As research discloses the risks of intensively managed hospital births, increasing numbers of women and men are considering alternatives. This new, updated edition of Sheila Kitzinger's pioneering work is highly informative, yet sensitively written, and supported by comments from other women and professionals.
A social anthropologist and mother of five, Sheila Kitzinger, the author, is also the author of 23 books, published in 20 languages. A long-time champion of freedom of choice in childbirth, she is uniquely placed to advise and support women who are making decisions about pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and motherhood.
|Publisher:||Fresh Heart Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||7.44(w) x 9.69(h) x 0.72(d)|
About the Author
Exclusive Author Essay
Why I Wrote Birth Your Way
For most women, birth is a medical event. It takes place in a hospital, and it is thought about almost exclusively in terms of risk. Any woman who decides to give birth outside a hospital, at home or in a birth center, may have to overcome a host of obstacles put in place by the medical system. She is unlikely to get support from family members and friends, either. They say "You're very brave!," "Aren't you worried that something will go wrong?," "You're being selfish," or "You're not thinking about the baby."
Why Not a Hospital Birthing Room?
"Home from home" and "birthing" rooms are popping up in hospitals all over the place, in a drive to attract women away from home birth and free-standing birth centers. Hospitals don't want to lose money. And most physicians believe that a hospital is the only safe place to have a baby. They tell women, "You could have everything you want in the hospital: music, soft lights, TV, a doula with you, an epidural, and safety too." But a woman who wants to have midwife care and a drug-free birth with no interventions may be transferred to specialized obstetric management as soon as there are any signs that her labor does not conform to a standard imposed by hospital protocol. She is simply wheeled across the corridor, often just because her membranes ruptured early or labor is slow.
In hospitals, a normal, healthy woman tends to be treated with all the interventions that are characteristic of high-risk labors. And because the birth is managed as if it is high-risk, it often becomes high-risk. This is the main reason why cesarean rates are rocketing. Now around one in every four women is delivered by surgery, and why obstetricians who are concerned about the unnecessary high rates of cesareans find it almost impossible to get them down.
In the work I do everything I have learned from women in countries around the world has convinced me that our medicalized way of birth is not the best way for most women. Yes, there are births where we should be grateful for the support of obstetric skills and high-tech intervention. But for most of us these complicate and impede the normal physiological process and make birth traumatic.
Action for Change
I am privileged to be part of a great international movement to reclaim childbirth for women and for families. It started almost apologetically in the '60s. We asked that women should be treated as human beings, be consulted about what was done to them, and be able to learn what was likely to happen and how they would be treated, and we helped them prepare themselves for birth with relaxation, breathing, and focused concentration.
My first book, The Experience of Childbirth, was published in 1962. I had just had my fourth baby, born at home, like the other three. I wrote when she was wanting a feed, about 5:00 a.m. each morning, using the quiet early-morning time. I felt it was important to tell women that birth could be an exciting, satisfying, and even ecstatic experience. It could be infused with the same longing and passion as lovemaking. I described my approach as "psycho-sexual." It wasn't about exercises you had to do or ways you must breathe, but giving yourself to the intense sensations of birth. Immediately that book was published, I started to hear from hundreds of women about their birth experiences, both positive and negative. Over the years, many more women have written to me from countries all over the world. For the first time women were voicing their deepest emotions about the experience of birth. It was as if they were able to express them after centuries of repression.
In England, women got together to start the Natural Childbirth Trust (later to change the "Natural" to "National," so that we represented all women, including those who had complicated births). We offered classes in education for birth, developed a teacher training scheme, and welcomed fathers to learn about birth, join in the discussions, and acquire practical skills, such as massage and giving physical support and cradling their partners in their arms as they gave birth. These ideas caught on, and there was often head-on conflict between them and the medical model of birth.
Then the professor of obstetrics at a major London teaching hospital issued an edict in 1982 that women could not labor and give birth off the bed and in any position they liked. They were not to be allowed to deliver kneeling, squatting, or on all fours. They must lie back against the pillows. With colleagues in the Active Birth Movement and the Association for Improving Maternity Services, I decided to organize what we thought would be a small demonstration outside that hospital. The night before the protest meeting, my phone rang and a voice announced itself as the director of crowd control for Scotland Yard, the police HQ. He told me that the crowds were going to be so great that we must switch the demonstration to another green space. Mounted police would be out to escort us. There were going to be so many that, though we could start to congregate in front of the hospital, we must march to Parliament Hill Fields. The next day we had 5,000 people out on the streets. The professor resigned, and from then on women could give birth in any position they liked, on or off the delivery bed.
This was followed in the '90s by a rebirth of midwifery in the United States and Canada, countries in which it had been virtually destroyed. At the same time, in countries where midwifery was already well established, such as New Zealand, Britain, and other European nations, midwives became much more confident about making their unique contribution to keeping childbirth normal and began to speak out about the importance of their woman-centered role. I remember how I marched with midwives and mothers in front of the Medical College in Ontario to call for the legalization of midwifery. The police told us that we had to keep moving. That was fine by me. So I led the march with my lifelike baby doll and homemade foam rubber vagina, birthing a baby, and rocking and rolling my pelvis in a birth dance, along the street with the TV cameras rolling.
I have always believed that protest needs to be informed by research and by carefully listening to women across the world. I have studied, lectured, and learned from women in countries as far apart as South Africa, the Caribbean, Japan, Australia, Colombia, Mexico, Hungary, Iceland, and Russia, as well as in pretty well all the countries of Europe and around North America. It is exhilarating. Women are starting to speak with one voice.
The Challenge Now
I believe that while women control the territory in which they give birth can we be certain that there will not be a medical takeover of what is often one of the most important experiences in any woman's life. For the vast majority of us, those who are healthy, whose babies are developing normally, are not born pre-term, and are presenting head down, planned home birth with a midwife may well be safer than hospital birth. This is because women who have babies in their own home are not subjected to hazardous interventions, like being harpooned to an IV and an electronic fetal monitor, receiving uterine stimulation with induction and acceleration of labor, being trapped on a delivery table, legs up in lithotomy stirrups, and getting a routine episiotomy. As a result there is less chance of them and their babies becoming ill after the birth.
Women must have genuine choice. Not just between different hospitals, different obstetricians, a birth room with a rocking chair and patchwork quilt (with high tech equipment hidden behind a curtain) or a delivery room glistening with stainless steel and packed with electronics. I believe, also, that every woman should have access to skilled midwives, and that every midwife should have the experience of working in a birth center and assisting at home births. Only in this way do caregivers learn how to keep birth normal.
When women choose this type of care they can discover the power within themselves to give birth with the same spontaneity with which they breathe and move. And they go on from there to make the transition to motherhood with similar confidence.
I wrote Birth Your Way to help every woman who wants this to be her experience of birth. (Sheila Kitzinger)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I found her ability to look at birth culturally to be interesting.