Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth From the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank

I’ve just received a copy of Randi Hutter Epstein’s new book Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth From the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank. I’ve been so busy I’ve only had a chance to skim the book briefly but it looks fascinating. I’m pleased to say that Randi devoted an entire chapter to unassisted childbirth! I can’t say that the chapter is entirely complimentary but she does have some good things to say about UC, and I’m thrilled that a mainstream writer has at least acknowledged that the concept exists! Randi has been a friend of mine since she first interviewed me for the 2002 article she wrote about unassisted childbirth for the New York Times. In 2007, Randi flew to Boulder (with bagels in hand) to interview me for the book. I wish her all the best with it! Below is a review of the book written by The Green Doula. To purchase of copy of the book visit RandiHutterEpstein.com.

Every once in a while I come across one of those books that I can absolutely not put down. To be quite frank, in the past, those books have been in the likes of historical fiction or Harry Potter (my literary guilty pleasure). Though I have come across several books about birth which I have found very informative, I had never felt the extreme urge to carry such a book with me everywhere I went till I finished its 300 pages in one weekend. That changed this weekend.

Author Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D. has unknowingly recruited me as her new enthusiastic fan. In her new book, Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth From the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, Epstein weaves together a collection of well researched historical facts, fads, and tales into a very eye opening chronological history of Western birthing and women’s health care. I am often asked, “If the Midwifery Model is the ideal model, why are hospital births so popular? Didn’t obstetricians help make birthing easier at the turn of the century?”. This book answers those such questions and more in a shear way that neither left, right or middle wing can deny. This is not a book that dives into the history of midwifery. It is a definite eye opener bound to captivate its reader on the history of obstetrics and the unfortunate altered perception of “mainstream” birth today. I even believe that the male audience will find this book just as enjoyable/shocking as Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. There are a lot of interesting parallels between the two books (I coincidentally started reading Guns, Germs, and Steel first till I saw this book in B&N on Thursday night). It will be clear after reading this we must fight harder for better birth choices ones based on respect and time based models such as midwifery. The case is undeniable. Why continue to let the legacy of characters like the J.P. Morgan and James Marion Sims reign (read their back stories in this book) over the ancient wisdom and traditions of woman’s past when it comes to our most cherish power and gift as women? Why continue with the sabotage?

This is definitely not a how to book or what to expect book, it is a full on historical book. But unlike our society, Epstein does not leave the important facts out (no matter how hard they are to swallow). She puts them front and center. I do feel that this book should be read by women and men alike to fully understand the foundation in which women’s health care (under the Western Model) was constructed under. This book will empower you to ask questions that you may have never even thought to ask and answer some questions that have been lingering for generations.

Epstein, a medical journalist for the New York Times, Washington Post, and more, has a refreshing talent for conveying weighty facts in a humorous digestible manner. She will also leave you with your jaw on the floor as a side effect of disbelief. Next time you walk by the Who Knew Section at Barnes and Nobles or are browsing on Amazon.com, pick up this compelling, powerful thought provoking must read.

Posted on January 17, 2010 and filed under unassisted childbirth.

The Original Birth Attendants

I’ve often heard midwives say that midwives were the original birth attendants or that midwifery is the world’s oldest profession (or second oldest profession, as the case may be). Some also claim that we know midwifery is “natural” because even animals have “midwives.” And while I certainly give midwives credit for helping women give birth - both now and in the past - none of the above statements are true. The original birth attendants were friends or family members of the woman giving birth. Judith Goldsmith writes in her book Childbirth Wisdom from the World’s Oldest Societies that, “Many students of childbirth, however, speak of the midwife as woman's first helper. In reality, though, even the midwife is a relative newcomer on the scene. In those tribal communities where birth is aided, the assistant is most commonly the woman's own mother.....A casual reading of anthropology does not always make these close family ties apparent, because often the European writer, seeing things in the light of his own background, referred to the person assisting the mother as the ‘midwife’ whether or not she was called this or considered as such by her own society. Further examination, however, reveals that the so-called midwife was very often a close relative of the mother, with no more special knowledge of birth than any other mother in the tribe. This underlines an important point: in a large part of the world, except in difficult cases, a birth required no more specialized help than the members of a woman’s own family could provide."

