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Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are…

Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born (2006)

by Tina Cassidy

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This is a book about how babies come into the world and the process. It talks about all the things the mothers went through during birth. I love babies and the process they go through in having babies. (INFORMATIONAL TEXT) ( )
  VictoriaVivians | Jun 9, 2017 |
Recommended by Linda D., this was a fantastically interesting and informative book about the history of birth and the ways that it has changed over time, from being a women-only operation with midwives and "god-sibs" attending the birth, to the medicalization of birth when male doctors took over. This has the singular honor of being the only book I've ever had to set aside while eating.


[A majority of women labor through the night and the babies are born in the early morning, but hospital staffing does not reflect this.] Babies born late at night have as much as a 16 percent greater chance of dying than babies born between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., a 2005 study found. This spike in overnight infant deaths may be attributed to the quality and number of doctors and nurses during those dark hours. (14)

Other scientists look at infant growth as a two-stage gestation: thirty-eight weeks, followed by thirty-eight weeks outside. Most infants begin to crawl at around nine months of age...a marker that brings their brains closer to the development level of a deer's when it is born. (18)

"pregnancy and childbirth are not diseases but rather normal physiological functions of women" -California Court of Appeals circa 1972 (47)

But after all these years, despite the growing body of evidence that they provide excellent birth outcomes, midwives are still fighting the same battles for respect and market share....Statistics support their claims. In America, those women attended by midwives ultimately have lower caesarean rates, fewer interventions such as labor induction and episiotomies, and lower infant mortality, than those attended by doctors. (48)

...throughout most of history, until about a hundred years ago, almost all women gave birth at home, surrounded by midwife, friends, and family. In England, these helpers were assembled by the father, after knocking door to door, or "nidgeting," throughout the village. (51)

In Genesis 3:16, God says to Eve, "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and they conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children." For centuries, those words were the single greatest obstacle for women to receive pain relief while giving birth. (84)

In 1970, only 10 percent of U.S. hospitals sponsored prenatal courses. By 1975, most did. (154)

The Hopi tribes of North America fed weasels to pregnant women because the swift animal is known for working its way through the ground and finding a way out. (175)

What [Marie] Mongan has done is ditch the harsh medical terminology for softer language. The new language is a subtle but powerful way of rejecting the medical model of birth in favor of one that is simple, natural, and not scary. (193)

[Direct linkage between doulas and shorter, less complicated births] "Fifteen published studies have shown that if you have a doula, your incidence of a caesarean is reduced 26 percent, and if you have a doula, the birth is 25 percent quicker." -Marshall Klaus ...for Klaus, the concept of having continuous emotional support in labor was the missing link in obstetrics. (196)

[From ch. 8, "A Father's Place"] Hospital staff - and this is still the case - did not have the time to provide continuous emotional support or instruction to laboring women. (199)

Among the Huichol tribe of Mexico, in order to make the father a partner in the mother's pain, a string would be tied around his testicles; the mother would pull the tether as each contraction peaked. (201)

[Recipes for placenta (placenta cocktail; placenta pizza topping) in Mothering magazine in 1983] (219)

In France, foundling hospitals kept goats on the premises so newborns could suck directly from them, the animals straddling the cradles. (234-235)

...birth always reflects the culture in which it happens. (250) ( )
  JennyArch | Mar 4, 2015 |
The basics: Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born is a historical and anthropological look at childbirth.

My thoughts: Since I got pregnant (the nomadbaby is due August 9th), I've become more interested in books about pregnancy and birthing. As with many things in life, part of me is drawn to the natural way of doing things, while part of me is drawn to modern convenience. For example, I eat as much local and organic produce, meat, eggs and cheese as possible. But I have no desire to actually have my own garden, grow my own food, or kill the animals I eat. So I rely on local farmers and belong to a two CSAs, one for meat.With pregnancy and birth, these choices between natural and modern seem to have impossibly high stakes. For the first time in my life, my biology dictates many of my choices. As the one carrying this baby, I have responsibilities Mr. Nomadreader doesn't. How far those extend after birth is something I think about often, particularly as we tend to divide tasks more evenly in life than pregnancy allows (I have started opining how lovely pregnancy would be if we could only alternate weeks being pregnant.)

When it comes to birth, I've spent a lot of time thinking about options. Two options I never really considered were having a midwife instead of my obstetrician and having a home birth. Even with the choice to deliver in a hospital with an obstetrician, I soon learned the choices keep coming. So often in casual conversations about epidurals, c-sections, etc., someone will say "well women have been having babies without pain relief and without c-sections for years." And inevitably the response will come, "yes, and women have been dying in childbirth for hundreds of years." I wanted to know where the truth lies. Admittedly, I didn't seek out justification for my choices, or even start this book looking for a reason to change my mind. I'm fine with my choice to have an epidural and would welcome an elective c-section if it were offered. But I wanted to know more about what options I would have had in other times in history, in other countries, in other cultures or financial circumstances. I wanted to know how common or rare my choices are, and how my experience as a pregnant woman in 2014 fits into the history of humanity.

