Back in December, my dear friend Daughter RavynStar sent me Birthing From Within by England and Horowitz as a Winter Solstice gift. Knowing that she got a lot out of it from her two births, and that we share similar values, I delved into it right away. It was a difficult book to put down!
When you become pregnant, your reading list is filled with suggestions – most of them about the medical side of birth, and usually focusing on the developing baby. While those aspects are very important, Birthing From Within takes a different perspective and examines the physical, emotional, and spiritual journey of the mother. Any medical aspects (such as the differences between midwives and OBGYNs, the pros and cons of drugs during pregnancy, the realities of cesarean births, good diet, complications) are handled in a way that empowers the mother. I never once felt talked down to. The authors are honest – sometimes you have to change your plans, for example, for the sake of your survival and the baby’s – but they do so without judgement. Although the authors are clearly fans of natural birth (especially in the home), they emphasize that 1) everyone has a right to make their own, educated decision and that must be respected, 2) a woman knows her own comfort levels better than anyone, and 3) women should not feel guilty because of something they were cohered into or forced into because of outside influence. Sometimes there are birth complications and our “plan” must change. One thing that really stood out to me was the author’s belief that forming a birth plan will set you up for disappointment. It’s important to know what you want and why, and this book definitely informed me so that I feel better able to speak up and out against anything unnecessary, but the authors warn that if you cling too closely to an idea you may be in for depression and guilt afterwards. They instead preach a balance between advocating for a desired birth scenario and accepting that which cannot be changed if everything else fails. In short, “You can have a fantasy or birth plan, the hospital has its ideas, but Mother Nature may surprise all of you” (97). That said, the authors were very clear about the differences between pushing drugs to make pain, a necessary part of birth, go away, and pain killers prior to a cesarian birth due to a legitimate complication.
Some of the tenants of “Birthing From Within” can be gleaned from this short overview.
One of the more unique aspects of this book is Pam England’s work with parents on “birthart.” It’s a very therapeutic approach that forces you and your birth partner to explore the spiritual and emotional side of pregnancy and parenthood. The book is filled with poignant examples, providing a deeply intimate window into other parents’ hopes, fears, regrets, and joys. I suddenly felt relieved at the range of emotions I was feeling – including fear which is natural. Birthing From Within includes several suggested activities for you to try on your own, with other expectant mothers, or with your partner. Weretoad and I tried some birthart – something he resisted at first. In the end, we created pieces that shared some of our feelings and brought us closer together. It’s definitely an exercise I would like to repeat as we near delivery.
Other exercises are intended to prepare women and their partners for pain management naturally. Many are meditative, and some actually include introducing an uncomfortable stimulus that you have to deal with for the length of a contraction (an ice cube). The authors are quick to explain that nothing can fully prepare you for the pain of childbirth, but it is important to come to terms with pain prior to the experience. They argue that childbirth pain is necessary because it tells your body what to do – how to move, how to vocalize, when to push.
Nature’s blueprint for women giving birth includes pain, and this pain is purposeful. Pain is experienced when stretch receptors in the dilating cervix send signals to your brain, calling for more oxytocin to be released – which in turn fuels labor and increases dilation. The sensations … are part of an ingenious feedback mechanism which is essential for normal labor and birth” (240).
It’s impossible to say what I will do in the end. This feedback look doesn’t always work, for example. Even under normal circumstances, the temptation could be very great, but I am confident my husband will help be stick to my guns unless an epidural becomes absolutely necessary. And if that becomes the case, I will have to accept it with grace. That said, this book and the documentary “The Business of Being Born” have helped me become more aware of the negative side effects of using epidurals and pitocin – negative side effects on the mother and the child. (Definitely watch the documentary on Netflix. In addition to learning about the history of midwifery and obstetrics, you’ll learn more about natural birth and the negative side effects of drugs on labor. One of the best and most compelling parts is seeing and hearing real natural births. When all you’ve ever seen is Hollywood hospital births, it’s eyeopening, inspiring, strengthening, and beautiful.)
I recommend this book to anyone having a baby or trying to conceive. There is plenty in here for new mothers, mothers who are having another child, as well as fathers. Pagan readers will be delighted at the spiritual approach, particularly at the author’s emphasis on birth as a rite of passage for baby and parents, one worthy of ritual and deep meditation. I am now convinced that I want some sort of Mother Blessing ceremony at my baby shower. It’s also hard not to smile at the Goddess imagery placed throughout the book. Birthing From Within has made me very proud of my ancestral mothers, my living mother, and what my own body is capable of. This remains the most empowering pregnancy book I’ve read and has helped me form a deeper connection with my inner feminine energy.
Are you having a baby?
Get. This. Book.