I’m kind of picky about my birth literature.

Weeell… I’m maybe I’m not that picky about what I read, but I’m super, über nit-picky about what I’ll recommend.  I’m a Virgo. I’m critical. What can I say?

The list of ‘can’ts’ is long. It can’t be too preachy, too fluffy, too scary, too bland, too rigid, too slanted or too, uh, new-agey, let’s say. I know, I know, what’s left?  Not much, unfortunately.

Certainly not the most ubiquitous pregnancy book on the market. I don’t know whether I’m proud or embarrassed to admitted that I’ve never cracked a copy of  What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It seems unthinkable but, well, I’m not really sorry about it. Everyone I know who has read it said that it gave them anxiety attacks. And does anyone really think that what pregnant women really need is another dose of anxiety?

And then there are the books that I actually like, like The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer. It is an incredible book with research-backed information, but… it comes down pretty hard on hospitals. It’s just not that approachable if you think hospitals are pretty okay–and most people do. And then there’s the fact that it doesn’t do much to bolster your confidence about giving birth. Instead it gives you something else to worry about, not Big Bad Listeria that’s lurking in delicious soft cheeses, but the care providers themselves and the often routine hospital procedures. More anxiety! Not helpful.

Also I devoured The Baby Catcher, written by midwife Peggy Vincent about her many years of catching babies, but I’m not going to hand it to a pregnant lady. Vincent chose all the most memorably dramatic births (translation: fast and scary) to write about, which is great for the purposes of the book, but too skewed of a picture to be considered solidly educational.

Nope. I’m not going to pile those books into your arms when you come over just to borrow a cup of sugar for your zucchini bread.

Instead I’m going to meaningfully press a copy of Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth into your palms. I want all pregnant women to read this book. It’s an engaging read. You can read it cover to cover without getting bored.  It uses birth stories to illustrate the wide range of ‘normal’ in a labor and birth. It describes how each woman passed her own hurdles of labor (or whether labor was easy and enjoyable) to powerfully deliver her baby. Ina May Gaskin boils down her 30+ years of witnessing normal labor and gives her insights into how birth works (you have to read it to get all the little gems, like one of my favorites, a chapter called “Sphincter Law”).  All in all, it’s pretty radical stuff, but she doesn’t jam it down your throat. She’s not out to judge anyone or tell you there’s a right or wrong way to give birth. But she knows that birth works and she wants to make sure that you know it too.  If we let mainstream media tell the story, birth is very dangerous and usually needs lots and lots of intervention. Ina May’s Guide tells us another story–one that doesn’t get much press.  After reading all those birth stories, its hard not to think “Well, if they could do it, so can I!”


Labor and birth are filled with unknowns. Without being scary, this book helps you feel prepared to expect the unexpected. Forget What to Expect; be prepared to be surprised.