RSS Feed

Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Birthing From Within

PhotobucketBirthing From Within is the lucky number seventh book about birth that I’ve read during this pregnancy.

It took me awhile to get through this book, for two reasons. One, being that this is the seventh birth book I’ve read, I’m getting a little restless with birthing so I took my time reading. Two, this isn’t a book you can just whip right through – it requires you to stop and think, reflect, visualize, etc. This latter reason for delay is also what makes this book so great.

I almost felt like I went through a little workshop in the experience of this book. Ms. England speaks of her experiences with leading childbirth classes. One of her favorite ways to help women and couples cope with fears about childbirth and all related things is to make art. She recommends all kinds of subjects for art but mostly about perceptions and expectations of birth. While I didn’t actually make any art, I did take the time to visualize what my art would be like and envision what I thought this birth would be like. I think that alone has helped in working through some of my fears for this birth.

One of my favorite tid-bits from this book was the concept of having a labor project. If you’ve been a reader of my blog you’d know that I love to have a project! Well, Ms. England describes this great birth story of an Amish couple. The Mrs. is basically going about her daily tasks, plus refinishing a rocking chair, while she’s in labor. I love the idea of immersing yourself in some distracting project while allowing your labor to just do its thing. Sure, this isn’t possible in all labors, but I’m willing to give it a try. I need to come up with something to do as a labor project now!

I also like that the benefits of active birth are discussed; very similar concepts that I read in the book Active Birth. I love when a concept shows up in more than one of the books that I read. It gives me the sense that the point is something to really pay attention to, that it has real value.

The section about pain management is great, including the chapter about “surrendering to pain” which kind of sounds easy but, of course, isn’t. It is not about forgetting about the pain or making it go away but rather about working with the pain, being part of it, giving up control and surrendering to what the body needs to do to make it through. Other chapters in this section explain practical techniques such as “Non-Focused Awareness,” breathing exercises, vocalizing, etc.

Honestly, if this book wasn’t good I wouldn’t have made it through because, like I said, I’m tired of reading birthing books! It took me awhile to get into the book but I’m really glad I read it all. I think it helped me to really think about some of my fears, think about letting go of my control issues and giving me productive things to do and think during labor.

Next review: The Everything Breastfeeding Book by Suzanne Fredregill and Ray Fredregill

Book Review: The Waterbirth Book

As you may know, I’m very interested in pursuing a waterbirth so, naturally, I’m reading up about it in order to prepare myself and Mr. Handsome.

The first book I read, Choosing Waterbirth, was a great primer and helped prepare the emotional side of my brain for this experience. This next book, however, took my preparation to a whole new level.

PhotobucketMuch like her book Active Birth, The Waterbirth Book, by Janet Balaskas, is a comprehensive account of every detail of waterbirth that I could possible thing of, and then some.

Ms. Balaskas not only goes over a brief history of waterbirth, cultural uses of water during birth and pain management using water, but she also walks the reader through every stage of water labor and delivery. Any question that was lingering in my mind after reading Choosing Waterbirth has now been answered. Now I’m only left with a list of questions for the hospital about their policies. And an incredible excitement for what we could experience with this birth plan!

Here are some of my questions for the hospital after reading this book:

  • When do you fill up the pool? When we call to say we’re coming in (based on our assumed progress/timing of contractions)? When we get there and progress has been assessed?
  • How long does it take to fill the pool? How is water temperature regulated?
  • What does the pool look like/what is it made of? (Based on photos I’ve seen, our hospital uses inflatable pools that look about 5-6′ in diameter and maybe 2-1/3′ tall.)
  • At what point during labor is the appropriate time to get in the pool? (The book says 5-6 cm dilated, before transition.) Is there a point at which “the window closes” and it’s too late to get in?
  • What things would cause you to ask a woman to leave the pool?
  • How do you manage fetal monitoring? How often do you monitor?
  • Are partners allowed in the pool? During all stages?
  • Is there a time limit for being in the pool? (This book states most births occur within 3-4 hours of getting in the pool.)
  • Can the entire third stage (birth of the placenta) be done in the water or is it preferable that this is done on dry land? Will cord blood banking be effected? (We’re donating to a public bank.)
  • Finally, the big one, will you let Mr. Handsome “catch” and bring our baby up to the surface?!

