Myth, Magic and Birth
by Suzanne Arms
This book (engaging and very easy to read) looks at childbirth practices in modern Western culture, particularly how hospital doctors treat women and what historically led them to use so many interventions routinely. In some ways a lot of the historical information repeated what I recently read in Get Me Out, but there were quite a few new angles here, too. Arms focuses a lot on why men have overpowered women in the field of childbirth care, not only looking at how physicians shouldered out midwives in the recent past but also the role the Catholic Church played in discouraging the practice of midwifery. That chapter got a bit dull to read (it often felt like she was veering off the subject of childbirth and more into religious stuff), I was glad to move on from it. There are a few chapters that each give a fictional scenario illustrating how women typically gave birth in different periods of history. One shows a woman in a tribal culture, another a woman in Victorian times. They felt rather conjectural to me; I wondered exactly how she could know of the attitudes and practices surrounding childbirth in prehistory?
The latter part of the book is all about how childbirth is approached in our times- how drugs are used, the rise of cesarean sections, use of ultrasounds (she considers them unnecessary), babies being put into intensive-care units more than ought to, the presence of midwives and doulas in hospitals, why our culture causes so many women to fear childbirth, how babies should be treated immediately after birth, etc. etc. In pretty much every case she is pointing out how intrusive hospital policies are and advocating midwife-assisted homebirths or in birthing centers. Birth is a natural process that need not be treated like a disease and almost any woman can get through it without drugs or interventions, seems to be her overwhelming message. Needless to say, I found Immaculate Deception II to be very one-sided, mostly anti-hospital in nature, yet at the same time it was very encouraging. I was able to set aside her negativity about hospital settings and instead focus on the empowerment of women, the assertion of their strength and ability to trust their bodies and birth their children without fear or tension.
At the very end of the book is a collection of interviews and stories about birth, showing many different opinions and circumstances. I liked the fact that it included not only stories of mothers giving birth, but also the viewpoints of various midwives, obstetricians, physicians, fathers, even an interview with an eight-year-old girl who was present at the homebirth of her baby sister.
My original intent was to read the first version, Immaculate Deception, but I couldn\’t find a copy available. Probably for the best, as I\’ve since read that it has quite an angry (possible more negative?) tone towards the medical establishment. I borrowed this one from the public library.
Rating: 4/5 …….. 290 pages, 1994