Every second Wednesday, our blog features a book review as part of our Book Club series! Check here to discover the latest books on topics such as pregnancy, labor, postpartum, and recovery from birth. If you have read the featured book or if you just finished a new and exciting book, please feel free to leave your comments and title suggestions below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Simply Give Birth
As a long-time fan of Hathor the Cowgoddess comics (and more recently, her unmasked version “Mama Is”), I already knew that Heather Cushman-Dowdee had a great sense of humor, an eye for everyday beauty, and a sincere and unwavering passionate belief that birth works. It is no great surprise then that this wonderful addition to the birth stories genre would spring from the mind of the “Goddess of Moo” herself.
Full disclosure: I am so burnt out on birth stories. When I was pregnant with my first, I devoured them. I practically memorized Spiritual Midwifery. I scoured the internet for more, especially loving the ones that were long, long, long with minute detail. Then after my homebirth-turned-cesarean, I wanted to read VBAC stories. VBAC, HBAC, UBAC… you name it. Of course, I wrote my own – long, navel-gazing, full of detail and soul-searching. And a few times I’ve had the opportunity to read and review other birth story compilations. But blasphemy of blasphemies, I, the die-hard birth junkie, was becoming bored of birth stories. So I fully intended to read this book and review it, but mentally I was groaning a tiny little bit, thinking “oh no, not another birth story book”.
From the first peek at this book, however, I knew it was not going to be your usual fare. True to the crunchy earth-mama I knew Heather to be, my book arrived lovingly protected in half of a brown Whole Foods bag. (I could almost detect the scent of homeschooling projects and breastmilk wafting out of the envelope). It was right before naptime so I took my daughter into our room to nurse her to sleep and have my first skim through the book. Immediately I was hooked by the intro and the long delicious quotes from a birth story I already knew and loved, that of Teresa Stire’s HBA3C. (Many ICANers will already be familiar with Teresa’s amazing video found here.)
These stories are full of moments where I laughed out loud. I loved Heather Farley’s choice of birth music “I like to move it, move it.” Talitha Sherman (and her amusing husband) had me grinning with this little exchange:
“Oh my god, the baby’s coming!”
He said, “Okay I’ll call the midwife.”
I screamed, “No you don’t understand! The baby’s coming now!!”
So he went to call the midwife.
And I, of course, was pleased to see my friend Jennifer Smith Bax’s story of her UBA2C, recalling talking to her after that birth and hearing this fiery note of triumph when she spoke about what her body had done. What a treat to be able to hear her voice internally as I read her story again. It is the title of Jennifer’s story that resonated with me so much – it could easily be a subtitle to this book: Simple, Everyday Miracles. It is that spirit that pervades this book, the everyday descriptions of the banality of birth (Janet Fraser talking about the sounds of birth says she “relished the soft splat of placenta dropping into a salad bowl”) but mixed with that sacred sense of awe that anyone who has attended a truly unimpeded birth will recognize. Melissa Bellemare’s husband writes, “I recognize the expression on Melissa’s face… she looks far away, deep down in the faraway depths of her own body and psyche. Right here and now; carpe diem; no way around it.”
It is hard to narrow down some of the bits I want to share with you in this review. Like Heather in her introduction, I feel like I might start to quote just a tiny bit and then just heck, reprint the whole thing because I just can’t help myself, they’re just so irresistible. So let me just say it: I don’t own stock in Heather’s fabulous creative brain and therefore don’t benefit from this at all. But I want you to buy this book. I want you to buy this book even if you are burnt out on birth stories, or think you are. I want you to buy this book and share it with friends and leave it “accidentally” in places where people might really need to see it. Part of the work we are all doing as birth activists, doing our own little “mother-sized” pieces, is not just hammering home the research and being able to spew facts and figures that run in our heads like some kind of birth-junkie “CNN ticker.” This very important part is to keep on changing the way women think about birth as a life event. Not everyone is going to have a birth like the ones in this book. And not to say that a painful or “scary” birth story can’t have truth in it or facilitate growth when told with honesty and authenticity. But we know that we live in a culture with an overriding belief of birth as the most frightening, painful and “gross” experience that a woman is likely to go through.
Hopefully, the bright, funny and simply-told stories in this book will be a salve to that rough spot in our collective cultural consciousness. Find it on Amazon here. This link uses the Amazon Smile program which donates a % of each sale to ICAN when used.
Reviewer: Krista Cornish Scott, originally published October 2009
Author: Heather Cushman-Dowdee is the creator of the Hathor the Cowgoddess and Mama Is… comics. Find her work here.
Photography Credit: Aga Putra – www.UnSplash.com