Michel Odent, M.D. echoes these sentiments in his recently released book The Functions of the Orgasms: “The concept of a birth attendant is more recent than is commonly believed, although a mother or mother figure was probably around when a woman was giving birth in primitive societies. This was mostly to protect the privacy of the birth woman against the presence of wandering men or animals. No doubt this is how midwifery began.”

Odent also claims that “Everywhere in the world there has been a tendency to dramatically alter the original role of the birth attendant, to deny the birthing woman’s need for privacy and to socialize childbirth. More often than not, the midwife has become an agent of the cultural milieu, transmitting its specific beliefs and rituals.”

Veronika Sophia Robinson, publisher of the UK magazine The Mother, expresses similar views in her book The Birthkeepers: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition: “We’ve been led to believe that midwifery is the oldest profession, but this is a romanticized notion, and not a fact. It is perpetuated by practitioners of midwifery and childbirth. When assisted and observed birth did start becoming common place in our history, the attendant was not a specialist in birth, but most usually the mother of the woman in labour.”

As far as animals, some do give birth in the presence of other animals (although most seek seclusion). But these animals cannot be considered “midwives” in any sense of the word. As with tribal cultures, the animals “attending” are simply other members of the pack or herd. You can be sure that none of these “attendants” are sticking their paws inside the mother animal’s vagina, or telling her when and when not to push.

So why does this matter? It matters because as unassisted childbirth grows in popularity, I and other unassisted birth advocates are hearing from more and more midwives and midwife supporters who claim that we’re infringing on their territory or that unassisted birth isn’t “natural.” Some even write that (in the case of an unassisted birth gone wrong) we’re “giving homebirth a bad name.” But the truth is, not only is unassisted childbirth natural, it’s also safe, provided a woman doesn’t live in poverty, and the birth isn’t interfered with either physically or psychologically. Throughout history, healthy tribal women have successfully given birth without medical assistance.

I recognize that many women find the presence of a midwife helpful in birth, and I hope that midwives will continue to be available - to those who want them. But birth doesn’t “belong” to midwives. Nor does it belong to doctors, the AMA or the state. Birth belongs to mothers and babies – and ideally to fathers should they choose to be involved, and it’s time this truth was recognized.

Posted on April 19, 2009 and filed under unassisted childbirth.

An Unconvention and a new book about unassisted childbirth

I'm excited to announce that plans are in the works for an "UnConvention"! Featured speakers will include yours truly speaking about unassisted homebirth, Lee Stranahan speaking about unjobbing (earning a living without a job), and Sandra Dodd speaking about unschooling. Lee and Lauren Stranahan, the primary organizers, have put up a website and created an email list for those wishing to stay informed about this exciting event! I'd also encourage you to check out Lee and Sandra's personal websites.

I've only recently become aware of Sandra's wonderful work, but have "known" Lee and Lauren for several years. In addition to being unassisted birthers and unschoolers, Lee is also a writer, photographer and independent filmmaker. He recently quit his job as a graphic artist for NBC and is determined to earn a living doing what he loves. As a recent unjobber myself (in January I closed my nanny placement service), I'm especially interested in hearing what Lee has to say!

In other news, Veronika Robinson, publisher of The Mother magazine , has just released her fabulous new book - The Birthkeepers: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition. I can't say enough good things about this book! Veronika's words are both soothing and inspiring, as are those of the women whose lovely birth stories are featured in the book. Since I'm not much of a reviewer, here is the "official" description:

"The Birthkeepers is a personal invitation to birthing with ecstasy. Veronika Robinson, editor of The Mother magazine, reveals the three secrets to easy, natural vaginal birth. Through examining childbirth history ~ our evolutionary blueprint ~ and reading stories from modern day birthkeepers, we can begin to reclaim an ancient birthing tradition, and make birth safe and sacred again. Despite a dominant birth culture and media images which portray birth as deeply traumatic, painful, deadly and dangerous, this isn't how evolution designed our entry into motherhood. How we give birth, and the experience we have, isn't just a matter of luck or having the best medical attendants. We can all choose to give birth in peace, painlessly, and with pleasure. This exploration of unobserved (unassisted) childbirth shows that what's good for the birthing mother, is also good for the baby arriving birthside. The Birthkeepers is the first UK book on unassisted childbirth."

