Hey, welcome back to while doing laundry. This week, we are going to be talking about the three books I recommend you read while pregnant. To be honest, this question comes up a lot. And every single time I stumble around what to say and what books I recommend, because to be honest, this was not something I really didn’t when it came to my own pregnancies and it felt like, “Oh gosh, why on earth would someone else want to read when there’s so many other ways to get this info?” And then I remembered back to the fact that I did read these books, except I was in high school. I was reading midwifery textbooks. I was reading works by Ina May Gaskin and I had long been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
So now that I am reframing this question and I’m thinking if I hadn’t been introduced to those things, so early on, what would I recommend now? Obviously I’ve got plans. There’s going to be The Good Birth Company book one day that will really help everybody make their way through.
3 Must Haves for your Pregnancy Reading List
However, I am always eager to help steer people away from books, such as What to Expect While Expecting or something like that is not what you want to do. Anything that typically has become very mainstream and very popular when it comes to reproductive health is something I will absolutely caution you from consuming.
I am a lover of many mainstream things, but mainstream maternity education or reproductive health education tends to err on the side of very medical, very fear-based and often fairly inaccurate. What I do suggest is reading very specific things by some brilliant leaders in the space, but also opening your mind up to the experience of other people who have been pregnant, who have tried to get pregnant and who have given birth in many ways.
I will share my three recommendations.
Raising anti-racist kids starts in pregnancy
Before we even get into any books related to your pregnancy or birthing in particular or breastfeeding or anything like that I am going to suggest that you read Killing the Black Body. So either reading or listening to Killing the Black Body. If you are a white pregnant person listening to this, this is where you need to start. And if you are someone who is not white and pregnant and listening to this, this classic by Dorothy Roberts is something you may already be familiar with.
If you haven’t read it, I preface this by saying it is heavy. It’s very heavy. I’m making my way through it slowly to be honest in bits and pieces as I’m listening. But I already know that this is something that is foundational to anyone who works in the reproductive space, but also anyone who exists within the reproductive space.
This podcast is called an ethical exploration of parenthood and that needs to start at the very beginning. So Killing the Black Body is something that will help you understand the immense privilege you have and even existing and being pregnant. And see how far reaching does discrimination, racism, reproduction, and how entirely intricately interwoven it is. And God, we need to start parenthood through this lens. And if you haven’t had the opportunity to read it, or even if you’re into any topics like this now is the time. Definitely, definitely get your hands on it.
And like I said, Audible is a really easy way to consume a lot more literature. So highly recommended.
Natural childbirth has a place for inspiring you
The second book is one that I have waffled back and forth and about including. I think it is a beautiful book. I think it is full of inspiration and is full of power. I think it’s full of hope, but I also know that it can lead people down a very idyllic path. And that is why I proceeded with such trepidation about recommending it. Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth is a cult classic if you will, amongst birth workers and natural birth movement followers. Really she is the original hip old hippie midwife. Without getting into it, I won’t give you the whole synopsis of the book itself. If you are not familiar with Ina May Gaskin I recommend you check her out. I believe she’s still the only midwife to have any sort of obstetrical maneuver named after her, which is the Gaskin maneuver to help fix shoulder dystocia.
We also have the fact that she has a farm. She has this, there was a place in Tennessee where people can come from literally anywhere. They would travel to live and work there and give birth there; because of the culture of birth. Ina May Gaskin believed so deeply and wholly in the capability of the human body to birth that’s just what happened.
The stories that are shared in this book, in particular, like I said, are inspirational and full of hope. There are stories of these people who have given birth on the farm, in their homes surrounded by very skilled midwives. And they have extremely low Cesarean birth or transfer rates at all from the farm and very low maternal morbidity and mortality, and any kind of newborn complications. As I’m sharing this all of these specific statistics have left my brain, but I do know that those numbers were so incredibly low. That is the part that I love about this book. It highlights that it is possible.
That we do not have to accept the status quo intervention, cascade of interventions, leading to a surgical birth. This is showing us that there is another path; that there are more options available. The thing that I find disappointing or concerning about this book is that it’s very hard to replicate the environment of the farm in the majority of places that people give birth.
A belief that our body is the only thing that we need to have a peaceful intervention-free birth or even a birth that we identify as satisfying definitely can feel like there’s a strong correlation in terms of Ina May Gaskin’s teachings and the results that the farm gets. That it does tend to make you feel that it is the superior way, or it is the best way, or it’s the better way than the hospital.
The same way that the opposite end of the spectrum; the medical industrial complex makes you feel that is the best way in the hospital. That is the safest way in the hospital. Where I come in is that middle ground and where I see those stories are brilliant and inspiring, and we want to have that strength and belief in our body that we can rock birth.
What we fail to appreciate is the majority of pregnant people in Canada, in the United States give birth in a hospital and the outcomes and the progression of labor and birth will not look like what it looks like on the farm. No matter how hard we try it won’t ever replicate it exactly. But the fact is the beauty of the farm is that you have been able to experience your pregnancy in this community, surrounded by people around you, your build up to actually giving birth is very strategic and that you continue to work on the farm. You work in the collective. People closely watch you and support you along the way.
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And that’ll allow you to birth in your own environment. And it’s very obvious that right off the bat, that if we’re going to give birth in a hospital, we are already stepping outside of our environment and into someone else’s. That also makes people feel that perhaps home birth would be the best option or the superior option for them because of their environment. And they will have control over it. Again, where we fail to recognize the fact is we are still utilizing universal healthcare services. We are utilizing the services and care of a midwife who can provide care for a homebirth, but that midwife has also been trained and works within the medical system.
