Book Review: Ina May Gaskin vs. Milli Hill

With Little Baby constantly reminding me of her imminent arrival by hearty kicks and punches, it makes sense that I’d devote a portion of my summer reading list to books on parenting and childbirth.

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Us having a drink at 32 weeks



The first book I tried was one I’d been encouraged to read by several sources. I was even handed a free copy of it on my first visit to the midwives, but ended up giving it back because I already had a copy sitting on my bedside table at home. It was Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin.

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I actually purchased my copy of this book before I even got pregnant. As someone who was terrified of the process of pregnancy and labor, I’d seen and read many places that it was important to fill my mind with positive birth stories to combat my negative notions. This book was recommended so consistently that I bought myself a copy and eagerly began to read, hoping it would allay my fears when I finally got my positive pregnancy test.

The first half of the book is all personal birth stories from women that gave birth on “the Farm” which is the birthing center that Gaskin set up. They are meant to encourage and inspire women towards the beauty and bliss of natural home births with a midwife. But for me, these “positive birth stories” were completely ineffectual. It seemed like many of these women had some kind of complication, some nearly emergent complication, going on during their labor. They all ended up giving birth to happy healthy babies without medical intervention. That, I believe, was the point of them telling their stories. Look what I did without a doctor. I mean, it was touch and go for a while, but it was all fine! Yes. Right. Lovely! But instead of reassuring me, these stories just set me on edge and gave me a longer list of “what ifs” for my still unknown labor and delivery story. *shakes head* I call that a fail at positive birth stories.

Gaskin’s book read to me like a three hundred page advertisement for why you must have a home birth with a midwife and avoid hospitals and doctors. I skipped over the chapters at the end that warned me about the probably hidden mortality statistics for pregnant women giving birth in hospitals. I needed encouragement, not more reasons to fear. And while I highly respect Gaskin for the trail she blazed promoting better childbirth options in this country, I really could have done without reading her book. Especially when taken in conjunction with another book I read, The Positive Birth Book written by Milli Hill.

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This book, seriously, was an absolute sleep-saver for me! It opened up with the author explaining how desperately she wanted to be pregnant, but how utterly terrified she was once she saw the positive pregnancy test. Everything about her emotional state echoed mine. She compared it to sky diving. You’re in the airplane, looking down over the distant ground, and you know you have to jump eventually; it’s too late to turn back. You feel guilty for telling people you’re terrified now that you’re actually pregnant. You’re supposed to be happy. Meanwhile, everyone is laughing themselves silly for the look on your face after they’ve told you about all the horrors that await you through pregnancy into parenthood.

This inspired Hill to start The Positive Birth Movement out of which grew her book. It walks through all the stages of labor, the most common complications, the ins and outs of cesareans, and tips on adjusting to the early days postpartum. All of it was told with an upbeat candor that truly brought peace to my thudding heart. This could happen, but this is why it will still be okay. 

Another aspect of the book that I loved was how she shied away from the common idea of 3 stages in labor. She described it in 14 stages to make it all as clear as possible, a method I found a lot more beneficial than how Gaskin addressed it in the second half of her book. She also mathematically broke down the average percentage of time that most women are actually in terrible pain during natural childbirth. The average woman is in labor 8 hours and only 23% of that time is spent having contractions. Even if I don’t turn out to be average, just reading that lessened my fear of labor by leaps and bounds.

The whole of that book had that effect on me. I loved it, and if I could recommend any one birth book to a new mother, it would absofrigginlutely be this one.

Curtain Close. Take a Bow. Spring Semester’s over now!

Done. And considering my sweet little complication this semester, I think I did a pretty good job.

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Not that I’m taking sole credit for that. My husband ran me back and forth to every class, my mother-in-law encouraged me and proofread my writing, most of my professors were sweet and sympathetic to the challenges I had this year, and God held me up and gave me just enough strength to get through it.

But it’s over! *sighs long relieved sigh of relief* Next is the part where I chill, read, and write while I prepare for…THE ORDEAL! *DUN DUN DUUUUUUUNNNNN*

In all honesty, I try not to think too much about labor. That doesn’t stop me from occasionally laying awake at night, thinking to myself that, one way or another, this little person has to come out of me. I have a few girlfriends with children who have been super encouraging, but they are the few. Can anyone tell me the rationale behind the many and the bold negativity freaks who sneak attack you with horror stories about childbirth?

They lurk behind soup cans in the supermarket: *cans clatter to the floor as they shove their red faces forward* OHMYGWALLYMOSES! I just read about this woman who gave birth in her car! IN HER CAR! Can you believe it? Never even MADE it to the hospital.

They hover beside you in the library: *in a stage whisper* Oh! I thought you were due in June. Well, August is nice too. *snorts prematurely at the hilarity of their next comment* Only you’ll have to go through the heat of the summer. The WHOLE THING.

They spontaneously pop into being, uncaused, from nothing while you’re clipping your toenails: You’re due when? How can you BE so YUUUUUGE? *sees husband working at computer* Is THAT the father? Oooooooh! *nods knowingly with a wry smile* That’s why you’re so big. That baby is going to be a 12 pounder. *pats my belly* Good luck pushing that monstrosity out of your…

Don’t they think about the fact that I might already be concerned about some of these things? I mean, am I the only pregnant woman who wonders what she’ll do if she wakes up to find out she’s one of those wacko’s that sleeps through labor only to meet her baby, blinking up at her between the sheets. Or that labor will be the excruciating horror that all these lurkers warn me about, and my heart will just give out entirely during it. And yes, I also worry that my husband’s hearty viking ancestry has placed the heir of Thor into my womb, complete with pink Mjölnir. It’s my first. It’s all unknown. That’s freaky on it’s own. And most lurkers appear to be women with children. If they’ve already been there, don’t they know to shut up?

Lurkers aside, I’m just trying to enjoy this for what it is. Labor is inevitable now, but in a way, I’m looking forward to it too. I mean, after THE ORDEAL I get to kiss my little girl’s face. I also get to watch my husband kiss her face. I’m pretty sure both those things will make it worth it.

*lurker pokes head in through bedroom window, waggling a finger* Not if you’re… *sound of flamethrower and terrified screams drown out the rest of their sentence*

So, if you need me for the next few months, I intend to be curled up with my growing baby belly. We will be reading lots of books, drinking gallons of water, and trying to do a complete rewrite of Immortal Bond  before tiny persons and William Paterson eat up all my leisure time.

*weak voice floats from garden below broken window* Yeah, and you’ll never sleep again either.

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NOTE TO READERS: This blog has a zero tolerance policy on pregnancy lurkers and their snarky negativity. Any and all pregnancy lurker comments found in the comment section will be moderated by the delete button and a flamethrower. You have been thusly warned.