Birthing a Better Way: 12 Secrets for Natural Childbirth

Birthing a Better Way: 12 Secrets for Natural Childbirth

by Kalena Cook, Margaret Christensen

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Birthing a Better Way presents a fresh, proactive, and positive approach to why you may want to consider the safest and most satisfying kind of birth-natural childbirth-especially in these times of overused medical interventions. Kalena Cook, a mother who experienced natural childbirth, and Margaret Christensen, M.D., a board certified obstetrician-gynecologist,

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Birthing a Better Way presents a fresh, proactive, and positive approach to why you may want to consider the safest and most satisfying kind of birth-natural childbirth-especially in these times of overused medical interventions. Kalena Cook, a mother who experienced natural childbirth, and Margaret Christensen, M.D., a board certified obstetrician-gynecologist, have written this much-needed book for expectant mothers and their caregivers, imparting proven safe or "evidence-based" information with compelling narratives. More than fifty powerful testimonials include healthy mainstream women who answer why they chose natural birth (instead of Pitocin, inductions, epidurals and C-sections), what it was like, and even how it compared to a medicated birth. Six physicians share why they birthed their own children naturally, and not in the hospital. Going beyond actual birth accounts, the authors reveal 12 Secrets which bring confidence in the normal process of birth and inspire you to believe in what you are beautifully designed to do.

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Editorial Reviews


“A perfect resource for the mother interested in alternatives to hospital birthing, Birthing a Better Way offers reassurance, friendly wisdom, and ways to make birth happen the natural way.”

From the Publisher

 “Thank you for writing Birthing a Better Way; it’s exactly what we need now. The storytelling model plus expert commentary is perfect. We need this alternative. I love the book and will recommend it to everyone!”—Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom

 “Through positive birth stories, Birthing a Better Way helps women work out what they want and gain self-confidence.”—Sheila Kitzinger, author of Pregnancy & Childbirth: Choices and Challenges

"These stories read so much like ordinary conversation that I can envision a group of pregnant women reading them aloud to one another, each encouraged to add her own story, and thereby to feel not only companionship but her own singularity and power."--Jane Pincus, co-author of Our Bodies, Ourselves, review in Birth

“Giving birth in the most natural and tranquil way, within an environment filled with love and gratitude, opens the doorway to a new and more fulfilling life for any child. Caring and gentle hands embracing a newborn's precious moment of entering its new world is truly a gift to any expecting mother and loving family and for that matter the world. To reawaken a woman's natural and intuitive ability to express birthing and mothering is a must in our fast-paced, time-pressured society of quick fixes. Birthing a Better Way opens the way for a new era in child birthing for the many beautiful and wise mothers of the future."—Dr. John F. Demartini, author of Count Your Blessing: The Healing Power of Gratitude and Love

“A perfect resource for the mother interested in alternatives to hospital birthing, Birthing a Better Way offers reassurance, friendly wisdom, and ways to make birth happen the natural way.”--Foreword Reviews

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Product Details

University of North Texas Press
Publication date:
Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Series, #4
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

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Birthing a Better Way

12 Secrets for Natural Childbirth

University of North Texas Press

Copyright © 2010 Kalena Cook
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-57441-298-7

Chapter One

SECRET 1: Read Positive Stories

The women you'll meet in this book, over fifty varied professionals, moms, executives, teachers, and even physicians-from Anglo, Black or African American, Hispanic, and Native American to Asian cultures-chose natural birth. Why did they make that choice in this day of epidurals, inductions, and cesareans? Along with sharing what birth is like, these moms reveal key safety benefits you need to know for you and your baby.

Why Women Choose Natural Birth

After tabulating the results from several years of more than fifty revealing one-on-one interviews, four main influences emerged for why healthy women wanted natural birth.

1. Exposure to first-hand intimate stories,

2. Getting informed about labor,

3. Dislike of a medical environment or experience,

4. Faith in one's own ability for the normal process of childbirth.

Exposure to First-hand Intimate Stories

A powerful incentive for some of the women interviewed was knowing that their mother birthed naturally. They grew up knowing their own birth was unmedicated: "I was born natural and my mother had good things to say about it. If Mom can do it, I can do it."

Influence can come from a sister or sister-in-law: "She talked about what a satisfying experience it was for her. The baby was alert, too," says Lee Ann.

