4 books that changed my perspective on pregnancy and birthing

Unlike many women, my reaction when I read “Pregnant, 2-3 weeks” on that pee stick was mixed. Although I’d always known deep down I wanted to be a mom, the timing and circumstances were less than ideal. I was single, had no fixed address, and had planned on spending the next year of my life travelling Latin America.

But, as I keep learning (over and over again…), plans are subject to change.

So there I was, standing by myself in my parents’ bathroom, feeling a million emotions I’d never felt before, and tears of joy, guilt, and awe spilling from my eyes.

When the shock wore off, I knew I had to get my life together for this baby. Where could I even start? I began to house hunt, buy secondhand items for the baby, book appointments, and, of course, READ.

I already knew the mainstream views on pregnancy and birth. I wanted some alternative perspectives to be able to make informed decisions.

And with that, I give you the four books that left a lasting impact on me and changed the way I thought about pregnancy, labour, and giving birth. If you’re expecting, or you’re planning on conceiving, I hope you’ll give them a read too!

1.  Expecting Better by Emily Oster

This book is basically Mythbusters for pregnancy.

Prior to reading it, I believed that pregnancy had to be super restrictive in order to be safe: no coffee, alcohol, deli meat, tuna, undercooked meat and eggs… I’m sure you’re familiar with the list.

Enter Emily Oster, an economist and professor at the University of Chicago.

Why would I trust what an economist has to say about pregnancy?

The answer is simple: research.

This woman is obsessed with research and statistics. And during her own pregnancy, she dug deep to find the truth behind pregnancy “rules”. Like me, she wasn’t satisfied when she asked her doctor questions and the answer was a vague, “It’s probably fine.” She wanted hard facts and research to guide her decisions. And, just like decision-making in economics, she combines the research with her own “plus or minus preferences”, meaning that what’s right for one person during pregnancy won’t be right for someone else.

Case in point: To me, the risks of eating sushi were low enough that I felt OK treating myself to it a few time since during my pregnancy. Other women might feel that there is no safe amount of sushi to eat when pregnant — it comes down to the individual’s comfort level.

2.  Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

Ina May is considered to be the authority in midwifery and natural birth in the United States.

The first half of the book is filled with positive stories of natural birth. My heart would race as I read these, thinking about how this would soon be me.

The second half of the book addresses pretty much every other topic related to birth, including the different stages of labour, the mind-body connection, medical interventions,  things to consider when choosing a caregiver, and what Ina May refers to as “Sphincter Law” — how relaxing the muscles in your face can help your cervix to dilate faster.

There are tons of awesome suggestions and techniques for natural birth in here. I incorporated many of them into my labour and birth experience and found them really helpful.

3.  Sacred Pregnancy by Anni Daulter

Don’t let the title throw you off. It may seem a bit “hippie-dippie” to some, but there is so much wisdom in this book. Sacred Pregnancy was recommended to me by a friend about halfway through my pregnancy. I only wish I’d started it sooner.

Our current culture makes pregnancy almost 100% about the baby. We shop for the baby, prepare their nursery, read baby books on everything from nutrition to parenting. And while it is definitely important to get all your ducks in a row before baby arrives, where is mom in this equation?

The only consideration given to pregnant mothers in our culture is aesthetics — having a “belly only” pregnancy, dressing in cute maternity clothes. But what we fail to acknowledge is that pregnancy is the last time a woman will ever be completely autonomous. Pregnancy is THE most life-changing event a woman will ever go through, so why don’t we do a better job as a society of making sure women are prepared for the enormous transition into motherhood?

Sacred Pregnancy is a book/journal combination that leads mothers through each week of pregnancy with a focus on — GASP — themselves. Topics include body image, cravings, exercise, intimacy, forgiveness, and nurturing yourself. Each section provides suggestions for coping through each stage of pregnancy, as well as journal prompts and space for writing reflections. This book makes mom’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being just as important as baby’s, and in fact, suggests that they are intertwined. It helped me slow down and take time to address the massive emotional and physical changes I was going through. I noticed a huge improvement in my mood and overall outlook once I started reading this book.

4.  Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan

Although I never planned on strictly following the hypnobirthing approach, I loved Marie Mongan’s idea that birthing doesn’t need to involve pain or fear, and that the body is capable of giving birth peacefully, without force or strain. I experienced this firsthand during my own labour, when my body gently pushed the baby’s head into the birth canal on its own, before I even knew my cervix was completely dilated and effaced — no pushing.

Hypnobirthing emphasizes the mind-body connection. Marie Mongan believes that fear of labour and birth is what causes pain. The whole idea behind “hypnosis” is that words create thoughts and emotions, and those thoughts and emotions can either be positive or negative. If they are negative, our beliefs and experiences are negative. This is why many women are afraid of giving birth — they have been conditioned to believe that it is painful and even dangerous.

If you plan on having a natural birth, I highly recommend the relaxation exercises in this book. The CD that comes with the book has a guided relaxation led by Marie Mongan that is super effective — in fact, when I practiced with it prior to going into labour, I was able to enter a deeper state of relaxation than I’ve ever experienced in my life. This is what they refer to as “hypnosis” — a deep and complete state of relaxation when the mind is extremely suggestible.

I used these relaxations in the earlier stages of my own labour and they helped me take my mind off the pain and discomfort of contractions. The exercises never completely eliminated the pain, but they certainly reduced it — to the point that I was 9 centimetres dilated before I was admitted to the labour and delivery unit in the hospital.

What were your favourite pregnancy-related books? Share in the comments below!

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