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What to Read When You're Expecting

Alright, folks. We all know the pregnancy book that gets passed from friend to friend, sister to sister, that's meant to help prepare us for birth and parenthood. My recommendation is this: if that book comes to you, stop passing it on. That book could be called 'What to Fear When You're Expecting'. When I was pregnant for the second time, after having had an early miscarriage in my first pregnancy, that book was given to me. It became my toilet reading book. (Come on, we all used to have one before we got smart phones.) I remember the day I shook my head, closed the book, and never opened it again. It MIGHT have fallen into the recycling bin one day. I found that it was putting me in a mindset of worry, outlining all of the things that can go wrong during pregnancy and birth, which was not where I wanted to be.

When you're newly pregnant, whether for the first or the fifth time, you don't need to read about all of the things that might go wrong. We already hear enough about that from friends and relatives, we see it on shows and movies, and we have our own fears about birth and parenting that we've picked up throughout our lives. Also, we could spend our whole pregnancies learning about and preparing for the 'what if's', only to have something else unexpected happen in the end.

What we need when we're preparing for birth is to find our own deepest beliefs reflected back to us. Way down in our bones, most of us have whisperings like, 'women have been doing this for thousands of years, I can do this, too'. Only now we are giving birth in a world where there are so many options and interventions available that weren't before. Sometimes these interventions are needed, but many times, birth works best when it's undisturbed. How do we know what's right for us? How do we know what we need and don't need? How can we prepare for birth so that we come out of it feeling powerful, and connected to ourselves?

Here are some of the books that might help you find your answers.

  1. Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Dr. Sarah J. Buckley

There is so much important information packed into this book. Part 1 covers pregnancy and birth, walking you through the benefits and risks of everything from ultrasound scans to epidurals to delayed cord clamping, with the underlying message being "your body, your baby, your choice". Chapter 6 includes a rundown of the hormones at play during birth, and outlines the importance of birthing people feeling safe, unobserved, and undisturbed in order for nature's hormonal blueprint to be followed. Part 2 includes evidence-based information about breastfeeding, infant sleep, and how attachment and love affect our babies' brain development. There are 68 pages of notes and resources at the end, so you KNOW this author did a lot of research, and she kindly condensed it into this easy read for all of us. Thank you, Dr. Buckley!

2. Birthing From Within by Pam England CNM, MA and Rob Horowitz PhD

"One kind of learning comes from books. But the learning necessary for you to participate completely in your birth must come from you." -Pam England

This is one book that I treasured while I was preparing to give birth, because it helped me to dive into my fears and doubts, and to uncover what my deepest hopes and values were. Each chapter has questions and activities you can do, making it an interactive experience. You won't just be taking in information about the birth process, you'll be going through your own journey of understanding what you believe about birth, your body, and your self. From that space of reflection, you can create your vision for your birth. This book is also peppered with birth stories and birth artwork and has a section for partners, so that they, too, can prepare for your baby's birth.

3. Reclaiming Childbirth as a Rite of Passage: Weaving Ancient Wisdom with Modern Knowledge by Dr. Rachel Reed

The title explains what this book is all about. Dr. Reed begins by sharing the herstory of birth and womanhood through the millenia, and how today's birth culture was developed.

"The cultural landscape in which a woman gives birth influences the messages she receives about herself and her role as a mother. Our modern maternity system and birth culture reflects the notion that women and their bodies are inferior, dirty, and dangerous and that medicine can control the chaotic process of birth and make it safe." (p.25). Are you fired up yet? This book does such a wonderful job of showing us how we got to where we are, and then guiding us to rethink how we approach the transformative experience of bringing a baby into the world, whether we are a pregnant person, a doula, a midwife, a partner, an obstetrician, or a nurse.

(Note: You can learn more from Rachel Reed on her podcast, The Midwives' Cauldron)

4. The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson

Preparing for birth matters, but many of us spend all of our focus on birth prep and don't prepare for the postpartum time. Then suddenly we have a depleted, bleeding, soft and tender body, and we can't focus on healing and restoring this body, because we have to fulfill the needs of the tiny human we birthed. This book covers the practical stuff, like how to organize your early postpartum life around rest and recovery, and how to nourish and tend to your physical body after birth. It also goes into the topics that other books don't cover, like how you can integrate into your new self. Birth isn't just a physical process, it involves our whole selves: mental, emotional, and spiritual as well. We come out of birth transformed, and this book can help you to prepare for this transformation, and to step into this tender time with some awareness and reverence for what you are experiencing.

There are obviously many more books that contain wisdom and guidance that may support you as you're preparing to give birth and step into parenthood, but these are the ones that are currently at the top of my piles. Speaking of which, they are available to loan to any doula clients of mine who may be interested. Happy reading!

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