Google+ Authentic Parenting: Book Review: Birthing From Within

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review: Birthing From Within

Article first published as Book Review: Birthing From Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz on Blogcritics.

I won a copy of “Birthing from Within” through an online contest. As I am currently pregnant and in a region where birth preparation classes are not available, I thought it would be just the right book for me. Birthing from Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz promises to be an alternative approach to childbirth preparations. Indeed, it does step aside the usual paths, adding birth art to the tools for preparation and analysis of one’s feelings.

Throughout the first chapter, I had the annoying feeling that the author was trying to sell her course, which, in a book intended for an international audience is quite unsuited. Living in an area where the option would not even be available to me, this was quite frustrating. Moreover, I don’t set out reading a book about birth preparation in order to sit through a sales pitch.
The book gives a few suggestions I hadn’t read before and offers neat checklists.

For a natural birth advocate such as myself, there is too much focus on hospital birth and very little on the alternatives. Moreover, I completely disagree with the way she perpetuates the myth of pain in childbirth. If anything, a book about birth preparation should suggest that it can be different, that pain in labor is not necessary.
I can conclude that this is not a book about birth preparation, but one about preparation for pain.
It’s a sad thing to see that ‘alternative’ books like these still perpetuate such myths and linger on the medicalized model of birth.

Furthermore, the suggestion of using art and group discussions for birth preparation, while a great idea for groups, is not adapted to people who have to prepare for birth on their own, for whom I would think the book would be intended. If one wanted or had the possibility to do group work, one would join a class.

Even though this book was a disappointment in general, I did retain the idea about a labor project and the Leboyer bath and will be showing my husband some of the sections for the birth partner. The book also features some great short lists that are handy to have around.



  1. Hi!
    Again, I reccommend Ina May's Spiritual Midwifery: beautiful birth testemonies and she doesn't like to use the name "contractions" due to the pain connotation.
    Pain first starts in our head and how we feel about it. I reccommend the 1st chapter of Continuum concept by Jane Liedloff to see how conditionalism can affect how we feel in a particular situation. After that, I can say that only a few lucky women (1 in 10, my mother was one of them) have the ability to enjoy a labour and birth without the notion of "pain". I wasn't planning an orgasmic birth (see the movie:, but I was prepared for a natural birth and was expecting at best, no pain, (I was crossing my fingers for hereditarity: if my mom didn't have pain in labour, so neither should I...).
    Nope. It hurt. I can't say it was "excruciating" but at one point I was grateful I wasn't at the hospital or I probably wouldn't have been able to resist the offerings of an epidural... I managed quite fine for a first, 6 hour labour, and wouldn't have it any other way. I had my partner, my doula and my midwife and non-pharmaceutical pain reliefs: shower, massages, hot towels, immersion in water (great relief, by the way) and cold towels. I felt the pain helped me get where I needed, helped me move around, and I was most grateful I chose a homebirth because I would probably be obliged to lie down in a hospital bed, and the pain in that position was exponentially higher for me. That is why it is so important to allow birthing women freedom of movements.
    About the water, have it available if you think you may want it, but when the time comes, don't make a "must-be" out of it. If you feel like it, get in, if you don't, find what you feel most confortable with. Michel Odent (Childbirth in the age of plastics)is now warning birth activists not to include the partner and water births as a "requisite" for natural birth to occur because it may also disrupt the necessities of the birthing women... We can talk some more if you'd like. :)

  2. Interesting comments. I, too, hate when a significant portion of the opening of a book, or sometimes it's the entire book, is spent convincing the reader to keep reading. My thought is: if I've sought out your book, I'm already well on my way to "buying in" to the concept. Plus, it just wastes space!

    I imagine Pam believes her core audience are mainstream people who overwhelmingly birth in hospital. I can hardly fault her for that, but you're right, it ought to at least acknowledge that people choose other options.

    In my experience as a doula, the only people who don't have "painful" stretchings are those who spend months preparing with hypnosis (HypnoBirthing by Mongan is another book that spends way too much time trying to sell the concept instead of devoting the print real estate to actual useful information). But even though they reprogram the feeling of stretching to mean something else to their brains, they weren't without intensity, sometimes extreme, near the end of labour. I've also seen many mothers expecting greater intensity than they received. I've never seen a "pain free" birth, however.

    I'd like to see a more accurate and less euphemistic language used for birthing: birthing time/journey for labour, stretchings for contractions since contractions aren't painful but the stretching of the cervix can be, instensity for pain... With a widespread use of better language, I think we can rewire our cultural fear of birth.

    Thanks for the review. It's always refreshing to see reviews that aren't fawning!

  3. I read this too and like you saw some value in it but had disappointments too. Really appreciate that you wrote an honest review - get so fed up of reading how wonderful everything is when the reality is different!

  4. I did birth art with my doula during my first pregnancy. I didn't think it would be that great or for that matter that I even needed to. But it was lovely and wonderful! I recommend it:-)


  5. I can't exactly say that I scoured a wide variety of birth books in preparing for my HBAC but Birthing From Within was one that resonated deeply with me. The art projects at first made me feel uneasy and foolish. However, my husband and I did do a couple drawings together and I cherish them now. I had a different perspective from you about how BFW handled the topic of pain. I learned much about how transformative, productive and relativistic pain can be. In a way, I felt like this book bridged the gap between mainstream and alternative nicely. The section about facing your fears (tigers) was particularly helpful to me and the birth partner section was refreshingly different (coach vs. protector of birth space). Thank you for your always thoughtful blog.

  6. I agree with your review! I so wanted to like the book but found the preparation for 'inevitable pain' not congruent with my beliefs and then experiences. There was also a quote that went something like ...about women who have candles around and soft music and are relaxed are not 'realistically' prepared for hard work of labour! That always annoyed me! One exercise I did enjoy was the practice of holding an ice cube. This gave me a realistic idea of my response to something uncomfortable and helped me as I pursued the hypnobirthing techniques. I was then able to 'measure' my effectiveness of the meditations with the ice-cube and able to see that I really could quiet my mind and relax.

  7. I'm so happy to receive positive comments on this review. I must say, I was a bit hesitant to be this frank, as it's a book that's been promoted a lot within the community.
    I agree with the remark that it is a good bridge between mainstream and natural birthing community, and the exercises are a good way to get in touch with your preconceptions about birth.


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