See, Ms. Balaskas gives you a whole lot of ammo to make sure you’re fully comfortable with hospital policies regarding waterbirth. I’m totally going to rock our class (coming up in June).

There’s also some great tidbits in here from Active Birth; not so much from a physioloical perspective, more like the reiteration that movement and staying upright is helpful whether on “dry land” or in the water. She also points out that the pool actually facilitates movement as you’re less inclined to get into bed and have greater freedom of motion (one of the birth story quotes talked about being able to move quickly from an all-fours position to a squat which is quite a feat on dry land). Plus you’re in your own little bubble where you can be free to concentrate inward which is a major bonus for me.

Choosing Waterbirth was a great book but there’s nothing in it that The Waterbirth Book doesn’t have, plus it has a whole lot more. If you can only read one book about waterbirth, make it this one by Janet Balaskas!

Book Review: Active Birth

This book is so great I literally read it twice. I finished the book and just flipped it right back to the first chapter and starting reading it again. I checked the book out from the library but I’m even thinking about buying it because it is that good. I want Mr. Handsome to read it to so he can help me keep its principles during my labor.

PhotobucketActive Birth: The New Approach to Giving Birth Naturally by Janet Balaskas is all about moving around and basically getting off your butt (literally) during labor and delivery.

Let me back up: a lot of books about labor talk about listening to your body and doing what comes natural. They talk about moving around to facilitate labor and encourage you not to be embarrassed about assuming (for lack of a better work) “primitive” positions for delivery, such as squatting. They talk about labor in a very touchy-feely way which really, is all fine and good, you should listen to your body, but it gives a sort of flighty vibe to the whole thing.

This book is not like the others. For one, it is very much grounded in science (I like science). Ms. Balaskas proves that labor is much more easy if you move around and assist your body during contractions rather than lying back on a table as in most hospital labors. Did you know that the uterus actually tips forward during a contraction? So if you’re lying on your back the muscle has to work even harder to do what it has to do. But if you’re upright you can bend yourself forward a bit and help yourself out. You can even slow down your labor a bit if needed by coming all the way forward, like an all-fours position.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone AppScience is in delivery, too. Ms. Balaskas clearly shows how the bones and muscles of the pelvis just open right up when you’re upright or bending over. But if you’re lying on your back the sactococcygeal joint slips the coccyx (science talk!) forward, narrowing the pelvic opening (the bones push together creating less space for baby to pass through).

This info about helpful positioning for labor and delivery is enough to make this book great. But wait – there’s more!

Like Choosing Waterbirth, there are whole chapters devoted to yoga and breathing exercises for pregnancy (one chapter for each). I felt like the poses in this book were a bit more basic than in Choosing Waterbirth, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. They’re perfect for later on in pregnancy when you don’t feel like contorting your body too much at all. Nice and simple. (To be fair, I don’t have Choosing Waterbirth at my side for a direct comparison. I’ve already returned it to the library.)

I love when I book has a chapter about the three stages of labor and delivery because I learn something from every explanation. This one is quite extensive and one of the main reasons why I chose to read the whole book all over again. Not only does it contain insights about what is happening to you and the baby during each stage, it reiterates helpful positions based on stage and situation (like squatting to help move the baby down and open the cervix if things are moving slowly).

There’s a small section about pain-reducing drugs but it isn’t scary – some books present this information in a way that you sort of think they almost want to scare you out of using it. (Hey! Who’s Having This Baby Anyway? was kind of like that. Although it was a very thorough account of each drug and its pros and cons.) This book is more like, “here are the drugs that are available, but you won’t need them because you’ll be such an awesome active birther.” I like that it’s pumping me up for success rather than scaring me into success.

I could go on and on about  the things I love about this book, really. There’s a chapter on waterbirth that is great so I can’t wait to read Ms. Balaskas’ next book, The Waterbirth Book.

