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Book review: 'Birth at Home'

Updated: Feb 8

Book review: 'Birth at Home' by Sheila Kitzinger, the world's best-known writer on childbirth from a woman's point of view. She is the author of 23 books, which are published in 20 languages. They include The New Pregnancy and Childbirth, Breastfeeding and, most recently, Rediscovering Birth. Sheila is a social anthropologist of birth and seeks to help women make their own informed choices about pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and motherhood.

In Birth at Home, Kitzinger appreciates that it is important to improve our maternity hospitals so that they are welcoming, friendly, comfortable places. I like that she doesn’t go over the top and say that hospital births are terrible, and that homebirth is always THE BEST. She has a balanced view. She says that maternity care must be ‘truly family centered’, which matches the truth that doulas stand for: that the mother should make the decisions, because she is the one having the baby!

She gives a special description of homebirths as ‘a place which the couple have created together’ and that it is ‘a natural part and a high point of the rhythm of their lives’. She admits that it is not impossible to make that atmosphere in a hospital, but that it is far more difficult, and requires the whole medical team involved to be on board as well.

She makes a very interesting point that in the West we’ve lost the awareness of birth and death and says that we need to ‘demedicalize’ them. So many have never seen someone die, or someone give birth, and I find that intriguing. Kitzinger states that birth and death aren’t medical conditions. I feel like that is true of birth, but that it isn’t of death. Though I guess it’s the causes of death that are often medical conditions, but then the dying itself is very personal and, sadly, very natural, so it shouldn't be so medicalized.

She holds an interesting view about obstetricians and gynecologists and their general approach to birth. She says that they often view birth as a pathological condition and end up intervening in this natural process that women were actually designed to do, and then causing illness which calls for more intervention. She says that women need to learn about their bodies and how they function and be on good terms with their body. Informed choice is very important, rather than just letting the doctors do what they will.

Kitzinger says that women who want a home birth sometimes have a difficult time convincing their husbands who feel that childbirth is a medical crisis, and that the hospital is the correct place to handle it. I think it is important to make sure that the mother herself is comfortable and feels in control of the choices being made surrounding her birth.

It made sense what she said about families sometimes being separated during or after a hospital birth. I find it sad that husbands can sometimes be treated as a ‘nonperson’ and ignored by the medics, when their wife is giving birth, and even worse that a baby may be whisked away from his mother soon after birth just for the convenience of the hospital staff.

Reading Birth at Home motivated me even more to encourage my clients if they want a homebirth and to gently challenge them if they don’t consider any other option apart from a hospital birth. I pray that I may have many happy homebirths when I am married and become a mother!

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