Book Reviews

Breastfeeding Made Simple

Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett (2010) — This book came recommended by my doula and I have to say, I liked it quite a lot. As I browsed breastfeeding book reviews on Amazon, I got worried because I saw several that seemed to take a rather judgmental perspective on breastfeeding mothers who work. I consider the breadwinner-SAHP model  to be so myopic and divorced from the reality of such a large swath of human experience throughout history, it’s amazing to me that people can still promote it with a straight face–let alone try and guilt women for choosing to work outside the home. [1] And yet, there are several breastfeeding books published here in the 21st century that only offer advice on how to manage a pumping-and-work schedule after lecturing working mothers on how staying at home is what’s best for their babies. [2] I wasn’t interested in any of those.

I’m happy to say that BMS is lacking in such preachiness, and presents some very practical information on how to establish breastfeeding, maintain a milk supply, and troubleshoot problems. Looking back, I can see so many things that I did wrong with my firstborn, though she was a cleft palate baby who could not breastfeed (more on that in a moment). For example, I typically did not try to feed her until she was upset and crying. I saw crying as the ultimate cue to begin feeding. BMS says to look for early feeding cues such as rooting, sucking on hands, etc. and try to feed baby before s/he becomes upset. BMS also shoots down some breastfeeding myths that I’ve often heard preached (that eating more food improves milk supply, that you have to wait for your nipples to “toughen up” in order to get through pain in the beginning). It explains how pumping can be used along with breastfeeding to help improve milk supply.

With my daughter, upon learning about the palate, I initially set out to exclusively pump and bottle feed her. My, was I in over my head. I did not have a good-quality pump, just a cheap single-breast electric pump from Wal-Mart, so pumping for her was extremely cumbersome. I didn’t make an effort to pump 8-12 times per day, that’s for sure. Since I found pumping so cumbersome, I did it as little as possible, which is probably what killed my milk supply. After about 3-4 weeks, I found myself forced to supplement with formula. 1-2 weeks later, I gave up altogether, let my milk dry up, and went to formula exclusively. Looking back, I wish I had invested the $300-$400 in a good, high-quality, electric double-breast pump, gotten up in the middle of the night for at least one pumping session, etc.

I do have a few quibbles with this book. The authors actually applaud New York City’s paternalistic move to promote breastfeeding by refusing to allow hospitals to hand out formula samples. I guess I’m of the opinion that women are not all mindless sheeples and can make their own choices about breastfeeding vs. formula feeding without being barred from getting free stuff, but the authors seem to disagree. The authors also suggest that cleft palate babies can be partially breastfed. That’s news to me. They never make any kind of a distinction between a soft cleft palate and a hard cleft palate, which is a pretty significant difference, leaving me to wonder how much they actually looked into the subject before writing on it.

Still, I liked the book a lot and found it helpful and informative. Overall I’d give it 4.5/5 stars.
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How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby

How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby by Landrum B. Shettles and David M. Rorvik (2006) — This book has been around in some form or another since 1970, and it’s co-authored by one of the pioneers in in vitro fertilization. It’s written by Rorvik with the late Dr. Shettles (d. 2003) having provided the medical and scientific background. The title says it all: Shettles believed that couples can choose the sex of their babies.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Shettles believed that couples can drastically increase their chances of having one sex or the other, based mostly on when they time intercourse in relation to ovulation, though he cautioned that his method does not guarantee the desired sex. According to Shettles, the Y-sperm (male) are smaller, faster, and more fragile, while the X-sperm (female) are larger, slower, and hardier, so if you want a boy, you should time intercourse for as close to ovulation as possible. This will allow the faster Y-sperm to beat the slower X-sperm to the ovum. If you want a girl, you should have intercourse 2-3 days prior to ovulation. Shettles claimed success rates of 80-85% with the boy method and 75-80% with the girl method, and he believed those rates got a little higher when his method is followed carefully.