Friends, or birth mentors, share their Birth Center pictures. "As I'm looking at these photos I'm thinking, gosh, this looks a whole lot more special than the hospital deliveries that I knew personally and as a resident. Hmmm, maybe I should think about this," one physician said.

Witnessing a hospital birth helps you see how an epidural and a continuous fetal monitor affects the mom's ability to push the baby out. Seeing an out-of-hospital birth, whether at a birth center or home, builds self-confidence.

Inspiration may even come from an experienced midwife, doula, or childbirth educator who looks you in the eye and says, "You can do this. You'll be fine."

Getting Informed About Labor

Most of the women read more than one book and searched for pregnancy or birth articles. Others listened to testimonials in group settings such as La Leche League for breastfeeding or prenatal yoga classes.

These women, reflecting a health and fitness market, enjoy learning. For example, moms-to-be become nutritionally-conscious of eating the best life supporting foods. Choosing a childbirth class that supports natural childbirth, such as Bradley or Birthing From Within, is important. And they begin to form some ideas of either what they envision or what they hope to avoid. An informed patient is a better patient for the caregiver.

Overall, more and more women these days desire a proactive approach to birth-being in partnership with their caregiver to openly communicate what they want.

Dislike of a Medical Experience

"The whole Obstetric practice seemed like a factory: We do this all the time, trust us, go along, you'll be fine. But no information was given about my gestational diabetes. No. I didn't want this," says Shelley, who switched to a birth center at thirty-two weeks of her pregnancy.

Grace recalls, "When I first went to the doctor's office, the waiting room looked like an assembly line. Fifteen women were waiting and the doctor left to deliver a baby. My intuition was telling me there had to be another way. I'm afraid of needles and I even break out in a sweat for blood tests. Unnecessary interventions could result in serious consequences. In a hospital, I felt I'd lose my rights."

"No needles," says Barbara, a Whole Foods buyer. "I wanted to avoid them because I had allergies all my life, which meant shots as a kid every single week. My older sister did water birth for the delivery of her baby. My other sister had an epidural with her birth. I could compare and contrast their two experiences."

"For me, pregnancy or birth is not a disease. In a hospital it's like you're sick. I didn't want to be sick. I was looking through the paper for an alternative, a birth center, to have our first baby," says Melissa Crochet, an Obstetrician/Gynecologist.

A biology teacher, Kristen, watched birth shows on T.V. "I noted how many of those births ended up with C-sections which scared me. I started reading that some of the ways to avoid C-sections are to avoid interventions. I wanted to labor without anything to avoid surgery if possible."

Questioning the safety of drugs, Sherri says, "We grew up eating Ding Dongs, Twinkies, and Doritos. My mom got on a healthier path. She and I worked at a health food store while I was in high school. I went to college and majored in nutrition. I haven't taken an antibiotic since 1987. I found that God gave us food and herbs to heal our bodies, that there are other ways to balance whatever is imbalanced."

Faith in One's Own Ability for the Normal Process of Childbirth

"Women have been giving birth for thousands of years," becomes the mantra for natural birth moms. If it didn't work, we wouldn't be here. As far as body confidence, women range from warm receptivity with an inkling they want to try natural, to "I know I can do this." In between are surprising confessions: "I'm the biggest wimp for pain." Natural birth is not just for athletes, but ordinary women like you.

Women gain confidence in their bodies, sometimes like never before. "I had negative images of my body and never liked it. I wanted to conquer that and have something else besides what my body looked like to feel proud of it. That was a big attraction to me," says Jennifer.

Shelley, who had vaginal births after a cesarean (or VBAC), with one baby weighing 11 pounds, says, "I was afraid of the pain, yet it's amazing what labor feels like. It's nothing that you can't handle. It's instinctual. There was never a question whether or not I could handle it. Even in the midst of it I knew, like mountain climbing, it was something I could do. I could take one more contraction. I could deal with it. It's like having a bowel movement. You do that automatically, instinctually and there's nothing you can do to stop it. With birth, you know what to do. It's the most incredible feeling to me. I don't even use the word pain to describe it anymore. It's a process."

The natural process may be physical and spiritual. A chaplain at a hospital speaks about her sacred experience with a "Maternal" God. Others invoke marathon analogies. Women even use their intuition through their pregnancies. After birth many describe feeling empowered. "If I birthed this way, I can do anything."

