Review: The Positive Birth Book

Having followed Milli Hill and The Positive Birth Movement online for quite some time, I was incredibly excited about the release of this, her first book, and it didn’t disappoint.

I can’t imagine there’s a single pregnant woman who won’t benefit from reading The Positive Birth Book (available from Pinter & Martin and other good booksellers) – whether you’re pregnant for the first or fifth time, and regardless of the type of births you’ve encountered previously, there is something for everyone. Feel like all you ever hear is negative birth stories? Scared witless by awful, sensationalist programmes like One Born Every Minute? This book will undo that damage. Hill is neither neither patronising nor preachy; her words are often humorous but do not grate and she certainly isn’t a mother who thinks her way is the only way. Her message is clear – every women, regardless of personal fears, beliefs and past experiences, should feel empowered during pregnancy, labour, birth and beyond. However you hope to give birth, whatever makes you feel like you’re in control, wherever you want to have her baby (within reason!), Hill advocates for all mothers and their preferences.

Too many women look back on their birth experiences with bitterness, disappointment and, all too often, trauma. Their stories are littered with phrases like: ‘I didn’t have a choice’, ‘ I felt like I wasn’t in control’ and ‘I was told to…’ This is what Hill is seeking to rectify. She, rightly, believes that control of a woman’s body and mind, before, during and after the birth of her baby should be hers and hers alone – medical professionals can, and should, advise (in a balanced manner), support (sensitively) and intervene (where absolutely necessary and with due consideration to the feelings and emotions of the mother), but ultimately, the mother’s choices are hers to make. In short, having ‘a healthy baby’ is not ‘all that matters’. With increasing number of women suffering PND, PTSD and anxiety after birth, this trite phrase is simply not acceptable.

We know that a positive, empowered birth experience is still something of a lottery, with tales of induction-obsessed consultants, cascades of intervention and declined home or MLU births on the grounds of the mother being ‘high risk’. Thankfully, this ‘lottery’ is one that can be made a little more certain by reading this book. Indeed, there are elements of my own, otherwise positive, experience that were less than satisfactory – the way I was spoken to by one midwife in the early stages of labour, for example, and the apprehension I felt when being examined upon arrival at hospital. Small things like this can have a big impact on labouring women, especially if there feeling exhausted, vulnerable or downright scared – all emotions that being out of our comfort zone and in a medical setting can easily exacerbate.

For centuries, women have laboured without fear, placing faith in their bodies and the amazing things they can do. But, with the periodic vilification of midwives, obsession with clinical birth environments, the big bucks pharmaceutical companies make from pain relief and the steady, insidious message that birth is something to fear, the majority now believe that the best and safest way to give birth is in a hospital bed, on your back, being continually monitored and given a variety of pain relief. For some, sure, this approach may well be the best for them – it is how they feel safest. For those who hope there is another way, there is, and it’s all in The Positive Birth Book. Despite being subtitled as ‘A new approach to pregnancy, birth and the early weeks’, there is actually nothing new about it – it’s just that society needs reminding.

My highlights include: A breakdown of the percentage of the time spent in labour that is actually likely to be painful; the ‘rest and be thankful’ phases (often labelled as ‘failure to progress’. Sound familiar?); the hormones of labour and birth; a detailed visual birth plan; the fable of the field mouse; using BRAINS; why specific due dates should become ‘due months’, and a realistic look at postpartum healing, care, sleep and expectations. Much of it is common sense but this is a stark reminder that, often, looking at things with sense isn’t actually that common when it comes to having babies.

Having read it, I feel even more knowledgeable about my rights in labour this time around. I feel confident and excited about opting for a home birth and can happily respond to the reactions I encounter, about being ‘mad’, ‘brave’ or ‘crazy’. I was lucky enough to be able to afford a hypnobirthing course during my last pregnancy and my greatest wish is that, one day, all women will have that option as standard. In the meantime, if every pregnant woman was given a copy of this fantastic book, the numbers of women left feeling robbed of their dignity, their rights and their optimal birth experience would decline very quickly indeed. Of course, there are instances where intervention in a clinical setting is absolutely necessary; there is no question about how lucky we are to have the wonderful NHS at our disposal. But, until every woman has her fears quelled and her human rights in labour honoured, the importance of works like this cannot be underestimated.

I absolutely adore books on pregnancy, labour and birth. The Positive Birth Book is up there with my favourites. Hill deserves her spot on my bookshelf with Grantly Dick-Read, Michel Odent, Sheila Kitzinger, Ina May Gaskin and Carol Leonard. She may not be a midwife or obstetrician but any voice which advocates for women’s rights, for their choices and their personal journeys NEEDS to be heard.

Pregnant? Read it right away.

Jo, The Mother Side xx

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