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Hypnobirthing

Hypnobirthing by Marie F. Mongan (2005) — I picked up Hypnobirthing because, of the major methods of dealing with pain in natural childbirth (Bradley, Lamaze, etc.), hypnosis sounded most attractive to me. I do believe that relaxation, visualization, and self-hypnosis can reduce pain, and I know all too well that psychological factors can cause muscles to tense up and trigger pain. That said, there were so many things I did not like about Hypnobirthing:

  • The history chapter is almost entirely made up. To suggest that pain in childbirth is some kind of Western construct that was invented by early Christians is pure rubbish, and the idea of pain in childbirth as a Western construct has a rather alarming history steeped in racism.
  • Mongan doesn’t document anything at all. Okay, she cites a study here or there. I think the entire book contained less citations than I could count on one hand. Not nearly enough for the extent of the claims she is making.
  • In some places, Mongan is just plain ignorant of human anatomy. For example, she repeatedly calls the vagina a “sphincter” or refers to “the sphincters of the vagina.” But the vagina isn’t a sphincter.
  • The book trumpets that this method can entirely relieve the pain of childbirth. Somehow I find this really, really hard to swallow. I certainly believe the techniques can reduce pain, but eliminate it? I haven’t researched this extensively, but the Wikipedia page on hypnosis in childbirth reports that there have been several studies which found no sufficient evidence that the method is effective at relieving pain.
  • Hypnobirthing terminology is weird. I agree that language matters in cultivating a positive attitude, but I think Mongan renames way too much stuff. I was most alarmed when she suggested that “pain” should be renamed “pressure.” If this method is supposed to eliminate pain altogether, then why is there a need to rename pain? Now, when I read testimonials from Hypnobirthers and they talk about “pressure,” I’ll just be wondering if they really meant pain.
  • The book is written in a rather saccharine tone that I just can’t stand. It’s like listening to a crazy great-aunt explain childbirth with stars in her eyes, and even though you know that half of what she says is nonsense, you just smile and nod because you’re trying to be polite.
  • This is a technical point, but Mongan’s use of gender-inclusive language is very inconsistent. Most of the time, hypothetical unborn babies are referred to as male. Since this book was last updated in 2005, there’s really little excuse for this. I believe that Mongan has probably made enough money off of the Hypnobirthing empire to hire a competent editor and fix this.

The entire book wasn’t bad. The material on nutrition, exercise, breastfeeding, and positions in labor seems solid enough, and I do believe that the hypnosis techniques can reduce pain in labor. I may still use it, although I almost certainly won’t pay more money for a Hypnobirthing class. Since I already plan to hire a doula, at best, I’ll hire a doula who knows something about Hypnobirthing and let her help me with the visualization and self-hypnosis. 2.5/5 stars.

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The Doula Advantage & Lying-In

The Doula Advantage by Rachel Gurevich (2003) — I liked it. It builds a strong case for why a woman should want to hire a doula to support her in labor and delivery, and also talks about postnatal doulas and antenatal doulas. Generally does a good job of citing scientific studies to support its points. The writing isn’t always strong, and the book gets rather repetitive, but overall, it’s a solid book in favor of doulas. I like how it does not portray doulas as a mere fixture of the NCB/homebirth movement, but makes it clear that they can be useful even when one is having an epidural or other interventions. 4/5 stars.

Lying-In: A History of Childbirth in America by Richard W. Wertz and Dorothy C. Wertz (1989) — This is a scholarly text originally published in the 70s, updated and re-published by Yale Press in 1989. I loved it. It’s a general survey of American attitudes towards and practices involving pregnancy and childbirth. It traces the shift from community-supported, midwife-attended, mother-centered childbirth in the colonial era to the current world of physician-attended, medicalized childbirth that emphasizes the safety of the baby and the creation of perfect children even at the expense of the mother. It covers major developments in obstetrics (anesthesia, forceps, c-sections) and medical misfires (puerperal fever epidemic, Twilight Sleep). The Wertzes’ sources are not always terribly thorough, but overall it’s a strong text that really gave me a good perspective on where childbirth has been and how we arrived at where we are. 5/5 stars.

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Books to come

I finished Hypnobirthing by Marie F. Mongan (2005) today. I’ll review it later.

Next I think I’m going to change pace a little bit and read Mother Goose, Mother Jones, Mommie Dearest: Biblical Mothers and Their Children by Cheryl Kirk-Duggan and Tina Pippin, editors (2009). It isn’t a pregnancy or childbirth book proper, but it offers intellectual food for thought on what the Bible says about mothers and motherhood, and I’ve often struggled to embrace and feel comfortable with my identity as a mother. The book does have an excellent essay on the history of anesthesia in childbirth and the 19th century debate on Gen. 3:16a, which I have already read.