And that midwife is still accountable and often has their own scope of practice dictated to them by the hospital where they can transfer you to in an emergency. So you can see how, even in the best case scenario in our North American Western Medical system there are way too many things that happen that we cannot avoid, or we cannot erase completely to mimic the environment of the farm.
And that is the part that I think is so important to know before you read this book, because trust me, it fires you up and it makes you feel better. Like when you can do anything, which is what I want for you. But I also really want you to understand that there are some really practical, tactical, strategic things that you will have to do in preparation to have an experience similar to that.
And to be honest, I really think that an incredibly powerful birth is possible regardless of the environment, regardless of how you give birth: vaginally, a Caesarean birth, an instrumental vaginal birth, whatever, all of those can be powerful and moving and feel so satisfying for you. And that is the message I want you to pull not that the only way to have those feelings is to replicate the farm.
So let it open your mind, let it open your eyes to the possibilities and the, what it is and what could be and what you want, but don’t let it hinder you. In the sense of only believing in your body and trusting that going with the flow is good enough. Yes, once we get into the medical system, it isn’t our flow, it’s their flow. And we need to plan for that.
Ina May Gaskin also has a book called Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Breastfeeding. So breastfeeding is something that is on your radar. Perhaps you’re curious about it and you’re not really sure how you want to infant feed or perhaps you are wholeheartedly set on it and cannot wait. Maybe you’re just looking to consume as much information as you possibly can. Right now that book would be my first suggestion for again, that inspiration and that hope. I’ve seen how breastfeeding relationships can grow and how they can work so well.
Here in Canada we exist in a really funny in between culture where there’s a lot of support for breastfeeding, there’s a lot of talk about breastfeeding and we also have people on the other side of the spectrum who feel shamed for their choices.
I personally think when we can read things that open our minds, to all of the possibilities and all of the good that can come from even talking about taking on challenging projects, such as breastfeeding and think it provides us with a great head start. And while I wouldn’t say that I think it’s an exhaustive guide or a complete guide, it is a great starting point that can catapult you forward into learning more.
“Does labour hurt?” Penny Simkin does it best
Number three would be Penny Simkin’s Birth Partner.
This book was actually written for birth partners. It is one of those cult classics that make it onto almost every doula training reading list. And it was written for the person that’s supporting the person giving birth, but I honestly have yet to find any other book that does such a good job for either the person giving birth or their support.
I love it for so many reasons. It is really an encyclopedia of all of the things you need to know. I am never somebody who believes in using just one source for your information, but in terms of that encyclopedia to cover basics about terminology and interventions it is a great resource.
It does a tremendous job when it comes to talking about pain and the experience of suffering, including how to manage pain and cope with pain and labor. And this is why I love this book juxtaposed to Gaskin’s (because hers is so extreme in one lane) Whereas Penny takes the opportunity to use her experience of working with sexual assault survivors and traumatic abuse survivors in the birth experience to really view pain management and pain control as a critical component of a good birth experience.
What I don’t talk a lot about is pain control and the ways we can manage and cope with pain, typically in my education or on really anything, because I have a funny relationship with pain. I don’t feel that I am a real expert when it comes to pain and labor. Funny, I say it out loud, but I am someone who is very internal and copes with pain that way. In Simkin’s book there is a scale that she has developed called Clarifying Your Feelings About Pain and Medications in Childbirth (find it here). It is a questionnaire and you can then discover where your personal pain needs lie and what you need to do about that.
That is the part that I love so much because she talks about pain as not a moral experience or something that we must endure or that we don’t have to endure, or like we can just wish it away with an epidural. She takes it from the angle of seeing it as a piece of our birth experience; that we need to know about very intimate things of that ourselves first, before we can make any decisions about it because pain and suffering looks different for everyone. And there is no blanket approach to providing comfort and support to someone who is giving birth and who is laboring because all of the sensations and feelings and reasons why you’re in pain can be very unique.
So I recommend Penny Simkin’s book, Birth Partner for the pain chapters alone. If you are somebody who is really concerned about how birthing will feel and how you’re going to cope, this is the book for you.
And I also wanted to add that just because I don’t talk a lot about all of the options we have when it comes to pain control doesn’t mean that I’m not very knowledgeable about them. But I do find that pain is such a very intimate topic it’s something that’s best explored in a one-to-one conversation. We forget that our pain stories go right back to our childhood; to the way that we were either validated or invalidated when we expressed our bodies felt this includes if we have experienced or survived any type of abuse. It’s impacted by current health history and medications that you’re taking. It could include traumatic history in terms of an emotional or psychological trauma, all of those things play into how you feel pain.
And that is so deep. So we are fed the story from the stream media and TV that birth is an experience that is full of suffering. And on the opposite spectrum, we are often shown that the experience of natural birth, if we can do it all the right way, we’ll be joyful. We’ll be rainbows and unicorns, and it’s all going to be lovely and you’re going to be perfect and walk out of the hospital a few hours later and all is good.
I’m here to tell you your experience will be all in the middle somewhere. If you have never experienced the sensations of labor, you cannot predict how you will truly interact with those feelings, but you can look to what you know about yourself already and make a really good plan of how you would want to explore that.
So definitely pick up The Birth Partner. I have a really old dog year copy that I have flipped through a million times. I’ve used that pain assessment chart myself.
If you have any other recommendations or favorite books that you think are absolutely imperative for a pregnant person to read by continuing this conversation on Instagram.
The great thing about consuming literature, focused on pregnancy, birth and postpartum while you’re pregnant is that you don’t have to finish any book. If you don’t like it, close it. Pick up a new one. You can also flip through books and find chapters that speak to you.
There is no right way to start to educate yourself about this experience, the thing that is so important is that you are making an effort to learn something new because through that will come new questions and more exploration and just a better experience overall.