If you can’t tell, I highly recommend this book. It’s for sure in my top three pregnancy books that I’ve read so far, it’s actually probably number one. Read it!

Next review:

Book Review: Choosing Waterbirth

A few years ago, a friend of Mr. Handsome and mine told us her waterbirth story (over beers you tend to talk about anything after awhile!). It was such an amazing story that I swore right then and there that I would pursue the waterbirth option in the future if given the chance.

Now that I have been given the chance, ie we are pregnant, have a healthy pregnancy, are seeing the hospital midwives, etc, I’m totally taking the opportunity to birth this way.

Naturally, I’ve been looking for books on waterbirth to supplement the class we’ll be taking in June, however these books are a bit few and far between. Waterbirth isn’t anything new but it has been somewhat slow to gain frequency, especially in this country. I’ve been cruising the local library looking for books on waterbirth. So far I’ve found two so I’ll be reviewing those over the next week or so.

PhotobucketThe first book I found is Choosing Waterbirth: Reclaiming the Sacred Power of Birth by Lakshmi Bertram.

This was a good book for not just an overview and testimony of waterbirth but also preparation for birth and some postpartum tips as well. It has a very “free spirit” sort of vibe – this is good for natural childbirth, of course, but it is very noticible in this book!

The author very much emphasizes natural methods of relaxation not only during birth but as preparation for birth and dealing with day-to-day life in general. There’s a whole chapter on yoga poses which are illustrated and explained well. Plus, it made me feel good that most of the poses I already incorporate in my yoga routine. She also gives a couple great birthing exercises that I’ve been using. They are great!

The chapters on waterbirth helped to answer a lot of the questions I’ve had about this method, such as how big the tub should be, how high the water level should be, when to get in the tub, when to get out, etc. There’s information on some of the perceived risks and how the mother’s body and the baby’s instincts mitigate these risks (such as how babies won’t try to breath in the water and how low the risk of infection is). The chapter on the three stages of labor and delivery was also excellent.

The author publishes six waterbirth stories – all five of her own children’s births plus her sister’s waterbirth. I love reading birth stories. It’s great to hear a first-hand experience. For me, I can’t imagine a better way to prepare than by learning from others’ stories.

This book is a great overview of waterbirth. It helped to answer some of my questions and it gave me enough knowledge to think of more questions, which I think is great. I hope the next waterbirth book helps to give me even more knowledge about what I’m wanting to get myself into. By the time our class roles around in June (and our birth in July!) I think I will be a well-prepared student.

Next Review: Active Birth: The New Approach to Giving Birth Naturally by Janet Balaskas

Book Review: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

PhotobucketIna May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin has two parts. The first half is a collection of positive birth stories from women who conquered childbirth without the use of pharmaceutical aids like an epidural. The second half is called “The Essentials of Birth” and basically goes over the capabilities and power the body contains and can use during childbirth.

This is a great book for those contemplating a drug-free childbirth. The birth stories alone are inspiring and even empowering. The accompanying pictures are a little, well, unconventional (ie, revealing) and there’s certainly a surprise at some turns of the page! But hey, you’ve got to get past that soon enough anyway right? Plus it’s always good to be prepared!

There are some great tips embedded within the birth stories – stuff to help deal with “the rushes,” which is what the group of midwives call contractions, such as walking, leaning on a helper, squatting, etc. The stories don’t really focus on the pain of childbirth. Rather, the focus is overcoming the pain and finding the strength within oneself to not only survive but enjoy the birth experience. After reading these stories I know that it is certainly possible for this to be a positive, even enlightening, experience!

The second half of the book explains some of the pointers from the birth stories in more detail. At times it seems like the chapters are geared toward students of midwifery, and I’m sure they use this book too (a Doula friend of mine who is studying midwifery saw that I was reading it and commented that it’s a really great book, so I know the students are reading it!). However, most of the time when Ina May is addressing the reader she is obviously envisioning a pregnant woman as her target.