In summary, these women varied in their initial reasons for choosing natural birth. However, each in her own way committed to a whole birth approach-mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

Learn to join mind, body and spirit by reading how other women prepared for birth through exercising, eating nutritiously, reading and taking classes, plus working through emotions to envision their own positive labor. You may even find a responsive chord when an idea becomes a personal spark for your own birth day.


On a cellular level, from our grandmother or great-grandmother, we are all connected to natural birth. Only about one percent of past generations experienced maternal death caused by poor diet, hemorrhage or infection. Today, a more natural method of delivery-eating nutritionally along with taking quality prenatal vitamins, avoiding early clamping of the umbilical cord, massage of the uterus, and other means-offers women a safe and rewarding alternative to clinical childbirth.

Many healthy women are discovering health benefits for their babies and themselves from natural childbirth. These women, whom you'll meet on the pages of this book, believe natural childbirth provides enormous inner strength that enabled them to transcend their fears and take command of their delivery.

Sheila Kitzinger Anthropologist and Author

My mother was a midwife. I grew up reading her books and hearing her talk. I had no doubt that I could give birth with the power of my body.

Our five daughters were all born at home, all positive experiences. The most important event I've ever had is having babies myself. They were the high points in my life, both spiritually and psychosexually. Everything I've done has come out of my joy in birth. There wasn't any other way I wanted to go.

There is no such thing as natural childbirth. Birth without drugs is an oversimplified way of thinking of it. As a social anthropologist I study the culture of childbirth. All birth is a matter of culture. We create culture. We don't behave like the great apes.

In England, all women have midwives. Midwives do most of the births without a doctor present.

To compare, birth in the United States:

has high intervention rates

has high cesarean rates

has been medicalized

has become controlled by technology.

It's going that way in Britain. We do everything that the U.S. does, only a few years later. The cesarean rate is 21 percent, and rising. One in five women has her labor induced. Pitocin is used for inductions.

What is an alternative to Pitocin? Being embraced by your husband, being held and kissed by him, feeling loved and cherished, that's the real alternative to Pitocin to start labor.

Because my babies were all born at night, my older children came in right after birth.

But my daughter, Tess, has had three home waterbirths and had her older children present during her births. In fact, Sam, the older boy, made a birth plan for himself. He made a plan of what he wanted to do, how much he wanted to be involved. He wanted to cut the cord at the last birth, but decided against it. He wanted to make a cake for the midwives, which he did. He wanted Tess to hold the baby first, then me, and he would hold the baby. He was eight at the time.

The danger with home birth is not having a baby at home, but rather other people's attitudes. There's absolutely no evidence that for women who are in a low-risk category, birth at home is more dangerous than birth in a hospital. In fact, the opposite is true. After birth in hospitals, there is higher morbidity for mother and baby. They are more likely to have illnesses after a birth in a hospital than after a birth at home. In short, home births are safer than hospital births.

Also, it's women having the babies. It's their body, their birth, their babies. A man should support a woman's wants and needs.

Regarding husbands, I never talk about them as "coaches." It sounds as if it's an athletic competition. A woman needs to be in touch with the rhythms of her body, her spontaneous urges, to let the birth flow. If it's intellectualized, or if it's done on the basis of competition, labor is actually impeded. Even worse is the phrase, "failing to progress." The language of birth is appalling, isn't it?

The woman's in charge, not the support people. For example, my daughter, Tess, was going to have her first baby in Florida. She chose a female obstetrician, at a birth center, whom she was told would give her all she wanted. As soon as she met her, she realized that was not going to happen. There were going to be interventions which she couldn't control. She came back to England and had her baby in my house.

I was at Tess' first birth with two midwife friends. One was the senior midwife and the other was experienced, as the assistant. In the late first stage, Tess was having tremendous rushes of contractions and we were encouraging her saying, "Good, Tess. You're doing wonderfully!" Between contractions, Tess asked the midwife in charge, "Can I speak to you alone?"

When we came back in, Tess said, "You don't have to tell me I'm doing well. I know how I'm doing. So would you please shut up?" We shut up.

She had a waterbirth. She had a 10 1/2 pound baby without a tear, without drugs. It was exultant.

