A Book Review: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
Written by Hayley Leonard (Doula)
“Remember this, for it is as true as true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.”
Ina May Gaskin, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
In preparation for my second birth, I picked up this gem of a book that I recommend to all of my pregnant friends. My first labour had been long, and despite working really hard on my mindset and had a really active birth I ended up needing to be assisted with a vacuum as my daughter had her hand up by her face and her arm across her chest.
I emerged from the birth ecstatic and feeling well cared for, even after having an assisted birth, though I was still fearful of it happening again and had concerns as I prepared to labour again. Then came Ina May. I was training to be a Midwife at the time, due to give birth just before exams in my first year and found the book as I filled my shelf with anything I could about birth. It came to me at just the right time.
About the Author
Ina May Gaskin is an American Midwife who co-founded what is known as “The Farm” in Tennessee with her Husband Stephen. The Farm was set up by a group of 250 people who left San Francisco on a caravan tour to create a new community honouring a more spiritual, communal culture. On the journey, Ina May attended her first birth and there began her journey into Midwifery. Between 1971 and 1980 over 2000 babies were born on The Farm, being attended by Farm community/resident Midwives, many of whom started out with no formal training.
Ina May’s own first birth experience was a traumatic assisted birth in hospital that led her to question the maternity care system and strive to find a better way. And that, she certainly did. The Farm is still in operation today although at 81, Ina May has thoroughly deserved her retirement after catching hundreds of babies, penning several books, appearing in many birth documentaries, having manoeuvres named in her honour and receiving many awards. In her wake are several Certified Professional Midwives.
People still travel there from all over the US and also the world to have their babies with The Farm Midwives. They also provides workshops and training for other health professional to gain an insight into their unique and safe approach to undisturbed birth.
Part I – The Birth Stories
What I love about the book is that it is structured in such a way that it centres around the birth stories of The Farm community from the 1970s to the time the book was published in the 2000s (much the same as Ina May’s first published book Spiritual Midwifery which is seen as one of the most influential Midwifery text to date) https://www.bookdepository.com/Spiritual-Midwifery-Ina-May-Gaskin/9781570671043
The birth stories immerse the reader in the real-life experiences of birth and how the Women felt, being cared for by these Midwives who had a deep spiritual connection and trust in birth. People travelled from far and wide to have their babies on The Farm, as news spread about this alternative way of being cared for and giving birth.
They often include two stories in one – the first being an account of previous birth experience within the hospital system, of which many are recounted as traumatic (which commonly leads them to seek an alternative). This then follows their Farm journey and birth.
Nowadays the images we see of birth are through media – movies, TV and news stories, and they are more often than not framed as negative/traumatic or emergency. This has created a culture of fear surrounding childbirth. Friends often want to share their horror stories and the most common recommendation is “just get the epidural!” This perpetuates this fear of birth and distrust in our innate abilities. By beginning with these incredible birth stories, it sets the tone for the rest of the book. You are left wanting to know more, after being immersed in the lived experience of Women birthing on The Farm – of which only around 2% of births required intervention. You begin by seeing WHAT happens for Women on the Farm, then you see HOW they achieve it through their unique ideology, patient observational care and a collective trust in the birthing process.
Part II – The Essentials of Birth
Ina May draws from her vast experience of observing decades of undisturbed birth and extensive journey of discovery through her own personal research. Beginning as a quiet observer, learner and then master, part II of the book guides the reader through all of the beliefs, practices and observations that created the culture of The Farm and how these can be translated and applied to wherever you are in the world. Much is about getting back to basics, redefining birth for yourself and honing in on the intrinsic capabilities of Women and birthers.
Ina May discusses the mind body connection, “Sphincter Law”, sensations of labour, orgasmic birth, prenatal care, physiological labour patterns, factors that affect labour progress, being active during labour, the vagina and episiotomy, the third stage of labour, models of care & decision making, common screening tests, interventions and medications, Midwifery care benchmarks, impacts of maternity care upon maternal mortality rates, elective Caesarean section, VBAC and a vision for the future of Midwifery and maternity care.
This is the most incredible part of the book. I was left in absolute awe of the outcomes that were and are achieved on the farm. The stats speak for themselves and put to shame the incredible overuse of technology and intervention in conventional maternity care settings. The statistics also demonstrate that the observations, wisdom and care that The Farm Midwives provide actually works and can be easily applied, replicated and practiced universally AND SAFELY.
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is essential reading for any expectant parent, Doula, Midwife and Doctor – really anyone who will be holding space for someone giving birth. It strips birth bare, revealing the long-held wisdom and power of the female body and how we can regain belief in this intrinsic power to birth. If you ever needed a book to help you regain the trust in your body and to welcome your birth, this is the one.
- Gaskin, Ina May (1987). Babies, Breastfeeding, and Bonding. South Hadley, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey Publishers. ISBN 9780897891349. OCLC 15860611.
- Gaskin, Ina May (2014). Spiritual Midwifery. Strawberry Hills, NSW: ReadHowYouWant. ISBN 9781459647077. OCLC 907698021.
- Gaskin, Ina May (2009). Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding. UK: Pinter & Martin. ISBN 9781905177332. OCLC 768809453.
- Gaskin, Ina May (2015). Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta. New York: Seven Stories Press. ISBN 9781583229279.
Articles Featuring Ina May:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9LO1Vb54yk (TED talk)
I’m Hayley, I am a mother of 4 and have been a birth worker for over 10 years. It is my life’s work to help new parents have the best birthing and early parenting experience as possible by providing a birthing & postpartum Doula service, and Birth and Early Parenting education. Let me assist you in navigating this journey with confidence and help you settle into life with your new baby.
I am based in the Perth Hills and cover all of Perth Metro area, and regional areas by arrangement: