirth as well as some common concerns.
- The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger
Do you have a low pain threshold? You’ll be pleased to hear that the answer is probably no! Cause it’s likely there’s no such thing. It turns out perceptions of labour pain are more related to how relaxed and safe we feel during labour. This book is a one-stop shop for preparing for birth. It has everything you’d expect it to have – stages of pregnancy, options for labour, feeding your baby – and things you didn’t expect, for example suggestions for turning a breech presentation, de-bunking the myth of a pre-determined pain threshold and amazing birth photography.
- The Year after Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger
So much is written about pregnancy and birth – but what about when the momentous event of birth is over? Are you sick of all the talk about ‘getting your body back’? Kitzinger discusses all aspects of motherhood, from your body after birth, changing relationships and emotions including post-natal depression. This is a very honest book with a welcome discussion around enjoying your new body (hurrah!) rather than trying to get your old one back.