When I found out I was pregnant I wanted to know everything about birth. Not just about labour hormones, birthing positions and stages of labour, but all the obscure things like placenta encapsulation and lotus births... yes, I'm one of those strange people who seriously considered eating my own placenta in the form of a smoothie - but in the end the preparation seemed like too much hard work!
I must admit that learning about pregnancy and birth became a bit of an obsession. But a happy one - for me at least. Perhaps not for my husband, as I learned from the look on his face when I came home the third night in a row clutching yet another birth DVD. Suffice to say, I don't think he found this a satisfactory viewing alternative to Sons of Anarchy.
My birth education was a smorgasbord of books, documentaries, workshops, internet research and conversations with other women. But this post will only stretch so far so I decided to share my favourite birth books. I should say that firstly I came across all the standard issue pregnancy and birth books (you know the best-seller type ones) and they didn't speak to me. It seemed either the content was just common sense or the writing style a bit condescending or disempowering. Or was that just me?
So I dug a bit deeper. I used my local library and birth resource centre and aha! It turns out there are many thought-provoking and fascinating books if you're looking for something other than run of the mill 'What to Expect' type reading.
Here are my top nine in no particular order. I'm aware most of them focus on natural birth. That's because I was keen to balance out what I already knew about Obstetric model birth but I appreciate that a positive birth doesn't have to be a 'natural' birth. Would be great to hear your favourite birth books, please share in the comments.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Yoga for Birth by Janet Balaskas
Hang on a minute, surely this whole pregnancy thing is an excuse to put our feet up, right? 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 hypnobirthing in this book for free.
6. 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.
7. The Father's Homebirth Handbook by Leah 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, Leah 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.
8. 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 might not, for example suggestions for turning a breech presentation and amazing birth photography.
9. 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.