My friend Julie recommended Ina May's Guide to Childbirth to me when I was pregnant with my first baby. Reading it prepared me for giving birth more than anything else I read or watched or was told during my entire first pregnancy. Naturally, I turned to it again while pregnant with by next baby to refresh my memory. If you or someone you know is pregnant right now, even if you're/they're not considering a midwife-assisted birth, I strongly recommend this book as an excellent preparatory tool.
Ina May Gaskin is widely recognized as the nation's premier midwife. She's attended more than 1,200 births, so I think you'll agree she knows what she's writing about here. In this book, she guides the reader through the birthing process with a friendly, knowledgeable style.
The first 120 pages are filled with birth stories told by many, many mothers from all walks of life and spanning decades. Some of them gave birth in a hospital and had a later child with a midwife, while others turned to midwives right away. I especially found this first section to be helpful because it illustrates how different every birth is, and how following your body's signals and doing what it seems to need can lead to a quicker, easier birth.
The rest of the book is a guide to pregnancy and birth, from advice on how to choose a practitioner that's right for you, to a step-by-step explanation of the stages of childbirth, to a discussion of modern midwifery.
While this is definitely a pro-midwifery book, it does not take the stance that all hospitals are bad places to give birth. Not all mothers are suited to natural childbirth, and at-risk pregnancies are generally better off at a hospital with emergency medical intervention at hand if needed. But for someone like me who wants to have natural births, a midwife-assisted birth is definitely a sound option.
(Originally posted on The Huggermugger Blog on Mar. 3, 2010.)