This book very much has a home birth or birth center slant. Ina May is the principal midwife in a community known as “The Farm” located in rural Tennessee. People live on The Farm in what I can imagine is a sort of sustainable community (grow their own organic food, help each other out, that sort of thing) and people also come to The Farm specifically to give birth with the awesome staff of very knowledgeable midwives. The statistics they’ve accumulated are impressive, such as a very low two percent c-section rate (the national average is about 30%). Home birth is very much the preferred environment to Ina May, so be prepared for that if your plan does not (or cannot due to insurance reasons) include home birth.

The varieties of drugs for reducing pain and inducing labor are also discussed. This is the one area of the book that I felt was a bit frightening (none of the birth stories were as scary as the drugs!). I understand that these drugs do have side effects and really aren’t idea for the mother or baby, but if I do have to have them for some reason I think all the knowledge I now have about them (between this book and Hey!LINK) could cause some anxiety.

The rest of the information more than makes up for the scary drug parts, though. Positions for productive labor and pushing are taught. The uselessness of episiotmies is reviewed. Even the orgasmic powers of birth are disclosed! All of this is motivating enough to want to give natural childbirth a try!

I checked this book out from my local library but I will probably either check it out again or see if I can get a cheap used copy somewhere. Mr. Handsome just started reading it when I had to take it back (it was on hold by others so I couldn’t renew – sad face) and all the information would be very useful for him too so I’ll definitely get it again somehow. I have a feeling that I’ll forget all this great info in the heat of the moment so I’ll need him to be armed with it too!

Overall, this is an excellent book and a must-read for those contemplating or dead-set on a drug-free and positive birth experience.

Next review: Choosing Waterbirth by Lakshmi Bertram

Book Review: Exploiting My Baby *Because It’s Exploiting Me

I’ve been looking for pregnancy memoirs lately – books that I can relate to and maybe even get a laugh of association from. I found Jenny McCarthy’s book but, honestly, it left me wanting. I needed more substance, more entertainment, more humor. Then I stumbled upon Teresa Strasser’s book, Exploiting My Baby (Because It’s Exploiting Me).

At first, I have to say, I was a little turned off by the title. It just rubbed me the wrong way, you know? You et that feeling sometimes and you’re like nah, I think I’ll pass. But I read some Amazon reviews and they were all pretty solid and the book was available at my local library so I figured, what the heck, it can’t be any worse than Before, right?

This decision to jump into this book anyway reaffirmed the old saying, don’t judge a book by its cover (or title), because this book has everything Jenny’s doesn’t.

PhotobucketFirst off, the book has substance. Teresa doesn’t just give quick anecdotes and then move on to the next thing. She weaves each little nuance of pregnancy throughout her stories, with themes of loss (ie, “I miss you toxins”), worry (she might worry a bit too much, but what first-timer doesn’t from time to time?), obsession (her Google search history is pretty hilarious), realism (sometimes it sucks to find out you’re having the gender opposite of what you wanted, but then you realize it’s cool), the desire for companionship (her search for pregnant ladies to befriend) and always, humor. This girl is funny, and I laughed out loud which is really my measurement of how actually funny a book is, of course. Because sometimes books are funny but they don’t actually make you LOL, you know? The real funny books, the real ones, make strangers wonder what the heck is so funny and how can they get their hands on it.

I read this entire book in one Saturday, and not because it’s short because at almost 300 pages I wouldn’t call it a brief read at all. I read it all because I could not put it down, it was so good. Maybe I’m biased because I’m coming off the heels of Belly Laughs and Before, but this book is exactly what I was looking for in the pregnancy memoir genre. I only hope to find more books just like it.

Next review: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.

Book Review: Before: Short Stories About Pregnancy from our Top Writers

Full disclosure: I only read a little over half of this book. After the story about the baby girl that inhales meconium and struggles for survival, I just couldn’t go on.

It isn’t often the I run across a book that I don’t like. I feel like I can find positive things about a lot of books (except for maybe a couple that I was forced to read in high school).

This book, however, is awful. Really, truly, awful.

I hate this book!

The first story was, by far, the best one. Two friends pregnant at the same time, enjoying their time together. Simple, nice. Of course one of the friends had a dead husband (in the past, not the current husband and baby’s father), but that was the only negative aspect of this story.

