From the Doula Library- Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin


Stepping Back in Time to Life on The Farm


          Ina May's Spiritual Midwifery is a unique look at the early days of life and midwifery practised on The Farm, a community of people located in Tennessee in the United States in the early 1970s.  Before settling on The Farm, Ina May and her husband Stephen lead a Caravan across the United States from Coast to Coast when they both began assisting women in childbirth.  This passion for both community and assisting women during labour continued as they settled in Tennessee.  Readers learn about the evolution of The Farm, how midwives became trained, how they collaborated with area hospitals and how their knowledge and views of birth changed over time.  It's a fascinating read because it includes so many birth stories that look at the positive sides of birth while also highlighting it's unpredictability.  I also found it humorous and intriguing to read of expectant parents' recollection of their births referring to it as being "psychedelic," trippy"or they were "high."  These parents were not describing any 1970s illegal activity but I think it's safe to say they were probably describing the euphoric birth-brain highs that come with oxytocin and endorphin release and peaks often experienced during more gentle, undisturbed births.  

The smaller, second section of Spiritual Midwifery focuses on more general pregnancy and parenting topics.  Ina May writes on antenatal nutrition, exercise, other birth preparation as well as life with a new baby.  Much of the information and advice she provides is still relevant, however, there are some recommendations that are no longer up-to-date.  For example, Ina May recommends putting baby to sleep on their side with a pillow or other support behind them.  This is no longer recommended, as many expectant parents will know from the "back to sleep" campaigns that are in many countries.  There are some babies who will sleep on their side, especially if parents are engaging in safe co-sleeping patterns that involve side-lying breastfeeding.  Even while this is being done, safe co-sleeping implies that there are no pillows or other soft furnishings near the baby that could impede breathing.  This is the same for babies that are sleeping in cots.  All pillows, cot bumper pads and other soft furnishings are to be removed for safe sleep.

The third section of Spiritual Midwifery is aimed more for birth professionals, especially midwives, versus parents.  The bulk of this section is more medical in nature and goes in-depth into the intricacies of the female pelvis, uterus and overall pregnant and birthing body.  While this section of the book is certainly important, it may be considered less relevant for parents.  For example, knowing how to stitch a perineal tear following birth is information many parents may not find critical, as they are trusting in their healthcare professional to know that more than themselves.

Despite a few parenting tips that are no longer recommended by professionals, Spiritual Midwifery is still a wonderful book that will help expectant parents feel more prepared for both labor and the journey ahead with their new baby.