I recently finished reading Your Best Birth: Know All Your Options, Discover the Natural Choices, and Take Back the Birth Experience by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein. Of course, they are the wonderful ladies who also made The Business of Being Born. I don’t mean to sound gushy about this book, but it is absolutely the best book I have read for moms-to-be. If I were to recommend a single book to pregnant women and their partners, this would be it.
Of course, I would recommend plenty of other books, including The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin (I think it’s a bit less dated than her classic Spiritual Midwifery although that’s an incredibly beautiful book too), and anything by Sheila Kitzinger. However, if I knew an expectant mom would read just one book, I would without a doubt recommend Your Best Birth.
There are several reasons for this. First, the book is unabashedly about reclaiming the birth experience for yourself. Lake and Epstein are clear and upfront that your birth experience is yours, no one else’s. These days, especially if you choose to give birth in a hospital, you have to come armed with all of the tools and a great support team to get the birth you want for yourself.
Secondly, Lake and Epstein walk the reader through all of the options and, for a change, give fair and balanced look at each. They lean a bit towards a birth with as few interventions as possible, but they give good reasons and examples of why women would choose each intervention, why women would choose to forego them, and when they are medically necessary. They do so in a way that is not shaming to mothers who chose or wound up with interventions and also give great stories and explanations of when it was a wise and prudent choice for mothers to agree to the epidural or C-section. Lake and Epstein set the scene for this delicate balance by telling their very different birth stories at the beginning of the book. Lake’s births were largely intervention free and increasingly non-medical. Epstein’s planned homebirth, on the other hand, wound up as necessary but hectic C-section delivery in a hospital. Both women talk about in what ways they were empowered and disempowered by themselves, their support team, and the medical hegemony.
Thirdly, I love this book because Ricki Lake is so accessible. She is a household name and many people have watched her talk show and/or The Business of Being Born. She is real and believable. And she is no nonsense. I feel like I could give her book to any woman on the street and she would be comfortable taking birth advice from Ricki Lake, no matter what her views on childbirth. As groundbreaking as Ina May Gaskin’s work was and as incredible as it still is, it does not have the widespread appeal that Lake’s fame and celebrity status affords her. Which is why I am so happy that Lake is using her cultural currency for a cause as important and central to our daily lived experiences as this is.
I’ll finish by sharing some choice passages from the book:
On how amazing the uterus is:
… the uterus is the only organ in the body that can generate new cells as it expands; those cells are reabsorbed into the tissue as the uterus shrinks down as the baby is born. During the strong contractions of labor, the uterus produces seven hundred pounds of pressure per square inch. At that time it’s the strongest muscle in the body. This is why it is especially cruel to read how on ultrasound reports technicians characterize a normal uterus as “unremarkable.” For some legal reason they can’t call it normal, but if they were being honest, they’d call it incredible.
On why women are misguided who have elective C-sections to keep their vaginas “tight”:
The vagina was designed to stretch out and snap back. Men don’t seem to have any problem with the idea that they have an organ that can expand dramatically (or not so dramatically) and then shrink back to its former puny size, but some women feel as though they have to apologize. Some even consider reconstructive surgery after vaginal birth.
And finally, on the slow C-section movement, something I had never heard of before:
Speed seems to be the most important concern in the C-section, with the whole operation very impersonal.
In response to this, Dr. Nick Fisk, an obstetrician in the United Kingdom, has pioneered something he calls the skin-to-skin cesarean… Dr. Fisk decrie[s] the fact that even with planned C-sections, the parents never [get] a chance to participate in the arrival of their baby. The skin-to-skin C-section is different in the following ways:
- The drape that typically obscures a mom’s view of her body is withdrawn as the baby emerges so she can see her baby being born.
- At first, only the baby’s head is removed from the uterus, allowing the baby to receive a few minutes of the benefit of a body massage as the uterus contracts.
- Instead of quickly clamping and cutting the cord, the doctor leaves it intact and allows the baby to slowly acclimatize to the surroundings with support from the placenta’s blood and oxygen.
- As the baby seems to become more alert, the doctor hands the baby to the mom, who places her little newborn on her chest for skin-to-skin contact. This way bonding can begin. The baby awakens to the world hearing Mom’s voice and smelling Mom’s smell instead of being on a resuscitation table.