The first chapter of Birth is perhaps my favorite. Entitled "Evolution and the Human Body," it's an anthropological exploration of birth and the pelvis. It looks at what separates human pregnancy, birth, and babies from other mammals. If you only read part of this book, read that chapter. It's absolutely fascinating (and again made me want to have a c-section, which is probably not its intention.) From there, Cassidy takes a thematic approach to birth, exploring midwives, birthing places, pain relief, c-sections, doctors, tools and fads, and the role of fathers.

Birth is a fascinating book in its own right, and I learned a lot from it. What impacted me most personally is how little I really care about the birth experience. It's not a secret I haven't enjoyed pregnancy much (despite being very excited to finally, actually be pregnant!), and birth is just the last stepping stone to actually having the nomadbaby. I'm happy for that experience to be as quick and painless as possible (the anesthetized births of the 1960's sounded like a great idea to me--wake up with a baby!) I don't need that experience to connect me to humanity the way so many women throughout history have. I don't need it as a life experience. While I live at a time where I can't opt out of it, I am incredibly grateful to live at the time I do when I do have choices. And from a cultural anthropological point of view, I can't wait to see how the current birthing trends are viewed in fifty years.

The verdict: Whether you're pregnant or not, Birth is a fascinating cultural history of a process we're all a part of in one way or another. ( )
  nomadreader | Jul 8, 2014 |
This book was frightening because it was really just a history of how badly things have gone during childbirth over the years...and all the terrible medical techniques used when things went bad... ( )
  KristySP | Apr 21, 2013 |
This book was interesting and informative. I learned a lot about the history of medical care for mothers and about the factors that affect a healthy delivery.

However, I could have lived with a little less melodrama in her portrayal of hospitals and obstetricians. For example, in citing a 1989 report that concluded "birth centers were a safe and acceptable alternative to the hospital for low-risk women, especially those who had had children before," she goes on to say:

Suddenly, it seemed, hospitals had competition.
Unwilling to cede any business to birth centers, hospitals got busy co-opting their warm and fuzzy features. (p. 70)

Couldn't she just say that the hospital administrators realized they had some catching up to do? Do hospitals have to be granted evil, greedy personalities?

She includes one throwaway quote about abortion, in the middle of her discussion of court-ordered cesareans, without the slightest effort to justify the statement or elaborate on its significance (pp. 122–23).

Finally, when she is discussing the initial reluctance of hospitals to allow fathers in the delivery room, she makes this observation:

Who knows how many obstetricians, still almost exclusively men, also feared losing their status to another male in the labor and delivery room. (199)

Who knows indeed? Then why mention it? Statements like these make me feel a little bit uneasy as I try to sort out the facts about an important part of life. I begin to wonder how much the rest of her book is colored with personally felt prejudices that belong nowhere in a work of nonfiction. ( )
  theonetruesteph | Mar 30, 2013 |
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For the Damaschi women and the Flint boys
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After I had a baby in 2004, the women of my family gave me three things: newborn outfits, advice, and accounts of their own birth experience.
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Book description
Table of Contents:

In the Beginning

1 Evolution and the Female Body

2 Midwives Throughout Time
3 The Hut, the Home, and the Hospital
4 Pain Relief
5 The Cesarean Section

6 The Dawn of Doctors
7 Tools and Fads
8 A Father's Place
9 The Postpartum Period
In the End
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802143245, Paperback)

“Well-researched and engaging . . . Birth is a clever, almost irreverent look at an enduring everyday miracle. (A-)” —Entertainment Weekly
“Wonderful. Packed full of information, a brilliant mixture of ancient wisdom and modern science.” —Kate Mosse, author of the New York Times best seller, Labyrinth
“Birth is a power-packed book. . . . A lively, engaging, and often witty read, a quirky, eye-opening account of one of life’s most elemental experiences.” —The Boston Globe
Published to widespread acclaim, Tina Cassidy’s smart, engaging book is the first world history of childbirth in fifty years. From evolution to the epidural and beyond, Tina Cassidy presents an intelligent, enlightening, and impeccably researched cultural history of how and why we’re born the way we are. Women have been giving birth for millennia but that’s about the only constant in the final stage of the great process that is human reproduction. Why is it that every culture and generation seems to have its own ideas about the best way to give birth? Cassidy explores the physical, anthropological, political, and religious factors that have and will continue to influence how women bring new life into the world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:44 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Tina Cassidy describes her grandmother's, her mother's, and her own experiences giving birth, highlighting how the birthing process has changed throughout history and exploring the cultural history of how and why people are born the way they are.

» see all 3 descriptions

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