My main contributions to birth as an author are:

Helping to give women a voice,

Reassuring them to feel they have a right to speak out,

Supporting them to communicate with their caregivers about what they want, and

Encouraging their caregivers to communicate with them.

I began the Birth Crisis Network. Trained volunteer women make themselves available by phone for women who have been traumatized by birth so they can talk about it, when their families and their partners are fed up with hearing it. They validate their experiences and help them to find the power within themselves to cope.

What I earn from my books I put into the training of volunteers. The volunteers' own experiences are important but they must have worked through them. They can't come in immersed in grief about their own births. Some of them have been through terrible things. They need to have gotten to the other side before they can reach out and help other women. It's important for the trained ladies to know when to talk and when to stop talking, and to know how to listen in a reflective way.

A female priest emailed me because she is finding a lot of women who are seeking help with distress after childbirth. She hasn't had babies herself, but she wanted to help. She's in a poor area and is thinking of planning a Service of Healing in the church, which will be disturbing, I think, for the management of the local hospital. I could see this being organized all over the country. I'd love to do it.

I don't talk about "success" in birth. Some women have drugs and some women need them. It's not for me to judge. What is important are:


Having woman-to-woman help,

Being in an environment which you control yourself, rather than one which is controlled by other people,

Having a warm friendship with your caregivers, and having a one-on-one relationship with the midwife.

Continuity of care, not having to meet a lot of different staff.

I like to tell stories because I have a wealth of experience of individual women and their births.

A great many women have suffered sexual abuse. There have been figures from a study published recently in the U.K.: One in twenty women has been sexually abused. They bring this burden with them into childbirth. It's difficult to say to a woman, "Be in touch with your body, trust your body," when she's been exploited. She relives the memory, sometimes a vivid one, of sexual abuse in her birth experience. This is another area in which I work.

These women are not in a separate category of women. All of us know what sexual exploitation is like. It's not an illness. They can't be categorized as women who have been sexually abused, and treated differently. It is important for caregivers to understand how sexual abuse affects the experience of birth. When I gave a lecture on this subject in San Francisco, a lot of obstetric nurses, midwives, other nurses, and childbirth educators were present. What I hadn't reckoned with was the fact that a great many of the caregivers had been sexually abused, too. They were bringing their experience into the birth room. It affected how they behaved and their attitudes toward other women.

Penny Simkin, a dear friend, told the group that we could have a meeting of women who wanted to talk about their experiences in her hotel room afterward. You can imagine what happened. It was so crowded, it was standing room only. The experiences of caregivers needs addressing. This is another subject which I offer in my workshops.

My youngest daughter is Director of Communication and Media Studies at Brunel University in London, and she's done research on this, too. We're working closely together.

It's difficult for midwives sometimes. They're sucked into a big mechanistic system. But now they are challenging and asking the obstetricians questions. The obstetricians don't necessarily like it, but we have a lot of midwives who are doing research, and they are getting increasingly powerful, which is important.

I'm involved with teaching post-graduate midwives, too. I think it's great for midwives to go on and study and do research. This gives midwifery strength. We're starting a Multimedia Master's course run by The University of Sheffield. I'm teaching the module on Birth and Society. I've been teaching part of a Master's at Thames Valley University and had all-day workshops for midwives on this course in my own home.


Excerpted from Birthing a Better Way by KALENA COOK MARGARET CHRISTENSEN Copyright © 2010 by Kalena Cook. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

At age 39, KALENA COOK gave birth naturally to a healthy 8 lb., 4 oz. boy with the help of a midwife. The positive and life-changing event inspired her to write about the latest evidence-based research and seek compelling stories from more than fifty interviews with women, doctors, midwives, hospitals, and birth centers. She encourages healthy women to become informed and guides them as a sought-after “Birth Mentor.” Kalena owned an award-winning communications company for fifteen years and has a MFA in Advertising Design.

MARGARET CHRISTENSEN, M.D., a board certified obstetrician-gynecologist, currently runs the Christensen Center for Whole Life Health, a holistic outpatient functional medicine practice. In her first practice, Renaissance Women's Health Associates, for ten years she created a collaborative, hospital based Ob-Gyn model with Certified Nurse Midwives, as well as served as medical back-up for a CNM-owned, out-of-hospital birth center. She is the mother of four children, all born drug-free.

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