In the next few weeks I'll be adding it to my bookstore but for now those wishing to buy it can send me $25.95 ($21.95 plus $4.00 postage) via Paypal - laurashanley@comcast.net. If you're in the UK I'd recommend buying it from Veronika directly.

Posted on April 2, 2009 and filed under unassisted childbirth.

Thoughts on 20/20's Extreme Motherhood show

Last Friday, "20/20" (ABC TV) finally aired their "Extreme Motherhood" show. All of the segments are now online (click on the videos in the articles): Unassisted Childbirth and Homebirth with Midwives, Orgasmic Birth and Long-term Breastfeeding. (There were also segments on "fake babies" and "serial surrogates" but they didn't interest me and I didn't watch them.)

The homebirth piece was quite short (5 minutes) but I was happy with how I was presented, and felt that the essence of what I wanted to convey came through! The beautiful opening shots of the mountains were taken near my home in Boulder.

There's been somewhat of an uproar in the homebirth community because there was no distinction made between unassisted and midwife assisted homebirth. This surprised me, as the producer had read my book (Unassisted Childbirth) and spent several hours (both on and off camera) interviewing me. I'm sure she knew they were two different things. Perhaps it was an editing mistake, or maybe they didn't feel it was important to distinguish between the two approaches to birth. Yesterday I wrote to ABC and encouraged them to do another show, specifically about unassisted childbirth. Actually, the producer that originally contacted me last year had hopes of doing an hour-long show completely devoted to unassisted childbirth. But apparently the higher-ups nixed the idea.

Most homebirthers were also disappointed by how Abby Epstein's birth was presented. Abby directed Ricki Lake's film The Business of Being Born. Because Abby transferred to the hospital (after going into labor prematurely and discovering that her baby was breech), her story was used as an example of a homebirth gone horribly wrong. While it's true that Abby was fairly panicky in the cab ride to the hospital, in the actual film I didn't get the impression that she or her baby were in grave danger. Her midwife felt there was a problem, and they headed to the hospital. In any case, I was glad to see the film mentioned, and thought Ricki did a nice job answering Elizabeth Vargas's questions.

The orgasmic birth segment was excellent! Debra Pascali-Bonaro, producer of the new film Orgasmic Birth, did a great job explaining the concepts behind the film. Amber Hartnell, whose incredible birth was featured in the film, spoke eloquently, as well, as did Christiane Northrup, MD, author of "Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom." I was interviewed for this segment also, but didn't make the final cut. A couple good articles have been posted about orgasmic birth in the past few days: Orgasmic Birth: The Natural Reality Behind The Hype by Lee Stranahan for the Huffington Post (I was interviewed for this one) and Orgasms During Childbirth? It Happens by Yvonne Fulbright for Fox News.

I was pleasantly surprised to see my dear friend Veronika Robinson, publisher of the Mother Magazine (UK), in the breastfeeding segment! I didn't feel this segment was as positive as the others but Veronika spoke beautifully, as usual.

While the show left a lot to be desired, I was happy to see these subjects dealt with on national television. It was a good introduction, if nothing else.

Posted on January 6, 2009 and filed under unassisted childbirth.

Homebirth on ABC's "20/20" Jan. 2nd

Jan. 2nd I will be speaking about unassisted childbirth on ABC TV's "20/20" as part of a segment on homebirth (both unassisted and midwife-assisted). There will also be segments on orgasmic birth and long-term breastfeeding. This week, several articles in connection with the program have been posted on the ABC news web site:

Unassisted childbirth and homebirth with midwives: Mothers-to-Be Saying No to Modern Medicine

Orgasmic birth: Labor Orgasms Called 'Best-Kept Secret'

Video about long-term breastfeeding: Extreme Breastfeeding

As usual, there will be negative comments from those who disapprove of these practices, but hopefully some truth will get through. If nothing else, it should get people talking!

Posted on December 10, 2008 and filed under unassisted childbirth.