From there, things just get worse and worse! A story about a woman whose first baby died in his crib at five months old. At least she went on to have another baby several years later, so it did have a happy ending.

A story about a woman who gave birth to her own elderly mother. Not a dream.WTF?

A story about a woman who finds random body parts throughout her home, sews them together into a baby boy, then buries him in an unmarked grave in her backyard.

I am not making this stuff up!

What kind of twisted person would A) write this stuff and B) market it to pregnant women?!

I’m all for some whimsical, cerebral, even someone morose writing. I’ve read Miranda July, I can take some weirdness (I know, she’s really not even that weird, she’s just the first “off-beat” author I thought of). I just don’t feel like pregnancy needs a freakish spin while I am so heartily absorbed in it. I like happy stories about pregnancy while I’m experiencing pregnancy.

This is an awful, haunting book that I wish I had never picked up.

Please, do yourself a favor and never read it.

Next review: something much, much better than Before: Short Stories About Pregnancy from our Top Writers, edited by Emily Franklin and Heather Swain. (It will be Exploiting My Baby *Because It’s Exploiting Me by Teresa Strasser.)

Book Review: Hey! Who’s Having This Baby Anyway?

PhotobucketThis review is for Hey! Who’s Having This Baby Anyway? by Breck Hawk. I thought it was a great title so I picked it right up!

At first, this book seemed like it would be all about home births. I have nothing against this option, but it isn’t what we’ve chosen so I didn’t want to read a whole book that doesn’t apply to me.

However, I was pleased to find that only the first chapter really dealt with home birth, and the issues presented could be applied to hospital births too, such as learning all you can about the “physical, psychological and emotional process of labor, birth and postpartum recovery.” The following chapters were great surveys of things like labor pain medications, herbs, natural labor and pain management, VBAC, homebirth (okay I guess there’s one more chapter on this but I skipped it), waterbirth, birth plans and breastfeeding. Lots of information!

The book doesn’t go too in depth about any one subject in particular (although the chapter on waterbirth was excellent and information). Rather, each chapter brings up the many subtopics with some high-level information on each and encouragement for the reader to research further if desired.

PhotobucketSome chapters have workbooks at the end to help you have a quick glance and checklist to questions to ask a potential physician or midwife and all the things you need to include in a birth plan. Since this book has so much information (over 300 pages worth!) it helps to have these quick-reference pages so that you don’t have to read the entire chapter over again in order to get your checklist.

The chapter on labor pain medications was a bit hit-and-miss, to be honest. It is quite clear that the author is not a fan of the epidural or other serious pain management drugs. She frequently refers to the possibility of a “blue, floppy baby” as the result of using these types of medications. Now, I had already decided to do my absolute best to forgo these drugs this time and rely on natural methods exclusively. But if I hadn’t already made that choice I would probably be scared out of my mind at this point! I mean, the whole childbirth thing is terrifying enough as it is (that’s the only reason I had an epidural the first time around!) that it just seems wrong to add further anxiety. However, it is good to know your options and the benefits and risks of each choice, which I believe is the author’s only intent with the warnings in this chapter.

Overall this is a great book about all things birth. I’m glad I’ll have it around as a reference guide as childbirth looms in my future.

Next review: Before: Short Stories About Pregnancy from Our Top Writers

Book Review: Happiest Baby on the Block

PhotobucketSometimes when I read a baby-care book, I have to take the author’s advice with a grain of salt. After all, some things will work for you and some won’t. Every baby and every parent is different.

However, and this may just be my prior experience with Baby1 talking, the techniques given in this book apply to so many babies! Dr. Karp is like “the baby whisperer” or something because I recall using these techniques with Baby1 and they really worked. Of course, I didn’t know back then that I was deactivating the Moro reflex or that “shh”ing is an ancient art form, but I do now!

