I've referenced and recommended Birthing From Within several times throughout my website, but I've never done an actual “book review.” A visitor requested that I give the book some proper attention and I agree – this review is long overdue.
Birthing from Within feels like an old, comforting friend to me. There are only a few pregnancy and birth books that have that practical, timeless quality.
I highly recommend Birthing From Within: An Extra-Ordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation – I'll say that up front. The first several sections of the book are excellent and there's really nothing else like them. They allow you to get in and explore what's going on inside of you – your own thoughts, expectations, worries, and concerns. I've personally found the exercises to be invaluable.
Birthing From Within is unique in the exercises you're given as you work through the book. There are a lot of writing exercises. And you're introduced to the concept of birth art. I highly recommend you work though the writing and art exercises. Nobody but you needs to see your work 😉 You'll be very surprised just how helpful these exercises are in allowing you to explore preparation for birth.
Author Pam England has done a superb job. She begins the book by talking a bit about Birthing From Within classes, which are what the book came out of. She also shares her own personal experiences.
I'll review the book based on sections. Each section is broken down into several chapters.
Discovering Your Question
Section One begins by asking you to “find your question” – what do you most need before you go into labor. England asserts that this is different for each and every woman and I agree with her.
You and I come to childbirth from different places and with different needs. We prepare in many of the same ways – but there is important internal work that is very personal to you. Birthing from Within not only acknowledges this, it embraces it and guides you through your own personal work.
This section tackles any beliefs you may hold about birth. It helps you to realize what cultural assumptions you may have absorbed and accepted as fact.
It also discusses the natural worry that comes with your pregnancy, and the influence of birth stories and the importance of connecting with other women in some way.
England discusses the importance of diet in this section. The chapter emphasizes the importance of protein and pregnancy and her guidelines are relatively sound. Birthing From Within does much better than many other books – but I still believe you need to go above and beyond in your research to assure you have the best possible prenatal nutrition.
Perceptions Through Art
There are several chapters devoted to birth art – again I highly recommend you work through the exercises in these chapters. You'll explore the art other women have produced and see how much it helped them. Embrace the chance to help yourself through the same work 🙂
You'll be able to explore through many different artistic mediums. I greatly enjoyed using chalks and truly found the work helpful. I did choose to do my birth art while I was alone (or just had small children around) and didn't share with anyone – but it still helped me greatly.
Feathering the Nest
The third section of Birthing from Within covers preparing your birth place. It emphasizes the importance of asking questions before you get in the middle of your birthing – I couldn't agree with it more and I like the clear emphasis England has given. She also discusses figuring out what you do want in birth.
This section tackles symbols in birthing and digs into cultural expectations again. I feel like a broken record here, but the work in this section is so very important. Work through it with honesty and you'll be surprised at just how negative perceptions have crept into your beliefs – and you'll feel empowered to let them go.
England discusses why she thinks birth plans are not a good idea. In general I tend to think birth plans are not needed. However, I've seen some resources use birth plans in an intelligent way. If you're looking for guidance on a birth plan this book isn't going to be your answer. But the perspective on birth plans is a good one to take into consideration, even if you ultimately do create one – it'll help you be realistic.
Section Three sums up by talking about how important privacy can be for birthing, and by discussing home birth. Good information in these chapters.
You are Powerful
Section four tackles how to get to and through your birthing time with power. This is my favorite section of the book and I have turned to this section over and over and over again through my pregnancies.
In fact, chapter 20: Even Paper Tigers Can Bite is enough all by itself for me to recommend Birthing From Within to you. And it's only 2 pages long! The chapter helps you to probe and work through fears, anxieties, and reservations you may have as you prepare for giving birth.
Don't worry – we all have them. I've had four babies naturally with no complications and I was working through this chapter during my fourth pregnancy. There are always things that need to be worked through. This is the only book I've seen that has exercises to truly help you uncover, face, and move through your fears and worries (both rational and irrational).
The next few chapters are practical “nuts and bolts” kinds of chapters, created to give you a good overview of what to expect from labor, and how best to work with it. There's also a chapter on how to really give birth if you need a cesarean, and a chapter addressing possible issues you may have with the baby's father being or not being present at the birth.
For Your Partner
Section Five goes into more detail for fathers and birth partners, giving them plenty of good information. England isn't so much a fan of fathers taking on the “coach” role in labor. I've always had the desire to have the presence of someone with me during labor, though not necessarily “coaching” me, so I can see where she's coming from. However I do think that having the father (or birth partner) work through a childbirth education course prior to the birth day is very important.
This section explores pain in labor and how to deal with. There is a lot of information in this section and I think it's a good and practical section. There are exercises you can work through to “practice” labor beforehand.
If you're using a childbirth method focused on painless birth, skip this section. But otherwise it's a good read and it may be helpful to you. Birthing from Within includes a good chapter on pain medication – the cons of it, and when it could actually be helpful.
The final section of the book focuses on parenthood. England covers the very practical of caring for yourself postpartum as well as less nitty-gritty subjects such as baby-proofing your marriage.
There's a lot of great information in Birthing from Within. The book is a large size and it's sturdy. It feels good in your hands and it's easy to reference. I found after an initial read-through I went back and referenced certain parts of it over and over. It has gotten to where it feels like an old, comforting friend to me. There are only a few of my pregnancy and birth books that have reached that status after four pregnancies.
Like I said above, Chapter 20 alone is worth the entire book… and you get the added bonus of the rest of the book 😉 In general it can flow well with whatever method of childbirth preparation you've chosen. So go ahead, pick up Birthing From Within and chase those paper tigers away 😉