1. Rediscovering Birth, by Sheila Kitzinger This book is an overview of birth from the perspective of anthropology. Cultural practices and beliefs about birth are shared, as well as lovely pictures from all over the world. The reader is left with an uplifting message that birth is what connects us as humans, and it can be an extraordinarily simple act when it is not messed with. It may not be easy to find, but it is well worth the trouble of tracking a copy down.
2. Baby Catcher, by Peggy Vincent Inspiring story after story of birth from the viewpoint of the midwife herself, this book is an easy-read full of adventures in childbirth. It follows Peggy around California's Bay Area as she goes from home to home in her trusty Volvo, helping babies out. A true tale for our time, she brings perspective back to birth in the modern age by adding the touch of home-sweet-homebirth (although absolutely appropriate for anyone, regardless of your planned place of birth).
3. The Official Lamaze Guide to Giving Birth with Confidence, by Judith Lothian and Charlotte De Vries I like this book for the "general" pregnancy book every woman wants -- the happy, evidence-based equivalent to the one everybody rushes to buy (which I call "What to expect When You're Paranoid"). It is thin, easy to handle and read, and contains all the most important information about pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period you would ever need. In case you don't know, Lamaze is no longer about the breathing -- now it is about promoting "normal birth" -- that makes this book an essential tool for any pregnant person out there.
4. Sleeping with Your Baby, by Dr. James McKenna While pregnant, many like to learn about other topics besides just birth -- and this is wise, because while the birth may occupy a full-day's work, being a parent is something that lasts a lifetime! Where your baby will sleep is a controversial topic, and while we are putting together our cribs and picking out our bassinets, many healthy, full-term babies aren't happy about these sleeping arrangements. Dr. McKenna notes that while there is a taboo against co-sleeping or bed-sharing, many, many families end up with a baby in their bed at some point, even if they don't admit it. He offers up research and guidelines to sleeping safely with your baby.
5. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, LLLI La Leche League's website proclaims "The one book every nursing mother needs by her side!" and I could not agree more. Every basic question or situation is addressed in this excellent book, which has been rewritten and is now in its 8th edition. While pregnant, breastfeeding is a topic we like to learn about -- and I can't share how any times a mother-to-be said, "Of course I am going to breastfeed, but I have to HAVE the baby first!" It can be hard to focus on the breastfeeding part when we get so caught up in the birth part. This book is a resource that can be picked up, flipped through, and read pieces at a time to become familiar with the basics before birth. Later, it can be used again to look up specific issues that nursing mothers face, and it takes us from pregnancy, to first nursing, solids, weaning, and everything in between. Buy this one and keep it.
There you have it! It was hard not to add so many others, and even harder not to name-drop them here in this last paragraph, but I promised to keep it simple. (If you do choose to buy the book-that-shall-not-be-named, just promise you will balance it out with one of these encouraging, positive tomes.) In my opinion, these books contain not only information, but also comfort, wisdom, and knowledge in the choices we have.
My friend Anne shares her 5 here. What are your top 5? Share in the comments!
As I compose this, my washer is going full-steam-ahead with a vomit-covered, king-size comforter in it, my 8 year old lies on a well-protected couch (his bowl on the towel-covered ottoman), and Kipper -- a long ago forgotten, feel-good kid show -- streams on the TV.
My little guy is sick.
Standing vigil with him last night, I was reminded we can make our pain worse or we can make it better, and a lot of that power lies in our brains. Like many of us, he doesn't enjoy being sick. He tried to rest, but when his stomach started to rumble, he grew restless, rocking his legs back and forth with anxiety and anticipation. Not wanting to wash any more linens, I encouraged him to move to the bathroom, where he would pace back and forth in front of the toilet in his attempts to avoid the inevitable.
"I don't like to throw up," he said, tears sliding off his cheeks.
"I know." I gently rubbed his back. I wasn't sure how much of his pain was from his stomach, and how much was from his brain. Sure, he was coping, yet he was also masterfully avoiding his body's natural impulses to move through this illness. Fear -- he was scared.
"When you worry so much about being sick, it can make your body feel worse. I think if you can take deeper breaths and try to let your arms and legs be lazy and heavy, then you can really hear what your stomach is saying." We both sat on the edge of the bathtub as I mirrored the deeper breathing and lazy legs while continuing with my fingers on his back.
We repeated this ritual many times in the night, and a shift occurred: knowing he could calm parts of his body and mind led him to feel more secure in what was actually happening in his tummy. He was able to better feel the illness, as it would come and then go, and this helped him rest in-between.
See any similarities to labor here?
Really what this describes is the fear-tension-pain cycle. In my classes we demonstrate this with a very long piece of elastic tied in a knot -- like a very, very long piece (10 yards?). I offer it to three different participants, so when held, it makes a giant triangle in the middle of our classroom. I then assign each of the three to be either "fear," "tension," or "pain," and have them relax their arms so the elastic falls to the ground, and we read over a few situations. As one trigger point becomes activated, that person pulls back on his or her piece of the triangle, then the next trigger is activated, and we see the result when the third person has to hold his elastic tightly to prevent it slipping from his hands. As we get to the problem-solving part, that person relaxes his or her part of the triangle, until it is loose and dragging the floor again.
"Mary is laboring at home. During her contractions she leans over her dresser and her partner applies pressure to her lower back. She would say her pain level during contractions is a 3-4, and she feels she is coping well. Soon she reaches the point where it is time to go to the hospital. She and her partner gather their things and head to the car."
What's going on here? And how can we short-circuit the fear-tension-pain cycle? The biggest difference is, Mary's coping strategy has changed -- she is no longer upright and mobile, being comforted by her partner's hands. Now she is sitting, strapped into the car, and on her way to the hospital.
A change in the level of PAIN, brought TENSION to her body, and FEAR about the future. Mary's partner can help her through this verbally -- reminders to relax and release tension, seatbelt caused hindered mobility, labor not necessarily picking up but changing sensation from changing position, etc. Relaxing can reduce the TENSION, while knowing this information can speak to the FEAR, thus helping to change the intensity of the PAIN, interrupting the cycle.
Let's look at another situation (without the pictures -- as a side, I am currently reading Unfolding the Napkin, and I decided to follow the author's advice about processing visual information and creating my own pictures :)). Mary is now in the hospital. She is coping well by sitting on a birth ball and rocking through her contractions. She hears a scream down the hall and suddenly she has a FEAR response; consequently, she TENSES, and her PAIN increases. What can help here?
Address the FEAR with words. Remind the woman, just as she has a birth team taking care of her, the lady down the hall also has professionals aware of her situation. The screaming might not actually have anything to do with a level of pain or danger -- it may just be how that lady chooses to cope, maybe she is just a screamer? Hands-on touch can offer physical reminders to relieve TENSION in areas of her body, and her PAIN level can go back to where it was before her scare.
My little one is on the mend, the laundry is done, and I got a nap this afternoon. Watching him struggle was intense as a mom, just as it is when we are with laboring moms. It was an amazing tool to offer him, navigating through his own experience of the F-T-P cycle, by helping him recognize ways to make himself feel better in his body, by simply using his head.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)