There are five “layers of calm” or “the five S’s” that sooth a fussy infant; Dr. Karp skillfully explains each and every one of them. His writing style makes for perfect instruction: he doesn’t “talk down” to the reader yet at the same time he doesn’t assume the reader has background knowledge about some of the concepts and terms, such as the aforementioned Moro reflex (which is from long ago in our primate days and kept us from falling off mama’s hairy back).

I won’t go into each of “the five S’s” here; if you would like to read more then reserve this book at your library (although mine didn’t have it so I picked it up from Amazon). However I will take a moment to discuss my favorite “S,” the swaddle. Mr. Handsome and I learned the swaddle (and really, most of the techniques in this book) from the lovely nurses at the hospital where Baby1 was born. We used that swaddle every day and night and didn’t stop until, I don’t even know, he was probably big enough to kick and jab his way out of it. Our swaddle skills got pretty dang awesome, if I do say so myself, and he was swaddled tight and firm. He really loved the swaddle; we could tell because even if he was super fussy all it would take sometimes is a good swaddle and he’d calm right down. Photobucket

Now there are all these “swaddlers” and shortcuts to the classic swaddle. I’m not saying these are good or bad products (like I said each baby and parent finds something that works for them) but I just can’t use anything other than your standard receiving blanket. The illustration at right is not from the book, but it’s still a good step-by-step guide. Fold down a corner, arms at the sides, tuck a corner under the opposite arm, fold the bottom corner up under the shoulder, wrap the remaining corner around and secure. After some practice, you can do it in seconds, one handed, with a squirming screaming baby.

I seriously digress with the swaddling, back to the book. I have nothing bad to say about this book. There’s no piece of advice that I wouldn’t follow (although Dr. Karp does reference some cultures that nurse their babies 24/7 and I just don’t think I could do that!). Everyone with a new baby should at least give these tricks a shot. They can’t hurt! The only babies I wouldn’t recommend these techniques for would be the perfectly quiet, content ones. They probably don’t need any help.

So if you need some help calming your little screamer, give The Happiest Baby on the Block a try!

Next review: Hey! Who’s Having This Baby Anyway?

Book Review: Changing Diapers

Mr. Handsome and I (okay, mostly me but he is pretty much on board) really want to give a go at cloth diapering this time around. I was initially drawn to this option because of the diapering difficulties we had with Baby1: he had horrible diaper rash and was a pistol to potty train. Things I’ve heard about cloth diapering seem to indicate that we can avoid both of these things, so I’m all for it.

PhotobucketConvincing Mr. Handsome brings in another bonus for using cloth: the cost savings. The statistic stated in Changing Diapers: The Hip Mom’s Guide to Modern Cloth Diapering is that you can save an average of $2,000 over disposables. Well he was sold.

With that decision made, I quickly realized that we don’t know anything about cloth diapers. Well, I know that we used some prefolds with Baby1… as spit-up rags. They worked great! But I wouldn’t be able to show you how to use them as diapers. Plus, there’s so much more out there these days! There are All-In-Ones, All-In-Twos, Hybrids, Pockets, Flats, on and on and on! And how to you clean them? And with what? How do you store the dirty ones? How many should we buy?

I found answers in this book. I read it all in an evening and felt like I actually knew a few things when I finished! I even answered some co-workers’ questions about cloth later that week!

PhotobucketThe book has this great section of green-framed pages that stands out from the rest of the book. These pages contain the various types of cloth diapers. I won’t go into them here, but wow they are all so very different! They each have their own pros and cons, too. The author encourages the reader to only buy a few diapers of different types when you first get started. Find what works for your wash and your baby (they all fit differently too!) then stock up. That’s my plan at least. I’ve already got myself a pocket and a prefold cover.

There’s also a whole chapter on cloth diaper laundry, which is Mr. Handsome’s biggest trepidation about the whole thing. This explains the use of a wet bag, diaper sprayer, strategies for drying and which diaper types wash and dry the easiest. He’s less uncomfortable about this part now (although I’m sure he will not be 100% convinced until he sees the whole process in action).

Bottom line: I knew nothing about cloth before reading this book. After reading I felt confident enough to casually educate others about cloth. So the book did its job!

Next Review: The Happiest Baby on the Block