My Story with This Book: This book is considered a “must read” for birth professionals, or women who want to learn more about birth and be inspired by stories of natural birth. As a doula and student midwife, it was part of my education.
Author: Ina May Gaskin
Rating: 4/5 — Very Good, Recommend
Genres: Birth; Parenting; Midwifery Education; Autobiography
Synopsis: The first section of the book provides personal accounts of life on The Farm, a commune founded by Stephen and Ina May Gaskin in 1971 at the height of the hippie movement. It’s all true–no fiction here. Some accounts are told by Ina May, while others are told by parents or other midwives. There are a wide range of situations they encounter, and not all of them result in happy homebirths. Some wind up hospital transfer, and some result in loss. Through it all, however, the contributors weave a tale of acceptance, hope, and faith. The second portion is short and is addressed to parents. It covers prenatal and postpartum care of the mother, and basic newborn care. The final portion of the book is comprised of instructions for midwives. A basic handbook for midwifery, not to be meant as a complete education but simply a quick reference guide or general overview.
Response: It may be surprising to fellow birth professionals that I only gave this four out of five stars. And to be honest, I have a hard time explaining how I came to that conclusion myself. Though the topic is obviously of interest to me, and though I highly respect Ina May and all the work she has done, I found it hard to connect with the book in a way that kept the pages turning. It may be the organization of it–having all of the birth stories in one place, which can seem redundant over time; or it might be that I felt some of the instructions or suggestions offered may be interpreted in a way that could lead to dangerous practices by new mothers or self-proclaimed (untrained) midwives. That some information is outdated doesn’t bother me as much as the idea that many women consider this the end-all to understanding birth and practicing midwifery. While inspiring and containing many down-to-earth (easy to follow) instructions for midwives, I think it should be read with the understanding that birth professionals and parents alike should not consider it a “one stop shop”, and should read other materials and information before taking action. Ina May herself looked to multiple resources in addition to her own intuition during her initial crash-course training in midwifery, and we should take the same approach. I’m sure she would agree that not everything can be contained in one singular book, and that different perspectives, along with the most recent studies, is the best way to practice evidence-based birth.
Content: There is obviously in-depth discussion on birth and female anatomy. Illustrations and photos of women in the birth process (including the baby’s crowning) are also included. There is talk of sexuality within the context of birth and women’s health. Some women may be offended by the terms used to describe female genitals, as slang and even coarse terms are used (including c***). Ina May addresses this in a short note in the beginning. Over all, however, it’s quite clean for the intended audience. Appropriate for youth who are mature (12+) and already have a basic grasp of reproduction. Intended for new parents and birth professionals.
Theology: This is a book which discusses in-depth the spiritual side of birth. It is not, however, meant to press a specific doctrine or theology, as much as it encourages mothers (and midwives) to look beyond the physical when encountering challenges in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Stephen was a pastor/chaplain of The Farm, but I get the feeling that it was a more Unitarian Universalist flavor of belief than anything else, which means that spirituality is spoken of in relative terms, and not specifics. They do mention “God”, but again it’s the more general idea of God rather than specifically the Christian God. Quotes from a wide range of spiritual writings are included. There are many hippie terms used which may make some people uncomfortable (the phrase “psychedelic” is used frequently, as is the idea of the mother “getting high”, though it’s not speaking of drug use–just using the 60’s vernacular). I wouldn’t consider it inappropriate content, but some people may be off-put by it.
Where to find it: As usual, you can find it on Amazon. Here’s a link.
Extra Notes: You can read more about The Farm here.