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Homebirth in the Hospital & Natural Hospital Birth

Homebirth in the Hospital by Stacey Marie Kerr (2009) — Dr. Kerr seems like a really sweet woman. I really, really wanted to like her book, which is a collection of personal essays by her patients concerning their hospital births. However, there was just too much “hospital” and not enough “homebirth,” IMO. What I mean is, too many of the stories involved entirely elective or unnecessary interventions. Several of them involved women who never would have been good candidates for homebirth to begin with. As I said above, I’m not an NCB/homebirth advocate, but this book did not leave me particularly reassured on the prospects of having a natural childbirth in the hospital. 2/5 stars.

Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel (2011) — I loved this book. It was so sensible and down-to-earth and gave very clear guidelines on how to turn down unnecessary interventions and have a natural childbirth in the hospital. I wish it had been around when I gave birth the first time; I think it would have kept me from panicking when I went into labor. And I seriously wish I could go out to lunch with Cynthia Gabriel. She seems like the kind of woman I could really be friends with. Also, props to her for thoroughly documenting her claims. 5/5 stars.

In one week, I am having my Mirena removed, although we won’t begin TTC until January 2013. I am a little anxious about taking it out. Fearful of the “Mirena Crash.”

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The Business of Being Born & Your Best Birth

Some brief reviews of books I have read and/or movies I have seen:

The Business of Being Born (2008) directed by Abby Epstein — I thought it was propagandistic in places, but most documentaries are. It was generally well-edited and well-argued with interesting interviews. I watched a few of the made-for-television sequels and they were far less organized and interesting. I gave the full-length documentary 4/5 stars.

Your Best Birth by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein (2010) — It’s pretty much the movie in book form. It’s well written and easy to read, and it does help you to re-think your options and reconsider medicalized hospital birth. Not that it condemns hospital birth, but it does encourage homebirth and natural birth. However, what really, really bothers me about the book is that Lake and Epstein do not document their many claims. It strikes me as a bit hypocritical to harp on the need for obstetricians to practice “informed consent,” and then not provide much-needed information to their own readers to back up their claims. You can’t tell me that Lake isn’t wealthy enough to have hired a research assistant who could handle this for her. The only excuse is laziness. 3.5/5 stars (and that rating might drop if I discover that their claims are false/exaggerated/made-up)

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The Journey Begins

I gave birth to my first daughter in 2006, at the age of 24. DH and I have decided that it’s getting close to time to try for #2. I am currently finishing my master’s degree, so I kind of want to get to the point where I know my thesis will be done soon, get pregnant, and reward myself with a baby. Things are far from perfect for us right now, but I realize that if I keep on waiting for perfection, we may never have another baby again.

I have an appointment later this month to have my Mirena removed. (I for me at least.) I figure that we will begin trying to conceive (TTC) in January of 2013.

I have been reading pregnancy and childbirth books for the past few months. So far I have read:

  • Lying-In: A History of Childbirth in America by Richard W. Wertz and Dorothy C. Wertz (1989) [review]
  • Homebirth in the Hospital by Stacey Marie Kerr (2009) [review]
  • Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel (2011) [review]
  • Your Best Birth by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein (2010) [review]
  • The Doula Advantage by Rachel Gurevich (2003) [review
  • Hypnobirthing by Marie F. Mongan (2005) added 11/19/2012 [review]
  • How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby by Landrum B. Shettles and David M. Rorvik (2006) added 12/30/2012 [review]

You may look at that list and think I’m a homebirth/NCB advocate, but I’m not. I simply started with their corner of the book market and am working my way around. I’m currently reading Hypnobirthing by Marie F. Mongan (2005), and I think it’s full of crap.

Reading and visualizing my (hopefully) upcoming pregnancy is having a positive effect on me, and I think it may even be readying my body for conception. The entire time that I’ve had the Mirena, my periods have been 1.5-3 months apart, never less than 1.5 months. However, my last two periods have been 29-30 days apart. I began to really think and read up on going through pregnancy again in September.

So, I am looking ahead, and I am hopeful. I had a really terrible experience with pregnancy and childbirth last time, and I’m hoping to change that this time around. I’ll be using this space to talk about what went wrong last time and what I hope to change this time.

Categories: Book Reviews, Film Reviews, Mirena, Personal | Leave a comment

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