Sunday, May 15, 2011

Book Review: The Doula Guide to Birth

Today's book review: The Doula Guide to Birth: Secrets Every Pregnant Woman Should Know, by Ananda Lowe and Rachel Zimmerman.

First of all: hey, the first author, Ananda Lowe, is a doula without children! Woo! As someone who's planning to go into birthwork long before having children, I find it very encouraging to read a book by a doula who's clearly successful, loved by her clients, and respected.

Okay, onto the book. I really liked it and, I have to say, of the books I've read so far, this is probably the first one I'd recommend to a pregnant friend, because it seems like a really great starting point. Of course, it's a book about doulas, so it's fairly set in the hospital paradigm, but it's very pro-natural-birth.

Here's what I liked best about it:
  • It gives the readers concrete tools to help them in finding the best care provider(s) and setting themselves up for a good birth. It has these nice little "Ask your doctor now!" boxes sprinkled throughout, clearly highlighted and set apart from the text, to signal "hey, if you read anything in this book, read this!" I thought that was terrific. Concrete directions for a woman who may be new to all this is surely helpful. I also liked how it wasn't one big list, it was little questions sprinkled throughout - so, a busy woman reading this over a few weeks would be able to bring up these questions as she went along in the book, instead of deluging her doctor with questions at week 30.
  • The most open-minded book I've read so far in recognizing that not all birth is going to involve a coupled mother-father dyad. This book recognizes that a woman giving birth might have a female partner, no partner, an estranged partner, a partner who isn't the father of the baby, or might even be giving birth to a baby for someone else (surrogacy or adoption). And it doesn't just give one shout-out to those things at the beginning and then spend the rest of the book talking about mom and dad; those considerations are integrated throughout the book. Very thoughtful, very inclusive.
  • It's pro-natural-birth, but in a gentle, accepting way. It's not all "omg, if you have epidural and pitocin, horrible things will happen!!" It's more, "hey, if you have an epidural and pitocin, you'll be at risk for more side effects and complications. Why not try going without them and seeing how that goes? We won't judge you if you end up getting the epidural, though. It's all good!" In that way, I think it may be very good reading for the woman who just assumes that she'll be getting an epidural. It gently says, hey, why not consider this instead?, and of course gives lots of great tips for coping with labor without an epidural, but without being too pushy or judgy.
  • At the beginning of the book, they mention that there will be a chapter on how to deal with unexpected medical intervention. "Uh oh," I thought. "Is this going to be all about, yeah, haha, you might wish for a natural birth, but you're not gonna get it, so deal with it"? But actually, it was very good! The book was really strongly pro-natural-birth and strong on giving mothers the tools to achieve that, if they wanted it. The "dealing with medical interventions" chapter was just focused on giving mothers the tools to deal with medical interventions if they came up: how to negotiate with the doctor, how to choose treatments, and how to cope with the unexpected. I thought the chapter was realistic but still hopeful. I liked their suggestions to think about, for example, if you're having a homebirth, how will you feel if you have to transfer to a hospital? How will you cope with that? It's good to think of coping strategies in advance, and hope you don't have to use them. 
One teensy-tiny criticism I might have would be that this book is very focused on first-time mothers. I suppose that's fairly reasonable: all woman who have children will have a first child, after all, but not all of them will have a second child! I also imagine that the first pregnancy tends to involve the most reading and research. (With the exception, perhaps, of woman who go for the I-trust-my-OB route the first time, have a traumatic birth experience, and then the second pregnancy is the research-intensive one - this is a story I've heard quite a few times.)

It did make me laugh a little bit, though, when the book assumed that only was it the reader's first child, but that it was also the reader's parents' first grandchild! I imagine giving this to my aunt when she was pregnant with her first child, but her mother's sixth grandchild... heh.

I felt like this book was somewhat research-lite. It definitely talked about a lot of different birth interventions and their pros and cons, but not in nearly as much detail as some other books. There were a few sections where they would mention interventions, and kinda say, well, you can do more research on this if it matters to you, but we're not going to talk about it too much here.

I thought that that was okay, though. Like I said, this book is a great starting point. It gives a broad overview of birth, birth-related issues, and how a doula helps, but doesn't go too deep. I wouldn't tell a woman to read only this book, for sure, but it's a nice place to start. Written in a very warm, friendly tone, very optimistic, and full of plenty of tools and recommendations for talking with care providers and digging deeper, I think this is a very valuable book for pregnant women.

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