Sunday, January 25, 2009

Book recs

I've built up a reputation amongst my friends for bringing birth and/or breastfeeding into the conversation a little too often. That's one of the reasons I started this blog - to get all my ranting and did-you-know-ing and meditations out of my personal blog and into one place. I know this can be annoying; I've vowed to tamp it down. But being in a maternal and child health program has not helped. I now spend most of my time with other women who WANT to hear all about birth and breastfeeding - who constantly ask me questions about it, in fact! The other night at a fundraising dinner, we probably unnerved the only two people not in our program at the table by having a long discussion about induced lactation. My classmates peppered me with questions: can you lactate if you've never given birth? How is lactation induced? How likely is it that you can exclusively nurse a baby when lactation has been induced? I answered all their questions and I did so enthusiastically, but I swear to god, I did not introduce this line of discussion.

Even when I really, really vow to not get into the topic, it sneaks up on me anyway. I went to a basketball game last week. My friend and I were offered a chance to be down in the risers behind one of the baskets and we decided, why not? It could be fun. Little did we realize we'd have to stand the whole time, so as soon as we got there we secured spots at the back where we could lean against the bleachers. Most of the (over)enthusiastic undergraduates around us were jostling forward, so we ended up standing next to two other grad students, a man and a woman. We introduced ourselves and talked about our respective programs. They asked what kind of classes we take. We gave as an example that we were both in a class about breastfeeding this semester. That was all it took - the woman started asking a million questions about breastfeeding, and then she found out that I was a doula, and it turns out she's very interested in natural birth, and then she started asking questions about birth and birth books and doula-ing...

Mindful of my vow, I tried to change the subject - I asked her more about library science, we discussed the basketball game (to which we were paying remarkably little attention given that we had spots for the ultimate fans) - but every time we stopped for a moment to watch the players, she'd turn back to me and say something like, "I've read 'Misconceptions' by Naomi Wolf. Are there other good books I should read?"

What can I say? If you store something metal next to a magnet long enough, it will become magnetized. I have spent so much time talking and thinking about these topics, I have become a magnet for birth and breastfeeding questions. I can't say I mind (at ALL!) but it does give the appearance that I'm not living up to my good intentions.

But since this girl was a librarian and thus very intent on finding books, it got me thinking about book recommendations for people who have a lot of questions and are interested in learning more. I haven't read everything out there, some of which I'm sure is great, but I'm just going to list a few that I've read and found informative and well-written.

For a social/political background:

"Misconceptions" by Naomi Wolf is a good one, if a bit dated (I think late 1980s). She discusses birth in the context of her own experiences and has some interesting reflection on feminism and motherhood towards the end.

"Pushed" by Jennifer Block is great! It's more updated and covers a somewhat wider range than "Misconceptions". I know some doulas object to her portrayal of the role doulas play in the system, but I think she raises valid questions.

"The Business of Being Born" is not a book, it's a movie, but it would be a great primer for how and why our maternity care system is not working and what alternatives are available. Everyone I've shown this to has enjoyed it. Suffice it to say, I think everyone should see it - literally, everyone.

To learn more about birth itself, interventions and alternatives:

"The Birth Book" by Dr. William Sears and Martha Sears. Well written, comprehensive, I learn or am reminded of something new every time I open it.

"Ina May's Guide to Childbirth" by Ina May Gaskin. Ina May is in many ways the mother of the modern midwifery movement in the U.S. and this is a book written from her decades of experience.

Just for fun:

"Babycatcher", by Peggy Vincent. The adventures of a home birth midwife in San Francisco - lots of stories, great writing, and almost impossible to put down.

Hot tip: the thrift stores of college towns are a great place to build your library. I've been keeping an eye on the shelves every time I go in, and just yesterday I picked up "The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth" and a recent edition of "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding".

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