Elevate Difference

Birth Matters: A Midwife's Manifesta

When I saw Birth Matters by famed midwife Ina May Gaskin, I jumped at the opportunity to read and review it. Gaskin has contributed to the field of midwifery and childbirth education in vast and meaningful ways. She serves as an icon for many, and I, for one, was eager to learn what she had to say in this new book.

Having already read extensively on the subject of pregnancy, labor, and birth, I found that Gaskin’s book did not reveal anything completely new. However, where other authors have had to rely mostly on secondhand knowledge and data collected elsewhere, Gaskin was able to insert personal stories and years of experience into her writing. This obviously added quite a bit of authority to what she had to say.

Besides the strength in her convictions, Gaskin brought to her writing a powerful feminist stance and a tremendous feeling of sisterhood. She does not only claim to believe in women; she lives this message. Her unwavering trust in women’s bodies and capacities to make the right choices for them based on unbiased, accurate information felt every bit as empowering as I’m sure she meant it.

The issue at hand, however, is that women in the United States today are being fed a host of half-truths and even outright lies that directly affect their decision-making when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. For instance, Caesarean sections are being promoted as easier, pain-free means of giving birth. But are they really? How come we rarely hear about the risk factors involved in this serious abdominal surgical procedure? Why is it that the United States has higher infant and maternal mortality rates than other developed countries?

According to Gaskin, Americans are relying too much on modern technologies and not enough on the wisdom passed down through generations or the innate knowledge that women’s bodies have about giving birth. Instead of fetoscopes, there is a higher reliance on electronic fetal monitors. Rather than allowing the baby to emerge in its own time, medical professionals are utilizing Cytotec to induce labor even though the drug is not FDA-approved for this purpose. Some feminists believe that reproductive technologies will help even the playing field, or even erase biological differences that could potentially hold them back in the fight for equality. For Gaskin, this perspective fails to see the beauty and strength that a birthing woman exudes, not to mention the natural mechanisms that are in place to assist a laboring woman during this life-changing time.

Besides the wealth of information that Gaskin provides, the parts of Birth Matters that touched me most were the birth stories that were interspersed throughout. Each account shares extensive detail about the mother’s sensations during the entire process of labor and delivery. I couldn't help but tear up as I read them because they captured so much warmth, power, and love. In the end, it is exactly this that Gaskin wants to share with the world.

Written by: Shana Mattson, April 14th 2011