Birth Matters, A Midwife’s Manifesta
by Ina May Gaskin

[2011. New York: Seven Stories Press; 272 pages, paperback.]

[Review first published in Midwifery Today Issue 98, Summer 2011, © 2011, Midwifery Today, Inc. Review by Jan Tritten.]

Ina May has done it again. She has written a midwife’s manifesta, truly. She dismantles the technologies that have overtaken birth practices, such as the electronic monitoring craze, inductions and epidurals, as well as outlines the costs of too much surgery, detailing how things have gone woefully wrong. Ina May is eminently easy to read and always interesting. With a gift for making you think about what she says for many hours after you have read it, she makes students of us all!

Ina May is also a gifted storyteller and just as she uses this gift to teach in person, she does so in Birth Matters with the stories that end most of the chapters. I like Ina May’s story of how a childbirth educator trained a doctor. “I am going to ask you to attend this last birth,” she told him, “but only if you do not touch me while it is happening.” He was moved to tears. She writes, “This was a Saul of Tarsus moment for him; never before had he witnessed an ecstatic birth, not had an inkling that birth could be anything but an ordeal for a woman.” Ina May has a way of weaving these great stories into a well-researched book and she never ceases to amaze me.

Birth Matters educates us about models of midwifery and we get an excellent herstory of The Farm Midwifery Center and the great women who practice with Ina May. We learn about the tragedy of maternal death, including the story of a mother who died in “childbirth” and wasn’t even pregnant! We learn about the importance of hands-on skills and how they’ve been complete lost by medical men and women, doctors and nurses.

In talking about breech, Ina May writes, “I find it sad that obstetrics has been so dumbed down in the US that few doctors are taught anymore how to deal with a vaginal breech birth.” When speaking to North Carolina OB/GYN residents, a director whispered to her, “Do you realize that you and I are the only people in this room who have ever witnessed a breech birth?” Ina May observes, “What astounded me was the speed of the change in the very content of the obstetrics curriculum.”

I love The Farm Midwifery Center statistics—a 1.7% cesarean rate! Read this great book to discover the rest of the report. Chapters on sexuality and birth, the power of sisterhood, fathers and Ina May’s vision for the future give us even more insights in another awesome book by an author and speaker loved by midwives the world over.

Reviewer Jan Tritten is the founder and editor-in-chief of Midwifery Today magazine. She became a midwife in 1977 after the wonderful homebirth of one of her daughters. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies throughout the world.

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