Friday, September 16, 2011

on my shelf: husband-coached childbirth

Today I will give the second installment of those books that I've found indispensable in birthing and raising a child thus far.  To see some of my other book reviews, check out this link and these three links.  But today, we're going back to the start.

I first got turned on to the crazy genius of Dr. Bradley way back in my first year of Divinity School.  The wife of a fellow student posted a flier advertising for her Bradley classes, and my interest was piqued.  This was a woman whose prowess in child-bearing and -rearing I really respect, and I knew that she had done it naturally and was embracing a similar kind of lifestyle to what I hoped for our family someday.  So I started poking around on our great big internet, and found out the basic facts.

Dr. Robert Bradley was an obstetrician who practiced in the mid-twentieth century.  He had grown up on a farm and was convinced from watching animal births that birth didn't have to be the painful, frightening experience that our culture insists that it is.  Animals appeared to give birth without pain, after making careful preparations and entering into total relaxation.  So, he started practicing with low-income single mothers and the results were astonishing.  By teaching some very specific techniques and fulfilling six basic needs of the laboring woman, the vast majority of women under his care were able to give birth without any medication or intervention.  So, he passed on his knowledge to a family called the Hathaways, who really became the big Bradley evangelizers.

Jeff and I found a Bradley class in our area that was starting up right at my twentieth week of pregnancy.  The class goes for twelve weeks, two hours per class (although our chatty class frequently stretched into three hours and more!) - making it one of the longest and most comprehensive childbirth preparation classes.  It was the best choice we made in all of our pregnancy.  Our instructor, Amber, was so deeply knowledgeable and passionate about birth and maintaining the health of the pregnant woman.

The book that goes along with the course is called Husband-Coached ChildbirthSay what you will about the title (old-fashioned, not everyone who has a baby has a husband, etc), but the book is fantastic.

The book is charming and kooky.  Dr. Bradley starts to feel like your slightly crazy but brilliant great-uncle.  He has theories on why women shouldn't wear underwear.  He encourages husbands and expectant wives to continue their intimacy with enthusiasm (and detail!).  But when it comes down to it, he reduced his rate of intervention and surgery to what was absolutely required by the biological statistics.  There are situations where a cesarean is absolutely necessary, but only about three percent of the time.  That was his rate.

He outlines nutrition, exercise, all stages of labor and birth, and what you can expect emotionally and physically in the period immediately following birth.  His was the book that I made sure I had on my nightstand as the baby and I were recovering in bed.

And, as I've noted elsewhere, the class really bonded us together.  Jeff and I got closer, he became totally sold on the notion of natural childbirth and became my greatest supporter and coach, and our class has enjoyed some great times together and continues to meet regularly for playgroup and cookouts.  Because of the nature of the class, the moms that I'm now friends with have great insights for me.  And we owe it all to Dr. Bradley!

Seriously, if you're at all interested in returning to some of the biological roots of childbirth, and birthing in relaxation and total knowledge of what is happening, read this book.  Take a class if you can, but if you can't, at least read the book.  There will be parts that have you shaking your head and giggling, but you will walk away with an incredible foundation, and wonder why your doctor didn't tell you this stuff.

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