Sunday, 4 June 2017

The Positive Birth Book

I don't know whether I have mentioned this before, but in the "real world" (although on as well as off the internet) I facilitate a local group for the Positive Birth Movement. The founder and leader of the Positive Birth Movement, Milli Hill, has poured her extensive knowledge and experience into The Positive Birth Book, and I was delighted to receive a copy to review.

This book is a really fresh approach to thinking about pregnancy and birth. Milli starts the book by looking at how our society sees and portrays birth, and how this affects the ideas pregnant women have about their own approaching births.Then she settles into an honest description of what birth is actually like, taking the medical division of the three stages of labour (active labour; birth; birth of the placenta) and turning it into a fourteen stage journey, plus an exploration of the experience of cesarean birth. Like any conventional book on birth there is a certain amount of myth expelling to be done, and there is a balanced discussion of the various coping strategies and methods of pain relief that most women can choose from during labour. What you won't find in a conventional birth book are Milli's two steel beams of choice: you have a choice; you have human rights in childbirth. These two are fundamental to improving women's experiences of childbirth. Time and time again I hear women describing how they are "not allowed" to do a particular thing in relation to their birth, be it give birth vaginally, carry past a certain gestation, or give birth in a place of their choosing. Doctors and midwives do not have the authority to tell women what to do with their bodies. Milli follows this statement of choice with a detailed discussion on how to make a birth plan that works for you, and what you might like to consider. She discusses equally different birth place options, and her "What if..." section can be a real help in working through any unexpected experiences along the way. Finally she ends with a section on "The Birth of a Mother," seeing the experience of birth through beyond the arrival of the baby.

I love the tone of this book. It's informal, but at the same time manages to convey a vast amount of detailed information. The real life birth stories that illustrate each section really help to do this, turning the theory and facts on paper into relatable human experience. Milli isn't afraid to deal with subjects that are often neglected but are life changing for women, such as having a child with an illness or disability; loss; birth trauma; postnatal depression; puerperal psychosis; or premature birth. This frankness can only benefit women who find themselves facing these situations. There are some really useful tools in this book too. Milli is skilled at pointing women at where they can find the highest level research and guidance on important subjects. Her "steel beams" teach women that the decision making for their births is their own, that the power lies with them. The amazing visual birth plan icons designed by Kate Evans help women to make their own choices and convey them to their care givers. You can download these icons for personal use (and for free) here. The BRAIN and HEART acronyms are great for helping women to feel in control when facing the unexpected.

Usually I recommend that every woman read Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth. That is a wonderfully inspiring ode to what the female body is capable of, and should give every woman confidence in herself. However, I have had some friends tell me it is too "hippie" for them. Well, this book isn't hippie, but it isn't conventional either. I think The Positive Birth Book is my new go-to for expectant mothers, and it's certainly suitable for their partners and supporters. If you are giving birth in the near future I would definitely recommend this book. Thank you Milli!