Article excerpt

During a break between teaching quarters at Georgia College I've had the opportunity to read several books which may be of interest to readers of the PPPANA Journal. Thomas Verney very kindly sent me a copy of Laura Kaplan Shanley's book Unassisted Childbirth which includes quotes from works by Robbie Davis-Floyd, Jeannine Parvati Baker, Gayle Peterson, Michael Odent, and Lewis Mehl, all of whom have contributed extensively to the field of pre- and perinatal knowledge, often within the pages of this Journal. Shanley's book includes an excellent discussion of the dangers of medical intervention and the psychological effects of a traumatic birth on both the baby and the family. The book also includes anecdotes of unassisted births and some evidence supporting such autonomous births. The following quote is a typical response to the experience of natural childbirth: To me now, there is no other way to have a baby. I only pray that more people will come to know the joy that I have known by having a home birth. (Shanley 1994:101 as quoted from Moran 1981:192).

Other positive aspects of the book, such as a conclusion which lists some valuable ideas to follow during pregnancy, while in labor and after the birth, are in my opinion marred by several limitations. The narratives were not collected by the author, which would have offered additional useful data, but instead are generally excerpted from Marilyn Moran's book Birth and the Dialogue of Love or from a newsletter begun by the same author. In nearly every case the unassisted births described were also not first pregnancies. Shanley's own first unassisted birth led to some traumatic complications, most, I hasten to add, societal and not of her own making (Shanley 1994:126). Later Shanley also lost a baby. With that pregnancy she had considered an abortion and later visualized a miscarriage. When shortly after an unassisted birth, the baby died of prematurity and congenital complications, she maintains that: {S}ome people blamed me for my baby's death. . . . {I}n time, however we came to look on the baby's death as a blessing. We weren't ready for another baby. As cruel as it may sound to some people, for us his death was the manifestation of my desire to miscarry. It was just slow in coming. (Shanley 1994:138).

My own conclusion after reading Unassisted Childbirth, is that having a baby at home, in a natural, loving environment would be ideal. I am sorry that the circumstances surrounding my son's birth were less rewarding. Yet certainly after Shanley's description of her own experiences, the presence of an experienced midwife, even if just on call outside the birthing room, would seem to be prudent for a first time Mother and perhaps in other cases as well. Indeed, Shanley herself agrees for example that: . . . without emotional support, breast feeding is often difficult, if not impossible and that some of the difficulties she experienced with her first child could have been avoided with such help. (Shanley 1994:126). Does unassisted or natural childbirth, which does often seem to be an exhilarating and wonderful experience, require that the Mother also be unattended? …


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