The Healing Power of Positive Birth Stories: Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin.
Book Review by Freya Parre – Earth Birthing.
“Giving birth can be the most empowering experience of a lifetime- an initiation into a new level of mind-body awareness”
– Ina May Gaskin
I feel so deeply empowered by reading this book, as a woman, future mother and birth worker. I found Spiritual Midwifery took me on a powerfully healing journey, helping me to unravel fear and learnt distrust of birth, a byproduct of growing up in a culture that is deeply intimidated by it. This unraveling reveled to me my truth, that birth can be trusted- it needs trust, in the process, in our bodies abilities and innate wisdom. Through this book I witnessed a shift from fear I wasn’t even aware I held, to a deep sense of reverence, confidence and trust in the marvelous journey of birth.
I see this book as a great place to start when ‘learning’ about birth- healing and deepening our relationship with it. It is written not only for birthing women but mothers, fathers, birth workers, midwifes and everyone!
Written in the 70’s this book takes the reader into the lives of a group of midwifes and birthing women living on a communal farm in Tennessee, leaders in the home birth movement in the USA at the time. The first half of the book showcases the rich and diverse birth experiences on the farm told from the mothers, fathers, and midwives perspectives.
The second half then dives deeply into Inna May Gaskin- sharing her wealth of Midwifery wisdom. She thoroughly shares with the reader such a rich trove of information on about every aspect of pregnancy, birth and postpartum. Written over 35 years ago, apart from some funny 70’s slang the information is still fairly progressive, relevant and valuable.
It is in the first half of the book however that I found the most value, and incredible wealth… in STORY. The book contains hundreds of stories and with everyone I felt this cultural story of birth as something to be fear, dissolve. It felt effortless, like my being was wired with this truth- that birth can be trusted, and I just needed reminding.
It’s common for us to grow up fearing birth, a response to the stories our culture talks about it, often latent in fear, drama, pain and risk. I believe the reason birth is feared and therefore designated to the hospital where is can be monitored and ‘fixed’ by medicine is because of fear. To hear stories of birth such as in this book that counter this fear, that unveil birth as indeed arduous but beautiful, natural and healing I found to remedy this distrust I had been culturally raised with.
Real stories told by mothers, fathers, doctors, midwifes- not Hollywood, not dramatised, patriarchal narrative, portraying women’s bodies and birth as needing to be saved. I was amazed by how quickly in the light of these positive narratives that in no way were romanticising birth, just revealing the raw beauty of it, in the challenge, in each unique experience, how quickly the fear unravels and is replaced by a deep confidence and reverence for the birth journey.
The way these stories are told by so many different perspectives, in so many different ways- homes births, hospital births, still births, twins, breaches, caesareans- every type of birth you could think of, all honoured as sacred, all equal, worthy of celebration and respected. These stories instilled a confidence in birth and in myself, as a birth worker and future mother. I felt like I was learning about birth in a new way, on a level that textbooks and intellectual analysis just couldn’t take me. I believe story speaks to an ancient part of us, as if through story this wisdom burrows into our bodies not our minds. With each story I felt my body relax and remember.
These stories washed away my fear, for life is messy, and there is no sense in fearing the chaos of birth, this challenge is what makes us strong. In these hundreds of stories, each so unique, one the central theme is present in them all. TRUST, the need for us to surrender to our bodies innate wisdom to do what is was born to do!
I loved how the book started with the story, proritised them. It spoke of their value, as a place to begin, a need to unravel fear as a priority of birth and understand there is no step by step way to go about this journey. Each birth story tells the journey of the woman learning to listen to her wisdom and trust her bodies instincts. I believe these stories are organically asking the reader to find our own courage to do the same, to listen, surrender and trust. This really challenges our western way of conditioned living- to intellectualise our way through experience. Birth asks us to let go of the mind and surrender to the direct experience of the body, surrendering control to our primal, innate wisdom.
I recommend cozying up with this book and allowing the stories, one by one to wash over you. There are so many, so reading one or a few a day feels almost like healthy a dose. I can imagine couples could really enjoy and befit from reading one to each other before bed throughout their pregnancy. I’m not sure if it’s the way these stories are written or maybe it is the sheer number of them, one after another that has been so impactful. I believe listening to stories that positively and honestly share birth, whether it’s in this book or in any form is a powerful way to heal our relationship with it and that such a healing cannot take place through textbooks alone. Today there are countless podcasts, blogs, videos, books, social media groups and in person groups where such stories are being shared. Seeks them out and allow them in, to digest and heal so that when the time comes to birth or support a birth we can draw of the courage and wisdom of the countless women who have birth before.
My name is Freya Parre, and I am an emerging birth doula training with Vicki Hobbs at the Doula Training Academy. I am passionate about honouring birth as a sacred and powerful rite of passage for mother and baby. I love bringing earth connection into my services and holding, nurturing and supporting women as they go through their own rebirth along with baby. If you would like to connect please contact me at:
0408 159 040